'Data can give you the deep human insights to tell stories that really move people': Beyond the Brief with Ed Chambliss, Phelps

Ed Chambliss, Phelps

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.

Ed Chambliss was recently named the chief executive officer at Phelps. Before that he served as the president and chief operating officer of the Los Angeles-based agency. During that time, he led a re-orientation of the agency with a focus on digital creative and planning, including bringing in new leads for strategy, creative and data.

Chambliss has been at Phelps for 17 years after beginning his career as a copywriter at BBDO and then heading the copywriting department at the Portfolio Center in Atlanta.

His passion for advertising, as well as his leadership and passion for creativity, shows how he is living beyond the brief.

Your favorite campaign (that isn't yours) and why?

BBDO’s “You’re not yourself when you’re hungry” campaign for Snickers. It’s such a great example of a human truth that everyone can identify with. Having such an amazing insight freed them up to then get intrusive and entertaining with the creative executions. I consistently use this campaign as an example to how a great strategy leads to work that resonates.

Who is your hero and why?

The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. He’s completely human and approachable. I saw a series of interviews with religious leaders, asking each, “What happens when we die?” Most spoke strongly to their own faith, including a southern Baptist preacher who said confidently, “I know I’m going to heaven.” This level of faith had always escaped me, so I found these hard to identify with that. When it was the Dalai Lama’s turn he answered simply, “Well, we don’t really know.” This, of course, flabbergasted the interviewer, who said, “But you’re the leader of hundreds of millions of Buddhists around the world. Why do you pray? Why do practice your rituals?” And the Dalai Lama giggled and said with a warm smile, “Just in case.” His humbleness was so unexpected and so real, I thought, “this is someone I can totally get on board with.”

What was the moment you knew you wanted to be in advertising?

I was seven years old and was visiting my uncle’s video post-production facility. Everywhere I looked were television screens and all sorts of tools for putting whatever you wanted on those screens. He even had me stand against a blue screen and then superimposed me standing on the surface of the moon. I was hooked.

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

I grew up in Atlanta and didn’t leave until I was in my late 20s, so I didn’t appreciate it until I was gone. But I’d have to say it’s how every meal you eat feels like a family meal, even when there’s no family around. It doesn’t matter whom you’re with. Somehow, the shared sense of communion extends to the next table and you find yourself enjoying each other’s company while you also enjoy the amazing food.

If you went back to school to pick up a new skill, what would it be?

Definitely higher math, such as trigonometry, calculus or statistics. As a copywriter wanna-be, I was on a liberal arts path in school. Today, there’s so much data out there that you need to be fluent in the language of math to separate the jewels from the dirt. Then the data can give you the deep human insights to tell stories that really move people.

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

I roast coffee beans. Transforming a green coffee bean into the perfect roast is a multisensory craft that I will never perfect, but always pursue - and enjoy. It gets me a good cup of coffee to boot.

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