27 Senior Agency Leaders Who Are Charting a New Course for the Creative Industry

They're taking the helm and changing the rules

Michelle Nguyen is co-founder and chief creative officer of San Francisco-based Scout Lab.
Headshot of David Griner

Yesterday’s upstarts have become today’s top-level talent, ushering in a new, digitally native generation of leadership. While many of them first arrived in the advertising world to find it dangerously complacent, those wise and bold enough to chart a path forward have helped reshape the industry. You may not have already known their names, but you’ve certainly already felt their influence.

Katie Keating and Erica Fite
Co-founders, Fancy

If a chain of sex shops isn’t the first kind of client that comes to mind when you think of an agency dedicated to empowering and championing women, well, maybe it should be.

New York-based Fancy was founded by agency veterans Katie Keating and Erica Fite in 2011 with the insight that “if something matters to women, it matters to the world.” Years before #MeToo began shifting the agency landscape, Fancy was building a business around limitless respect of women both as colleagues and as consumers.

Fancy's poster for The Lion's Den

And when they were recently approached by The Lion’s Den, a chain of 46 sex shops looking to modernize its brand image, Fancy made the magic happen.

“Fancy was challenged with shifting perception of a mostly male, DVD-centric, pull-off-the-highway adult superstore into an appealing destination for women and couples,” Fite says. “We knew Lion’s Den would provide the perfect opportunity for us to elevate and validate sexual health and empowerment as an important part of a women’s life, historically misrepresented—in a category dominated by ideas and images meant to tempt and titillate men—or flat-out ignored.”

The resulting work was empowering, certainly, but still fun, with women shedding inhibitions in the bedroom and even at the occasional geriatric birthday party. The brand’s poster for International Women’s Day was especially memorable: “Women Come First!”

Another point of pride is Fancy for Good, the agency’s nonprofit focus area. “We recently raised money to equip midwives with motorcycles in Ghana,” Keating says, “and our efforts also support women and girls around the world from Haiti to Rwanda to South Africa to right here at home in NYC.”

Danilo Boer and Marcos Kotlhar
Executive Creative Directors, BBDO New York

Bacardi and Macy’s may be very different brands, but they’ve faced a similar challenge: They’re iconic, but not always seen as the most fresh and exciting options in their rapidly evolving categories.

Luckily, the same team is working with both to change that. Danilo Boer and Marcos Kotlhar—a duo that traces its roots to their early years together at Brazil’s AlmapBBDO—have been behind BBDO New York’s upbeat and invigorating work for these two clients.

For Bacardi, that’s meant everything from millennial-resonant ads like “Break Free,” poking fun at the inescapable loops of Instagram’s popular Boomerang feature, to cutting-edge collaborative integrations like Music Liberates Music, through which Bacardi donated studio time to new Caribbean musicians every time someone streamed a Major Lazer track on Spotify.

“We have been very proud of how in the last three years we and the BBDO team have turned Bacardi into a brand that is constantly innovating, delivering entertainment and making ads that don’t even feel like ads,” Boer says, “and how that led Bacardi to be praised by award shows and, most importantly, helped their business leave a difficult moment and move into a currently, extremely healthy place.”

For Macy’s, the duo recently completed “Spotlight,” a lovely ad that used seamless digital effects to show the sunlight melting away drab winter clothes in favor of bare skin and bright, light fabrics.

If you’re looking to have your own moment in the sun, whether as a brand or as a creative professional, Kotlhar has this advice: “When you start to get comfortable and you feel like you finally have things under control, change.”

Michelle Nguyen
Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, Scout Lab

When it comes to food, Michelle Nguyen sees things differently than most of us. Literally.

“I have synesthesia, where I associate experiences with colors,” she says. “Cooking, or even eating, to me is almost exactly like painting a picture. Every ingredient, sound, texture and taste formulates a color that gets layered and stored into my brain like a painting.”

That might explain why, after leaving her successful tenure as design director for lifestyle media site Brit + Co to launch San Francisco agency startup Scout Lab, one of her first major projects has been to create stunning visual content for Plenty, a network of local farms that use vertical gardening techniques to create healthy food with a minimal footprint.

“Not only do I get to combine my love for design and food, but the experience has also been deeply rewarding because I’m developing creative for a brand that I truly believe will change the world,” Nguyen says.

