Home: Carefree, AZ. Age: 57. Birthplace: Belleville, IL. Profession: Executive creative director, writer, branding expert. Organization: The Lotus Coterie. Title: Founder. Previous organizations: BBDO, Publicis, FCB Global, DDB, Leo Burnett. Awards: Cannes Lions (Gold, Silver, Bronze); ONE SHOW (Gold, Silver, Bronze and Merit); National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (Emmy); D&AD Pencils (Yellow, Gray, Wood); Clios (Gold, Silver and Bronze) Art Directors Club (Gold, Silver Bronze); USA TODAY (Super Bowl AdMeter Top Ten, four consecutive years). Alma Mater: Eastern Illinois University (B.A.); Northwestern University, Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Communications (M.S.). Professional overview: A creative force and relentless craftsman with more than a quarter century of A-list agency and Blue Chip client experience. Favorite quote: “Obstacles in the path are the path” (Ryan Holiday).
As a chief creative officer across a number of agencies and networks, I was hearing directly from senior clients and chief marketing officers about their disappointments with the holding company-owned agency model. Mainly, they were frustrated with the lack of direct access to senior-level creative talent in contrast to the fees they pay. Hearing that consistently, I began to consider whether there might be an alternative. The Lotus Coterie was conceived as a place where clients can obtain world-class creative talent without the world-class overhead. In this model, we are able to quickly diagnose where a client’s marketing is either blocked or lacking, provide potential solutions, then execute with agility and senior-level expertise. We scope and scale to the exact problem we’ve been asked to address, no more, no less.
As a small business owner, the days are varied as I shift from creative director to project manager, client-liaison or chief financial officer. I absolutely love the diversity of tasks and roles, as the challenges for each are unique and require different problem-solving thinking and approaches. Expanding my scope and expertise beyond functioning solely as a creative director has certainly been challenging, and not without some growing pains, but it has been extremely fulfilling to create a business from an idea to a functioning organism.
I have several idea-generation practices that I developed over the years from being under intense pressure to deliver creatively. One of my favorites is to sit at the keyboard with a blank page, set a timer to twenty minutes, and just start typing. While much of what comes from that process is unusable, it still serves to open my mind, quiet the internal critic and jump-start my creative engine. Another timed exercise involves a pile of sticky notes and a Sharpie, jotting down as many one or two-word answers to a particular question or problem as I can muster, then posting them on the wall. One or two will usually be worthy of developing further. More recently, some great ideas have come from my new “cold-plunging” routine, submerging myself in 48° water up to my neck for five minutes. This serves to clear my mind, reboot my system and feel more energetic and better all around.
I think deeply about how I show up for my clients, the creative partners I bring into a project and anybody I interact with in business. The creative practices are often messy, incoherent and difficult, so I try to bring as much clarity and calm to the process as possible, which garners confidence and trust from my clients. To paraphrase a popular adage, my approach is: tell them what you are going to do, tell them how you are going to do it, then do what you said you would do. Staying authentic to that spirit has always worked well.
Making my clients’ success the priority of my business. In my previous roles running big agency creative departments, it was challenging to place that ethic at the center of the work; the priorities of our own business were often at odds with those of our clients. Certainly, there was pressure to keep a client satisfied, but ultimately, we were incentivized more by the attention we could bring to the agency via winning awards. Ideally, the awards will come as a by-product of prioritizing and focusing on our client’s needs; they shouldn’t be the sole objective.
Early in my career, I was chasing titles, positions and awards. For example, having popular commercials on the Super Bowl catapulted me professionally to a level beyond my expectations. However, with that success came enormous pressure to replicate and repeat it; the stress was unhealthy and the lifestyle, ultimately unsustainable. Over time, I came to define success as taking care of my family, working with people who authentically believe in the power of creativity and making myself in service to others. As with everything worthwhile, it is a work in progress.
I think ChatGPT is a game-changer. It’s a great tool for creativity, as it’s like sitting in a room with a very knowledgeable (mostly), responsive, and indefatigable copywriter and creative partner. I believe this represents the next level of what it means to be a creative director. I don’t see it replacing good human writers as it is now, since it lacks the personality, voice and tone that we can still recognize as distinctly human. But I’ve been having a ton of fun experimenting with prompts, trying to find unique, and very specific, ways to “creative direct” the output.
Take care of your physical and mental wellness first and foremost. Neglecting holistic health has a severe ripple effect on everything and everyone around you. Looking back, I wish I would have found the path of mindfulness meditation, service to others and cleaner living when I was 35, rather than 55.