• The Egotist Interviews: Steve Whittier

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    In the December 2007 issue of Factory Design Labs newsletter, they announce nine new hires. That’s nine hires in a single month, likely totaling more than any other agency in the region. If you turn your head upward and peer toward the highest rung on the agency’s creative totem pole, you’ll find VP Creative Director Steve Whittier and much of reason for the shop’s visionary uniqueness and recent explosiveness. We caught up with Steve on the eve of the New Denver Ad Club’s annual award show, for which Factory Design Labs is poised for performance.

    Q: Can you tell us a bit about your background? We know you’ve been at some of the world’s top shops, including McCann Erickson, Leo Burnett, Lowe and Partners, Chiat\Day and Euro RSCG, winning some impressive hardware along the way. How did those shops influence your perspective?

    A: Each job I look back on I can pick out small things that made an impact. I started out doing paste up, production work. That made me pay attention to craftsmanship. At McCann SF I worked with Clyde Baird, an old school Art Director from the 1960s NY ad scene. He taught me how light worked on a shoot and how to draw – and how you have to work something until it works. He was brilliant. At Scali/Lowe it was Sam Scali, Kevin McKeon, Al Kelly, Ty Monatague. They were all so calm. It was so laid back. I was freelance at Chiat and Euro and saw that the most talented people are just people. Leo Burnett, Kiev was all about gaining trust and remembering the art side of art directing. The staff was the most talented group of artists I’d ever seen. The writers were philosophy majors. They were so educated and smart.

    Q: Give us some basic stats on your agency, Factory Labs.

    A: Factory has about 70 people. The creative department is 16 as I write this. We have an agency structure – ACD’s, AD’s, Writers, etc… We promoted Andrew Price to a CD role this past year and he and I manage the department together. He has been here for about 7 years and has played a huge part in our success. We have all our engineering in-house and within the staff we have a total of 9 bands. We do the majority of the music for our work in-house. We can edit here, do motion, 3D. We design and build online games. Our studio people can design. Our Art Directors can do their own production work. We put a high priority on style and flavor. Billings I can’t disclose, but with The North Face win and the addition of Audi collateral it’s getting up there. Our clients? Online agency of record for Audi as well as collateral (new win), The North Face, Winter Park, Scarpa, Boa, Palmer Snowboards, Oakley, Adam Sandler, Sony Pictures, Universal Studios, Jump Mobile, Disney. We’ve done work for Foot Joy and Quiksilver, as well. The list is pretty great. We work for the kind of brands we use.

    Q: Tell us about some of the work you’ve been doing recently for your high profile client, Audi USA. Can you give us some details about how the process works with them from concept to completion? Also, tell us how your interactive work lead Audi to name you their brand collateral agency of record.

    A: We learn the clients’ business model. How they make money and how they’re evaluated. We understand their goals and how success is measured. Since we live the life of our brands’ customers, those two things together make us relevant. Relevance is key, to the customer and the client. We don’t look to awards for what’s in style with the industry. We look to great work and dissect why it’s great. We talk to athletes, we talk to each other. We do a brief, but I believe we do it from a different perspective. For Audi, we have a total of 30+ Audi’s amongst employees here, some of us two. We know the cars, and we respect that the competition makes great cars as well. The interactive work we’ve created works. It’s measurable and ever since we’ve won the business we’ve seen results. We know the tone of the brand because we drive them and understand why people like or dislike them. When the contract for the collateral business was up, they asked us to pitch it because of our connection to the cars, intimate knowledge and a proven track record online. Plus, we take a lot of pride in how we craft the work.

    Q: One of the biggest jabs at Factory Labs we often hear is that much of your work is all style with no substance. Can you address that comment by talking about style and how it relates to concept in your mind?