The magazine-quality creative direction for Plenty has been strategic and hands-on joy for Nguyen. “I loved getting down and dirty in the process,” she says. “I handled everything from concept of photography to model selection and even recipe development with our food stylists.”

Any free time Nguyen finds between work projects is spent on her two other great passions: travel and true crime.

“I find creativity in how crimes are solved, putting the case together piece by piece through evidence, testimonies, and facts versus perception,” she says. “I actually thought about becoming a forensic scientist before I decided to get into design.”

Feh Tarty
Chief Creative Officer, SS+K

The world-changing powers of humanity and creativity were never abstract ideas to Feh Tarty, born in Liberia and raised in the United States, where he watched from a distance as loved ones endured a brutal civil war.

Those memories felt fresh when he served as creative director on the 2017 music video for “No Refuge” by PARISI and Wu-Tang Clan alumnus RZA.

“It was emotional for me because members of my family fled to refugee camps in neighboring countries in order to survive Liberia’s civil war, which began in 1990,” Tarty says. “As a child growing up in the U.S., it was hard listening to some voices in the media refer to Liberian refugees as a nuisance, rather than parents, siblings and children fleeing for their lives to unite with their loved ones—and in many instances risking their own lives to save others.”

Tarty created the video while running his own London agency called Stay in School, which he left to take on a CD role at consultancy SYPartners before being named to his current role, CCO of SS+K. Previous roles include creative stints at DDB Los Angeles, Mother London and Wieden + Kennedy London.

Passionate (or, as he says, “super nerdy”) about history and human behavior, Tarty believes that creativity is a defining aspect of how mankind endures its greatest times of crisis.

“Eventually, after some unbearable suffering, our survival tends to fall on our creative ideas and willingness to work together,” he says. “The minute we lose sight of that, the earth will simply hit reset without us.”

Christine Lane and Deb Archambault
Executive Producers, McCann New York

A statue that became an icon. An album featuring no less than Bob Dylan. These are just two of the projects that have made McCann New York the recent envy of the agency world (and Adweek’s U.S. Agency of the Year for 2017), and they couldn’t have happened without producers Christine Lane and Deb Archambault.

“I will forever be proud of leading content creation around Fearless Girl,” Archambault says of the highly awarded bronze statue created for State Street Global Advisors. “She may be small, but she’s so much bigger than a project.”

Lane says Fearless Girl has been an unprecedented experience, especially in terms of the unexpected ways it echoed throughout the world.

“Working in advertising, you always want your projects to resonate in culture, and to see Fearless Girl as a meme, as a question on Jeopardy, and represented in political satire was incredible,” she says. “But I never anticipated women would get tattoos of Fearless Girl. I never anticipated receiving emails from mothers who saw their daughters in Fearless Girl or from women working on Wall Street who felt their struggle was finally being acknowledged.”

Since Fearless Girl’s launch, McCann has continued to generate lauded campaigns, including the Universal Love album featuring new versions of classic love songs, reimagined as being sung to someone of the same gender. Dylan, Kesha, St. Vincent and more contributed to the project. “My hope,” Archambault says, “is that Universal Love helps inspire artists to sing more freely about whomever it is that they love.”

Derek Fridman and Jason Musante
Chief Design Officer and Chief Creative Officer, Huge

One is an acclaimed street artist. The other is a pilot who sees time in the skies as a form of meditation. Together, they form one of the most interesting and inventive duos in modern advertising.

Derek Fridman has spent years stretching the outer edges of how the industry defines “design.” It began in 2001, when he left Razorfish after the dot-com collapse and spent six months dedicated to creating art under the pseudonym UrbanMedium, resulting in gallery showings around the world. Even today it remains an “outlet for my insatiable need to create as well as a catalyst for thinking outside the box when solving a client’s design challenges.”

In 2013, Fridman opened Huge’s Atlanta office, now the agency’s second-largest. He’s most proud of launching Huge Cafe, a self-sustaining public coffee shop and R&D retail space. His team has also created apps, VR/AR activations and other interactive experiences for brands like Lowe’s, Under Armour and AMC Theaters.

As Huge’s creative chief, Musante brings a diverse agency pedigree, including successful stints at Saatchi & Saatchi, Co:collective and BBDO New York.

