Q&A with Ed and Izzy:
How did you get to where you are today?
Ed: I went to school at NYU and needed an internship, so my friend got me one at McCann Erickson. By the name, I thought it was a law firm, and I knew nothing about the advertising industry prior to that internship. I was a business major and trying to decide what to get into. I was shocked by the level of creativity that was infused with business in an agency.
Along my career path, I’ve worked in a variety of roles. I was an account person. I was a finance analyst. I was on the operations side, in the technology group, and also on the digital side. I embraced every facet of our business and didn’t typecast myself. Some people declare who they think they are and what their role should be at the onset. I didn’t go into the industry like that. I let the natural flow of one promotion or one change lead me to my next role. I view every role as a training ground – there’s no need to typecast myself.
Izzy: I put myself in situations where I could learn from people who were doing amazingly well. I learned from the Dan Wiedens of the world, which was in essence a Masters class. I graduated with a BA in communications without having any clue what I was going to do after that. I thought I was going to be a filmmaker after I met someone that was an amazing filmmaker. But then I went to visit my friend who was an art director, and he had a whole office with a drafting table to himself. When he told me what he did, I thought to myself – “I can do that.” It would be a place where all of my hodgepodge classic arts studies could come together. I did two years of a business major and moved to communications with a minor in religion in geography. That was the ideal prerequisite to get into something like advertising. I had enough knowledge about telling stories, but that didn’t make me an expert. But when you put everything together, it ended up being a skill-set that fit me like a glove: understanding a client’s business problem and coming up with strategy that matches human behavior and then wrapping it all up into a story.
How did you figure out what you wanted to do? Did you have an aha moment?
Ed: There were definitely different phases. I had my aha moment when I was graduating during my internship. I had a job offer outside the industry in the business consulting field, but my internship coordinator at McCann helped me realize that I could combine my expertise with business, education and training along with having creativity as part of the role. This was enticing. I was supposed to start my consulting job on that Monday, but then decided that I really wanted to stay at McCann full time. I realized this in real-time….there wasn’t really any one thing or any sort of moment that swayed me. It was definitely a sequence of moments: my experiences with leaders, mentors and colleagues that little by little helped steer me in the direction of advertising.
Izzy: I had a series of aha moments. I saw my friend who was being successful as an art director. While I was offered to work in various media departments, I kept turning the jobs down, despite the money they were offering me. I basically walked away from gainful employment that would have me earn more than my father did at the time – this was a conviction that I actually knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to write like Alan Gasmer and have ideas like he did. So it was a combination of me getting media jobs, me talking to my friend who was an art director, and reading about all the creative guys in Toronto.
How did you learn to do what you do as a creative?
Ed: I embraced my junior years and junior positions because those are the safest moments for learning and where there is little risk in being wrong. You’re not being judged on what you know but being judged on your potential. With more awards and more recognition, you’re living up to who you think you are. I thought that I should leverage my early years and fuck up and get things right and hit home runs and strike out. I’ve also learned by executing. If I wanted to figure out how to build a website, I sat down and worked with folks and did it. I’ve embraced learning through a hands on vs. an outsourcing approach. I also always went to my bosses with answers, not questions.
Izzy: I learned by liking: then mimicking them and breaking them down, even to the point where I was rewriting my copy at the time. I really liked the early Wieden+Kennedy and Chiat work. By liking, I wanted to be like those creative leaders. I started deconstructing their work and tried to understand why I liked it, why I thought it was provocative and why it was disruptive. I became a student of advertising (after I was a student of economics and communications). I learned to do what I do by just discovering what I liked the most out there, and then I kept on until I figured out my own voice.
What is one of your favorite projects you’ve worked on?
Ed: Undoubtedly it was helping launch the first electric vehicle for BMW. I’m personally passionate about the automotive and social good fields, so it’s been amazing to bring these two passion points together in my professional life. It’s exciting to see how the product is bringing positive social change and drastically altering the ecological and social landscape.
Izzy: Working with Bill Murray on a campaign for the NBA. I got to work with him for six months and formed a genuine relationship with him. Behind all the superficial celebrity advertising stuff, we got to know each other on a personal level. Also, the launch of Jay Z Gold presented some interesting challenges, especially as Jay becomes more of a brand than just a name or artist. We created a whole new experience for his brand, and guess what, I got to meet Jay and at the end of the day he had to approve the work. I’m also proud of working on and helping to grow our BMW account. Every year brings new challenges and excitement.
Any aspirations? Something you’ve always wanted to do?
Ed: I want to write a jingle. I want a jingle!!
Izzy: My aspiration is to continue to create both firsts and things that are culturally significant. It could be something for BMW or Vanguard, or even a company you’ve never heard of. I want my work to be original and powerful. The worst thing that ever happens is that if you do it once, you have the drive to do new and original work more and more which then exasperates your need for doing it more often. It’s amazing when you do great work and then it’s in half the newspapers 48 hours later. Or when you create a tagline that ends up on t-shirts.
How do you define success? What has helped you to become successful?
Ed: I define my success internally, and it’s a very personal thing. It’s on a micro and macro basis, and it’s not just based on title or awards or salary. Success is an instinct. It’s also a belief. A belief in myself, in what I’m doing and a belief that I’m making the right decisions.
Izzy: Success is when you’re in a public place like a bar or train, and you hear someone talking about the work you did and how it made an impact on them. When the advertising I make creates culture – that’s success. When it can transcend the industry you’re in (and that goes for any art form including communication).
Any advice for someone interested in following your chosen path and learning to do what you do?
Ed: I’ve never thought of someone wanting to follow my chosen path, but my advice would be to go with your inner voice. There’s a lot of times that you should go with what feels right so that you don’t get caught up in rituals and the precedent of our industry. And don’t think that it’s all about one thing like awards or business success because it’s a little bit of everything. Ultimately it comes down to what you want to be. If you’re a writer and you love it, great – then be a writer. If you want to be a leader or run an agency, there’s a different skill set you must learn.
Izzy: The advice I would give is that you can’t be in advertising unless you love it. Don’t go into advertising because it’s a stepping stone to a different industry. People are too competitive and too smart and spend too many hours working to be great. People need to put all of their energy and focus to be great at this, and you need to be all in. If you’re constantly willing to learn, then you’ve got a pretty good shot. And don’t worry about rejection. I had about 25-30 rejection letters when I first started, so I continued to push through and made a new portfolio every week. You’ll get in if you’re passionate and persistent.
Where do you get inspiration?
Ed: My day to day life inspires me – I attempt to view all aspects of my life as inspiration, and I think it can come from anywhere. For example, I’m not going to say that I’ll never watch reality TV shows. People block out the world around them based on judgment and stereotypes, and I really try to stay away from that. While I may not be personally interested in reality shows, I need to understand why so much of today’s culture surrounds them. While I may not be a farm-to-table expert, I need to understand why this trend is so popular these days. I look at trends that relate to kids and toys and what’s happening culturally in other parts of the world. I read some of the books that everyone says you’re supposed to read and books that I choose to read just based on the cover. I don’t let external influences tell me what’s good inspiration and what’s not. Anything could be good inspiration, and it doesn’t have to be catalyzing. Life is my inspiration: the boring, the adventurous, the monotonous, the good, the bad. All of it.
Izzy: I draw inspiration everywhere – from Saturday morning cartoons to art galleries in Chelsea. One of my earliest influences in figuring out short narratives were cartoons. You can tell a whole story in just a few minutes, and the abbreviated storytelling has been inspiring me since I even thought about getting into advertising.