    A: Our customers are buying style. Who buys a snowboard jacket because they like the concept of the jacket and never look at it in the mirror? The problem with the style vs. concept opinion is that it assumes that there is no idea to style. We don’t want ads to look like ads, we want them to have the vibe that will connect with the consumer and give the brand a personality. How many One Show pencils has Burton won? Are the judges their audience? Is that the measure of a great piece of advertising? Do they even understand the audience? The Burton work is brilliant. It built an industry. So when we look at an idea, it better have style to it that is culturally relevant and inspires. We do enter award shows, we believe they bring value to our agency and our people, but that can’t be the measure of what makes you great. You can’t say you’ve “arrived” because you’ve done well in that area. The goal is to have a great idea and execute it right – in tone, style and relevance. It would be an irresponsible idea not to.

    Q: From what we know of Factory Labs, it seems you look outward quite often beyond your staff to help create the best client solutions. Tell us about the collaborations you consider most precious to your success right now.

    A: We look at ourselves honestly and ask the question whether our skills are in line with the culture of our clients and their consumers. Too many creatives, in my opinion, think because they can design they are the ones to do it all and their talent will make it good. We collaborate with artists and photographers that mean something to our consumers. As an example, we used Evan Hecox for Copper. I was in a snowboard shop and this kid asked me how I got Evan to work on the poster. The kid knew his style, he was familiar with his work for Chocolate Skateboards and knew his name. (My answer was I paid him). We’ve used N8 Van Dyke, Dave Kinsey from Black Market, Kris Frye from the 400, Embry Rucker brought credibility to the youth market for Brine because of his work with Nixon and Quiksilver. John Huet who shot ”The Soul of the Game” book for the Denver Nuggets project. We need to remember we are Art Directors and we direct who we need to make it right, not do it all ourselves to prove we can.

    Q: The four pillars of Factory Labs are design, culture, technology and music. Design and technology are self-explanatory. Tell us how culture and music play into what you do.

    A: Culture is what our clients come to Factory for. We know the culture of their brands. You won’t find anyone here working on a snowsport client that doesn’t ski or ride. Music is what our clients’ customers are into. Like I said, we have 9 bands represented throughout Factory. We started Beatport, now the world’s largest online retailer of dance music in the world. We launch hip hop soon. Jonas Temple [Factory’s founder] is a resident DJ at Vinyl. We owned a label at one point, too.

    Q: What is some of the work you’ve done at Factory Labs that you’re most proud of?

    A: It’s hard to pick out pieces. What I’m proud of is the consistency and everyone’s pride and commitment to give it all on everything. When I started here, Jonas (the founder of Factory and now Chairman as well as CEO of Beatport) kicked my ass over a BRC card and the design of it. He and I spent a whole day on that card. That taught me to craft. That piece changed how I design. It’s not in our portfolio however.

    Q: What is your assessment of the current state of Denver’s ad and design scene?

    A: I think we have some serious talent here. I feel a good energy, as well. I was an award show whore for a long time and that held me back. I think people should put aside recognition as a goal and put great work as the goal. Don’t try to be the next anything. Just do what you believe will work for the client with style and a great idea. What I don’t like is people claiming not to be a Denver agency. The moment you say that, you are that.

    Q: Why do you think Denver has yet to achieve the creative hot bed status of similarly sized cities like Minneapolis and Portland? What do you think the agencies here can do to change that?

    A: Quit worrying about it. It’s like trying to talk a girl into liking you. Do great work and send it out with some humility.

    Q: What shop in town, other than yours, do you most admire and why?

    A: Collective International. They are an in-house shop for brands like Airwalk, Vision and Sims. The work and execution are flawless. It’s not the kind of work that wins an Addy. It’s the kind of work that creates a brand.

    Q: What are the top five places/things you go back to again and again for inspiration?

    A: Magazines, a lot of them. I find it easy to explore design and ideas that way, I get distracted on the web and start watching YouTube or playing with the retirement calculators. Of course, if it’s when I’m working on an online project, I go online to see what’s going on. Bannerblog.com.au and design sites galore. I like Flickr for photography.

    Q: What are the enemies of great creative ideas?