While his team’s work on the 2018 Super Bowl for Quicken Loans, starring Keegan-Michael Key, is his best-known recent work, Musante was also instrumental in the 2017 launch of Zelle, a mobile payment app owned by a partnership of banking giants like Bank of America and Capital One. Huge developed the name and market strategy for the app, along with all the marketing materials—accomplishing the seemingly impossible design challenge of getting seven major financial institutions to agree to one brand aesthetic.

With so much going on, amateur pilot Musante finds that time in a cockpit is the perfect way to disengage from his digital life and be present in the moment. “This total focus is incredibly meditative,” he says, “allowing me to get a different perspective, literally, on any creative or business challenge.”

Lisa Topol and Derek Barnes
Co-CCOs, DDB New York

In advertising, when you find the perfect partner, you never want to be parted. But promotions and job changes usually bring an end to such dream duos.

That seemed to be the fate in store for Lisa Topol and Derek Barnes, who met at Wieden + Kennedy New York in the 2000s but parted ways to work at different agencies. Then they were reunited at Grey as ECDs in 2013, and this year, DDB New York lured them both away to be its co-CCOs.

At Grey New York, their partnership fueled the creativity for brands like the NFL, Bose and Best Buy. Topol and Barnes are most proud to look back on their 2015 Super Bowl spot for NoMore.org, which let audiences listen to a chilling conversation between a 911 operator and a domestic violence victim pretending to order a pizza while her abuser was in the room.

“This was just before the ‘Me Too’ movement blew the lid off the types of behavior women are all too often exposed to every day,” Topol says. “It used one of the biggest platforms in the world to deliver a very compelling, sobering and real statement about the often silent issue of domestic violence. It made noise and it made phones ring at domestic violence hotlines across the nation.”

Activism and social causes have increasingly fueled Topol’s creative pursuits, such as the posters she wrote for the 2017 Women’s March, with slogans like “pRESIDENT EVIL” and “Is That Putin in Your Pocket, or Are You Just Happy to Deceive Me?”

“Sitting back and watching this implosion is not an option,” she says. “Along with friends and colleagues we launched a huge series of protest signs we made available on Tumblr for free download. I was amazed when I saw them show up all over the march in D.C.”

Liz Taylor
Chief Creative Officer, FCB Chicago

Liz Taylor is writing a book. She wants you to know this, because the more she mentions it, the more pressure she’ll feel to actually get it done.

“It’s a goal I’ve always had,” she says. “I try to take time each year to head off into the woods, surrounded by trees and nature’s soundtrack, to work on it. It’s rewarding to be a maker, a writer, a storyteller.”

Regardless of whether or when her book gets published, Taylor’s storytelling is frequently on display in the work from FCB Chicago and, prior to that, from her time as an ECD at Ogilvy. At FCB she’s worked with brands big and small, including creating the 2018 Super Bowl ad for Michelob Ultra featuring Chris Pratt.

For under-the-radar men’s products brand Archer, FCB Chicago created a PR coup by giving a minor-league baseball pitcher “the biggest sports endorsement deal of all time”—$3.4 billion, with the clever caveat that it would be disbursed over 10 million years. The work won two Cannes Lions and an Effie.

But Taylor’s favorite project was the eye-opening “Teddy Gun,” which created a gun in the shape of a teddy bear. The gun-control advocacy project wanted to highlight that toys often face stricter regulation in America than firearms.

“The campaign accomplished what all the headlines and news coverage on the gun violence epidemic couldn’t,” Taylor says. “On April 27, 2017, Illinois Senate Bill 1657 (the Gun Dealer Licensing Act) was passed—a huge step forward for gun regulations in Illinois and beyond.”

Franklin Tipton
Partner and Chief Creative Officer, Odysseus Arms

Are paid media and owned media two different worlds? Not to Franklin Tipton, an agency industry veteran who says the content lines are blurring.

“Yes, we still produce ads, but we use social media to blast-test directions, style and ideas using Facebook as a ‘campaign incubator,'” he says of his approach at San Francisco’s Odysseus Arms. “From there, we finesse individual executions and push them with paid media. The cost versus impact on sales is a multiple of anything I’ve seen in 25 years.”

He’s found some fun brands to share this journey with him, too. For booking app Hotel Tonight, the agency’s cheeky work has included social-friendly, pet-centric posters and videos about the annoyances of lodging with relatives, saying: “Visit family. Stay with us.”

