“What a time to be alive”: Beyond the Brief with Michael Lemme, Duncan Channon

Michael Lemme, Duncan Channon

To celebrate its 100th Anniversary, the 4A’s has partnered with us at The Drum to pull back the curtain and look at an industry full of problem solvers, creative types and analytical minds. But what keeps them going once the briefs are written, the campaigns executed, and the pitches won (or lost)? The Drum is now interviewing 100 people at 4A’s member agencies — across all disciplines, levels, regions, and agency types — to get a glimpse into what drives them at work and what fuels them in life.

Michael Lemme, the chief creative officer and partner at Duncan Channon, is a designer turned CCO. For the last 13 years, Lemme has called Duncan Channon home, leading re-branding and UX efforts for Esurance, StubHub, Sephora, Stride Rite, Blurb and Hard Rock. Through his years in the industry, he has earned three Global Rebrand 100 prizes, and has been recognized with a Clio, Effie and One Show pencil, amongst others.

Lemme has been pushing boundaries in the industry constantly. In addition to his push for creativity, he has been committed to exploring technology. Whether he was creating one of the first websites that incorporated streaming video into what was then Macromedia Flash, to launch Macromedia Flash MX or being one of the first to use Microsoft Silverlight technology to design Hard Rock’s interactive memorabilia site, Lemme takes on the challenge.

His passion for his agency work, coupled with his love of technology and innovation, shows that he is living beyond the brief.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your advertising career?

You don’t appreciate when you’re younger, or starting out, how much our grown-up, professional conversations are colored by fear and doubt.

Experienced people become familiar with what’s worked in the past, bolstering a portrayal of confidence and reassurance. I like to engage with clients from the opposite end – with an understanding that there’s no algorithm to success.

Our best work comes when experience, expertise and trust allow everyone to collaborate on the areas that don’t make conventional sense or are too mutable to conform to any rules.

What keeps you sane in this industry? What keeps you driven to do great work?

I’m a big fan of Bill Hicks and was before I ever worked in advertising. It’s thanks to him that I still don’t completely accept the premise that I do. I often hear his voice, a sincere aside to the audience, “By the way, if anyone here is in advertising or marketing, kill yourself.” It motivates me to make work that is honest, artful and human, and that affects positive change.

Only an ad guy drowned in industry BS would posit that brand and marketing can be noble – while referencing Bill Hicks – but there you go. Sorry, Bill.

What makes you excited about going to work every day?

For real though: what a time to be alive. The internet shakes and remakes everything as it evolves – including things that had seemed like foundations: the consequences of capitalism or the nature of truth itself – truth in “the news,” not to mention advertising.

It’s clearly not enough to muster just a resonant message and a consistent brand identity – brands and organizations reveal their values and utility through their actions. That’s not actually a new phenomenon but impossible to escape from. And a vital part now of what we’re engaging with clients to tackle.

What’s a hobby that you love or would like to start?

Family and personal history research is kind of an obsession. It’s fascinating to see hundreds of my “relatives” investigating primary records and confirming with some certainty the stuff that is closest to living memory, followed by tons of hearsay and crummy research as our family trees reach back in time.

As social and DNA technologies mature, it’s cool to imagine the human family tree becoming increasingly accurate via the collaboration of millions of individual users – whether the ultimate story is true or just an emergent approximation.

What book would you suggest to a stranger?

Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style. If you communicate in written words, you should read it.

What non-advertising things do you draw inspiration from?

I’ve been a science nerd from as long as I can remember – particularly theoretical physics, the pursuit of the biggest questions. I love the dizzying feeling you get when you consider the scale of the universe, the science of the origin of everything and what it means to be conscious in the face of that. It puts things in perspective and keeps me going. Better do something weird today. The cosmos commands it.

To pitch someone from a 4A's member agency for Beyond the Brief, please complete this linked form

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Haley Velasco

Haley Velasco is a writer based in Chicago, IL, who has a background in PR for a sports media company and has reported on a variety of topics, including sports, opinion, politics and celebrity news. Based in the Windy City, she covers industry happenings in the Midwest and throughout North America. She has been reporting for The Drum since May 2016.

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