    A: Forgetting who your audience is. Also justifying bad design by saying the work is conceptual. Formulaic solutions. I’m really disappointed with the work I see coming out of ad schools. It’s the same one copy line and a visual solution that’s clever and tricky. Is it responsible to give the same executional style to each of your clients?

    Q: Describe your ideal client for us.

    A: One that doesn’t want “an agency.” One that just wants to talk about what we’re going to do together to solve a problem and lets us show them what we’re thinking.

    Q: Where do you hope to take Factory Labs in the next year? The next five?

    A: We don’t want be huge in staff numbers. This market has proven it’s tough to find hundreds of people – you have to devote so much time to looking. We want the next wave of Factory people to produce great work. It’s their time. We have promoted some people lately and given them the reigns. As we say, we don’t want a “B” team. Just a handful of great clients that give us the opportunity to let our people shine.

    Q: What do you want to tell everyone in Denver and far beyond who read all the way to the end of this interview?

    A: Thank you. I am fortunate to work with really talented people I respect. All departments, all levels of experience. Every day I learn to look at things in a new way. Thank you Jonas, Tim, Jeff G, Trevor and Eloy – the best group to do this with. And of course, Jim Glynn.

  • December 5

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    AIGA 5th Annual Deck The Halls And Walls Poster Auction – An Off the Wall Event for On-the-Wall Art

    This is your opportunity to walk away with one-of-a-kind autographed prints and posters for just about any wall in your home, office or work cubicle. ALL auction proceeds will benefit two exceptional arts-centric non-profit organizations: The Other Side Arts (TOSA) and VSA Arts of Colorado. And that’s one gift that everyone can appreciate!

    When: Wed, December 5, 2007, 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM
    Where: Access Gallery, 909 Santa Fe Drive, Denver, CO 80204
    Info: AIGA

  • November 30

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    AIGA November FAC – Composition

    Enjoy a beverage, nibbly things and the company of fellow creatives – all while browsing the modern design store Composition. It’s the November FAC and the crew at Composition have invited us to check out their all-new section dedicated to paper products and design books.

    About Composition. In May, The New York Times championed Denver as an emerging “style-conscious city with great shopping.” When reading the article, we weren’t surprised that the big city reporter first talked to Jennifer Roberts, the owner/curator behind Composition. If you haven’t checked out her tasty boutique it’s an always-changing display of Jack Spade messenger bags, Frietag recycled wallets, chic housewares, toy cameras , fun gizmos and a brand new section for books and stationary that features MATTERIAL, the new paper products line from local designer Rick Griffith.

    When: Friday, November 30, 2007, 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM (Please RSVP by Wednesday, November 28 so that Composition can prepare enough food and beverages for all attendees.)
    Where: Composition, Belmar, 7180 W. Alaska Dr., Lakewood
    Info: AIGA

    Object+Thought – R. Justin Stewart Gallery Opening

    + Gallery in conjunction with Object+Thought present Partitioned 12–18 by R. Justin Stewart, November 30th-January 25th. Curated by + Gallery interns Michelle Soler and Aniko Vetter.

    When: Opening reception – Friday, November 30, 2007, 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM
    Where: Object+Thought, 3559 Larimer Street, Denver
    Info: Object+Thought

  • November 29

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    AIGA BuzZ : Independent Designer Holiday Gathering – Bowling Night

    Kids, family, spouses, and friends welcome! We’re combining this with the BuzZ Holiday party, so there will be BuzZ regulars there and The Creative Group will sponsor the lanes and a certain amount of beer. Shoes are 93 cents to rent. We’ll have people from a few collectives around town as well… (the Hive and Art+Anthropology to name a few)! The lanes will be paid for so come out and enjoy some fun!

    When: Thursday, November 29, 6:30 PM to 9:00 PM
    Where: Bowl-Ero Lanes, 5480 W. Alameda Ave., Lakewood, CO 80226
    Info: AIGA

  • Advertising How To... Part 5

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    How to keep your job. By Sensitive Writer.