With Barefoot Wines, Odysseus Arms says its social content approach has yielded visibility 600 times higher than what other large brands are seeing on Facebook., and the agency says its work for Foster Farms Corn Dogs sparked a 22 percent growth in sales. He’s even done “invertising” work for Facebook, promoting the social network’s internal culture of charitable giving.

For Tipton, the job definitely isn’t just about financial results. He makes time for both the social impact of projects like the agency’s ACLU poster calling for the closure of Guantanamo Bay and for simple pleasures, like teaching hundreds of kids around the world how to surf. When asked about what he’s learned in his time in advertising, he’s quick to see the positives: “Are you kidding? Best job on earth.”

Petter Westlund
Chief Creative Officer, B-Reel

Whether he’s making gorgeous smartphone screens built from Google Earth data or creating an AR-fueled app to launch the new Gorillaz album, Petter Westlund brings soaring innovation to everything his team does at agency B-Reel.

Having helped launch the agency in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1999, Westlund is now based in the creative agency’s Los Angeles office.

That’s not to say he’s lost touch with the shop’s Scandinavian roots. Westlund recently led the development of “SAMMI,” a virtual assistant designed with the attitude of a Swedish grandmother for the L.A. office.

But most know Westlund and B-Reel for the big names he gets to work with, like H&M (for whom they’ve organized four consecutive annual designer collaborations, most recently with London-based Erdem) or Google.

He’s especially fond of the Live Wallpapers project for Google Pixel, turning Google Earth data into stunning backdrops for your phone. One version shows your location from space in real time, while another creates hypnotic dioramas of locations around the planet.

“It sits in an interesting and emerging field of digital design, providing the consumer with useful information but in a more subtle way,” Westlund says of the Live Wallpapers. “It was exciting to create something that was such a central part of the user experience—a backdrop to your home screen that shipped with every smartphone.”

Paul Bichler and Daniel Lobatón
Executive Creative Director and Creative Director, Saatchi & Saatchi NY

Most creative teams are lucky to even enter the Super Bowl. These two flat-out invaded it.

Paul Bichler and Daniel Lobatón were key creative leaders on Saatchi & Saatchi NY’s inescapable and enviable “It’s a Tide Ad” campaign for the Procter & Gamble laundry brand. The campaign included spots in every quarter, featuring David Harbour of Stranger Things and multiple red-herring ads that turned out to be, yep, Tide ads.

“Just seeing how the audience embraced it–how it turned from trending topic to internet meme–was amazing,” Lobatón said. “A team of very talented creatives from around the world all delivered the best work of their career. We were rewriting it up until the very last second on set, and it’s fun to see how lots of those last additions made it to the final cut.”

Expectations were high going into this year’s game, after Saatchi’s inventive and integrated 2017 Super Bowl campaign featuring Terry Bradshaw’s stained shirt.

“Together, with our clients, we’ve created some incredibly daring work for the last two Super Bowls,” Bichler says. “We have this great relationship where we challenge each other to think bigger than we ever thought possible—and somehow end up doing it.”

For Lobatón, who’s also done recent work for Wendy’s and Olay, not to mention being credited with helping bring Spanish accents to major-league sports uniforms through the “Ponle Acento” effort, the lesson from his team’s success is simple: “Focus on the craft, so when the right opportunity shows up you can hit a home run.”

Daniel Pérez Pallares
Executive Creative Director, The Community

The theme of breaking down barriers isn’t hard to spot in Daniel Pérez Pallares’ work. As CCO of Leo Burnett Mexico, he created an epic spot for Corona directly connecting President Trump’s proposed border wall with the internal walls that hold us back from our potential. He also helped those who’ve lost limbs surmount the obstacle of phantom pain syndrome with Samsung Gear VR.

But one of his greatest accomplishments since joining The Community has been to knock down a more subtle barrier: the antiquated divide between mainstream U.S. advertising and multicultural marketing.

For Verizon’s ads targeting Hispanic audiences, Pallares’ team could have simply created a Spanish-speaking equivalent of Silicon Valley star Thomas Middleditch’s spokesman character—and in fact, they did. But they brought the two characters together, with Mexican actor Luis Gerardo Méndez suavely stepping in when eminently awkward Middleditch finds himself hitting a language barrier in ads like “Date Interrupted” and “Marathon.”

