‘You need resilience and determination to thrive in this business’: Beyond the Brief with David DeMuth, Doner

David DeMuth, Doner

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.

Growing up in New Jersey, David DeMuth, chief executive and president of creative agency Doner, worked in a grocery store as teenager. He became fascinated with how and why people buy things, which spurred his interest in the industry.

DeMuth, a Doner veteran, took over the agency in 2010, and in that year, Mazda — an $150 million account and one of the agency’s biggest at the time — left Doner after years of working together. That loss didn’t stop DeMuth, who along with the Doner team, worked to position the agency to be a one-stop shop for small, local clients to global marketers.

Aside from his agency work at Doner, he’s an avid tennis player, parent and coach. In addition to playing with his own four kids, he also is the assistant tennis coach at the University of Detroit Mercy. He's also a governor at Cranbrook Schools in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, a board member at MOCAD (Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit) and a life trustee at the University School in Hunting Valley, Ohio.

His agency work and leadership at Doner, combined with his philanthropic work throughout the community, shows that he is living beyond the brief.

What was your proudest career moment?

In 2009, amid the national economic recession, a former shareholder lawsuit and a high-profile pension scandal, we took a risk in buying Doner. Soon after, in my first test as CEO, we were fired by Mazda, which was our biggest client at the time. One very long week later, on a tip, I landed an assignment from FCA (then Chrysler), which has led to an incredible and fulfilling long-term partnership. I’ve always believed you need resilience and determination to thrive in this business, and that new business win is one that I am incredibly proud of. So many people at Doner stepped up to make it happen, which is a testament to why we bought the agency, and a reminder of how far we’ve come since.

Craziest thing you’ve seen happen in a new business pitch?

I once ended a pitch in the middle of the meeting by throwing the prospective client out of our building (figuratively, not literally), because they were being disrespectful to our team. Even my own team questioned if I was serious, until I walked right out of the conference room. Doner has an amazing roster of clients, many of which we have been partnering with for decades. We are incredibly lucky to work with brands and people who we respect, and who value us in return. We don’t take our clients for granted, but we are lucky to be in a position to choose who we partner with.

What skill/personality do you have that draws colleagues to you?

East Coast edge combined with Midwest charm and humility.

What’s your favorite thing about your hometown? What (in)tangible thing have you taken from there?

Detroit exudes resilience, creativity and possibility, which makes it really unique. The people here are real, welcoming and tapped into the cultural zeitgeist in a way that truly distinguishes Detroit from other cities. In fact, our global CCO Eric Weisberg recently wrote a piece about why he moved here from NYC that is helping awaken the industry to the magic of Detroit.

What is an art that you cannot live without?

Mid-century abstract expressionist paintings (which I collect) and the music of Bruce Springsteen.

What’s your passion outside of advertising?

Italian red wine and playing/coaching tennis, but never together.

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

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.

All by Haley