    Being that advertising is one of like three professions where you can do completely ridonkulous things and still remain gainfully employed, you may think there’d be no need for a column on this topic. However, that pesky little doctrine of American law known as “at-will employment” does rear its ugly head from time to time. As a result, employers are free to “discharge individuals” for “good cause, bad cause, or no cause at all.” So how can you protect yourself from any and all causes?

    1. Invaluability over Invincibility.

    The best advice I ever got from anyone on this topic was “Become invaluable to your clients.” Which, at first blush, sounds way more like account service advice than creative. But really, it’s the best all-around advice there is. Because once your client loves you, the agency kinda has to, as well. You’ll be requested to work on their business, come to their meetings, and go out with them to all-you-can drink dinners. All of which, granted, is a lot of work, but it pretty much means you’ll be a more permanent fixture than the names on the door.

    2. Exactly where are those logos?

    Devise an organizational system no one else can figure out. Logic being: if they can’t find your stuff, they’ve got to keep you around so at least someone can find it. This is usually best accomplished by either devising your own folder system on the company’s server, or, better yet, leaving files randomly strewn about your desktop. And when IT inevitably asks you if you were backing your files on the server, a simple “we have a server?” will send them scurrying back to their caves and buy you another 6 months.

    3. “I dunno, Lenny always fixes it.”

    Find the hole in the departmental skill set and fill it in. No one likes to be pigeon-holed, but it really does behoove you to be the guy who can fill-in-the-blank. So if you’re the only one who can fix the color copier/download YouTube videos/work the DVD remote/make espresso/write radio/turn off the alarm you’re guaranteed to always have a job.

    4. Bear Claw, anyone?

    Bake. Or, if you’re at a lack for your inner Martha, buy. Nothing secures your place in a company like donuts or chocolate chip cookies. Many a layoff discussion ground to a screeching halt when someone proclaims “we can’t possibly get rid of Amanda! Who’ll make zucchini bread with chocolate chips? And just like that, sha-pow, some shmo VP gets canned instead.

    5. Competency: it’s the new clever.

    If all else fails, do your job well. Sure it sounds simple, (and, um, really obvious) but seriously, there are a TON of folks sliding by with a C- average resting on their laurels of longevity and personal connections. The minute a new CD or president comes in, the first folks to go are the ones who’ve been sitting in their fat offices polishing their commemorative 15-years-of-employment chairs with their silk hankies. And who’s gonna move into that office? That’s right, my friend. You.

    By following at least 4 of the above 5 tenants, you should bulletproof your tenure for quite a while. Provided you don’t succumb to some major screw-up like accidentally cc’ing your client on a rant about how stupid he is or deciding to “work from home” for three weeks straight. In which case, all the apple fritters, client shmoozing and DVD player expertise aren’t gonna save you this time. You’re on your own. But if you do figure out a way to recover from a blunder of those epic proportions, please be sure and let me know. I’m certain it will come in handy some day.

  • Creative Crackdown, McDonald's Outdoor

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    McDonald’s needed to let people know about its freshly prepared breakfasts and gourmet coffees. Karsh\Hagan shot high-style photography for these boards and put them in high-traffic areas.

    (Click images for a bigger view.)

  • Creative Crackdown, Jamba Juice Promo Site

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    This new site courtesy of Xylem CCI promotes a drink called 3G (Guarana, Ginseng, Green Tea) from Jamba Juice that you can only find out about by coming to this site after receiving an email – the drink is not on any store menus yet.

    (Click image to visit site.)

  • November 20

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    AIGA BuzZ: Independent Designer Roundtable – Paying The Man: Taxes & Accounting for the Independent Designer

    What is BuzZ? BuzZ is a monthly roundtable for Design Independents in the Denver Metro area, which focuses on the issues that are most important to the business of being in business for yourself. Each month the group concentrates on a specific topic as well as provides a medium for networking and sharing resources.

