Four months ago, Steve Taylor, a copywriter who had been living his advertising dreams in New York, decided to give up the day job to trek across the USA and spend one month at a time at a variety of creative agencies.
I simplify his decision here slightly. He actually gave up the bright lights of Manhattan to return back to his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio to take care of his sick mother and upon her recovery found himself reevaluating his career.
Deciding against an immediate return to the 9-5 in New York, he contacted everyone he knew in advertising and planned a road trip which would take him to a temporary desk in 14 different agencies in the space of just 14 months. And so The Great Agency Adventure was born.
The Drum caught up with Taylor for the first of our Great Agency Adventure Q&As after he finished his month-long stint at Red Tettemer O'Connell + Partners, a creative agency founded in Philadelphia.
What were your first impressions of the agency?
Magnificent! Red Tettemer is such an incredible agency and they do some of the most imaginative and memorable work around. They also have one of the most unique and eye-catching offices I've ever been to – filled to brim with crazy antiques and decor. I don't see how you could step foot in here and NOT be creative. Of course, the people here are just as wonderful and off-center. I felt right at home from day one.
Describe the first day, what were you given to do?
First days are always a little weird. As I'm entering an entirely new office and culture, it's always used to get to know the team and research any clients I'll be working on. It's a bit odd, because every agency is so different, but that's also what's so exciting about it. It always feels like the first day of school in a way. I'm just glad I haven't had to get up in front of everyone and tell them what I did last summer – at least not yet.
What was the culture like at the agency?
I like to think of it as controlled chaos. Everyone at Red Tettemer has such a unique and vibrant personality. The powers that be understand that and have managed to capture those personalities in the company's culture. Whether it's the way they greet new people or the lengths they go to make clients feel welcome, they always do everything with a little extra "oomph". To be honest, I think everyone there would happily agree that they're all a bit nuts – but in a good way.
What was the biggest challenge you faced?
Oddly enough, the biggest challenge I've faced on my journey so far is that same at every stop – and it has nothing to do with the agencies. It's always the transportation that leaves me worried. Especially as I start heading to cities that are less dense and have fewer transportation options. I've managed to figure it out so far, but I'm always a tad nervous about getting to work at my next stop. Honestly, thus far, I've felt right at home in every agency I've visited. With everything else going on the agency work is actually the easy part.
Did you have any slip ups, or do anything to piss off the boss?
Thankfully, I haven't had any slip ups yet. The boss I dealt with was Steve O'Connell and he's a very inspiring individual. I'd actually talked to him for years via email and a lot of the advice he'd given me in those conversations really helped to shape me as a creative. It was really cool to finally meet him in person and show him what I could do. I wouldn't want to say the experience is magical, because that sounds a bit silly – but it was close.
What are the big lessons will you be taking with you?
I learned to always trust your gut. If you believe in a concept, present it with all the passion you used to create it. If you can get others as excited about an idea as you are, they'll be more inclined to believe in it. If you have a great idea and you present it half-assed, it's not going to sound that great. You have to believe in your abilities and always push yourself to be better. As Steve Red told us, it's important to "Be humble and stay hungry."
What were the agency’s parting words to you?
They told me to never stop believing. Everyone was really supportive of my project and told me that victory is mine to lose. As long as I keep pushing myself and delivering at each of my stops, this project will be a success on all fronts.
How does it compare with the other agencies you’ve visited?
It was definitely the craziest. Every agency I've visited so far has been absolutely amazing. But Red Tettemer takes everything they do to the next level. They certainly love to work hard and play hard. I think that's why their creative is so memorable.
Describe your overall experience in three words?
Hectic. Exciting. Inspiring.
Where are you off to next?
In April, I'm headed to BooneOakley in Charlotte, NC. I've always been a fan of their work, so I'm very excited.
This is the first Q&A in a series with Steve Taylor. Every month The Drum will catch up with him to find how where he has been, where he is going, and how he is coping with life on the road. But if you can't wait until then you can follow @zombieparmesan or The Great Agency Adventure blog.