    Monthly topics vary and are sometimes supported by professional presentations. Topics focus on areas such as: technology, taxes, contracts, self promotion, sales and more. BuzZ meets on the third Tuesday of each month. If you are a freelance professional in the Denver area, you are BuzZ. Be there!

    WE HAVE A NEW LOCATION! Our new location is Panera Bread at 13th and Grant. We’ll be in the community room with pastries and coffee, sans the espresso machine noise!

    When: Tuesday, November 20, 2007, 8:30 AM to 10:00 AM
    Where: Panera Bread, 1330 Grant Street, Denver, CO 80203
    Info: AIGA

  • Advertising How To... Part 4

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    How to re-sell an idea to your Creative Director after he’s already killed it. By Sensitive Writer.

    There is nothing more crushing than after a whole half-day of brain-numbing concepting, you emerge victorious with your next One Show Pencil idea, and your Creative Director kills it before it even sees the light of day.

    What’s a hardworking creative to do? Stick it in the recycle file and resell it at your next internal presentation, of course. But, sadly, more often than not, you run into that phrase every creative is loathe to hear, “I think I’ve already seen that.”

    How Creative Directors have this skill I have no idea. Perhaps the entire area in their brains devoted to “General Memory” has been over-ridden by “Shit I’ve Killed Memory.” Because most I’ve known can’t remember anything: names, clients, meetings, what they just asked you, what project they assigned you, whether or not they approved your vacation, when your last raise was, the fact that no you are NOT Michelle in Media you just both have blonde hair, where they’re going, where they’re supposed to be, or what they had for lunch. But pull out a recycled idea – even half a dozen years later – and suddenly it’s “Didn’t you try to sell this to me for Hardees in 1998?” Really? You don’t remember my last name, and yet you remember this spot with a talking dog from last decade. (See upcoming article: Becoming a Creative Director in 5 Easy Steps).

    So is there any way around this conundrum? Well, if there wasn’t, I wouldn’t have a column, would I?

    1) Find a new Creative Director.

    This can be accomplished one of two ways. a) Launch campaign to have Creative Director fired (not recommended, as it’s dangerously close to “Baby out with the Bathwater” strategy and you’ll probably lose your job in the process. Which is a lovely segue to b) Take all your dead ideas to your next job. The best thing about a new boss is that all your crappy old ideas seem shiny new to him.

    2) Re-pitch your idea as your Creative Director’s idea.

    If he hates it as your idea, you have a fairly good chance of him loving it as his own. As much as it sucks to utter the words “You know, I still kinda like that idea you had about…” it sucks less than seeing your pride and joy wither on the vine.

    3) Punt the idea to another creative team.

    This is even more painful than having your CD get credit for your ideas (since that happens all the time, anyway) but it can be used in an emergency. If the idea is truly great, you can sleep well knowing it’s at least alive and out there, even if it has no idea who its real parents are. Hopefully you’ll at least get a slash.

    4) Have the ACD approve it while your Creative Director’s on vacation.

    This is a little sneaky and devious but then again so’s this business. And it goes without saying that if your CD hates it, your ACD will love it.

    5) Blackmail.

    Yeah, it’s a last resort. But chances are you’ve seen your Creative Director in some sort of compromising position that he’d rather not have his wife/child/partner/Head of Account Services see. Document it, use it, delete it. And get over the guilt.

    So there you have it. Pull out that trash can, uncrumple all those brilliant concepts, and get your pitch on, baby. Cause dead is a relative term.

  • November 9

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    NDAC – Post Modern invites NDAC Members to their 4th Annual Casino Party

    Wanna get lucky? Post Modern hosts their 4th annual Casino Party! Pack aces up your sleeves and join us for drinks, dancing and gambling… the legal kind!

    When: Friday, November 9, 5:30 (doors open), 6:30 (gambling starts)
    Where: Post Modern, 2734 Walnut St.
    Info: RSVP by October 31 to rsvp[at]postmodernco.com

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