That work “served as a great experience that taught me a lot,” he says. “In 30 seconds, we achieved reuniting two general market and Hispanic market celebrities. Within the situation, we tried to show an insight while keeping a humorous style that went with the campaign and characters. These factors posed a huge challenge–and I think the piece turned out very organic and fun, while communicating the message very well.”

Outside of work, Pérez Pallares’ maintains a dizzying amount of creative side projects, including writing a feature-length movie and a video series while also developing an app with friends.

Andy Bird
Chief Creative Officer, Publicis New York

It was one of the boldest, most ridiculous, completely counterintuitive campaigns of the past year. And it was absolutely brilliant.

“Deisel” was a knockoff store, one of many along NYC’s Canal Street, and it purported to sell retail fashion at discount prices. True enough. But the hook was that the clothes truly were Diesel apparel, with the only changes being the misspelled label and the slashed prices.

The spot-on installation was the work of Publicis New York, led by creative chief Andy Bird. A veteran of Publicis London, Ogilvy and BBH, Bird has racked up countless awards over his lengthy and successful career—though, barring the client covering entry fees, the Diesel work is likely to go unheralded at the Cannes Lions due to Publicis’ one-year hiatus from award shows.

In addition to Diesel, Bird has also overseen recent work for Cadillac, Heineken, Walmart and more. For the disability nonprofit CoorDown, his team has created multiple campaigns that challenge the ways society refers and relates to people with Down Syndrome.

He’s worked especially closely with Citi, helping integrate storytelling and music into its marketing while also developing a new platform for measuring effectiveness all the way from awareness to CRM.

Bird says he doesn’t have any one consistent source of creative inspiration or mental recharging, but that any experience can generate an idea. “Everything is creative inspiration, everything you hear, see, read, watch,” he says. “You don’t need to be a creative person to be touched by the world. It’s what makes you.”

David Horowitz
Executive Creative Director, Mekanism

Many TV lovers would be hard-pressed to pick their favorite HBO character or personality. But David Horowitz didn’t have to, because he got to work with almost all of them.

For the network’s “It’s What Connects Us” campaign, Horowitz’s team gathered together stars from a litany of HBO shows—Game of Thrones, Veep and Westworld, just to name a few—and then had them … groan? Gasp? Drone? The peculiar sounds come together as a chorus at the end of each spot, forming the unique “HBO sound” that emerges from static at the beginning of each program.

“HBO is a brand I’ve loved since I was way too young to be watching it, so I felt a great responsibility to do it justice,” Horowitz says. “Having the opportunity to bring together all of those characters in service of one simple idea, and to even get to direct some of my favorite actors in the process, was an incredibly rewarding experience that will be hard to top.”

Another beloved client is Ben & Jerry’s, for whom Horowitz worked on the “Democracy is in Your Hands” voter-empowerment campaign and product launches in the U.S. and Europe.

While it almost pains him to say it—”Jesus, I sound like public radio”—Horowitz cites life in New York City as a daily creative inspiration.

“Just walking around the city and taking in the ambient energy that comes from so many people thrown on top of each other does it for me,” he says. “Everyone here has made a decision to live in the center of the universe, just to make life as hard and interesting as possible. That energy clings to you, especially when you’ve just gotten off the F train.”

Alyson Warshaw
Chief Creative Officer, Laundry Service

Returning to work at the beginning of this year after the birth of her second child, Alyson Warshaw dove right into working on a major project with someone who could certainly relate: Serena Williams.

“I came back from maternity leave in January, just when we were completing production on the Serena Williams x Lincoln campaign that we launched in March,” Warshaw says. “Serena had given birth only a month or so before I did, so she was just getting back to work herself, and was in the middle of preparing for her big comeback tournament.”

The Lincoln spot ends with the line “Return Strong,” which is just as fitting for Warshaw. Laundry Service has become one of New York’s most-watched agencies in recent years through a creative combination of documentary filmmaking, social-savvy content and multilayered integration for brands like Hennessy, Jordan Brand and T-Mobile.

That momentum shows little sign of slowing, with a flurry of business wins in 2017 starting to bear creative fruit, such as the Williams ad (for which Lincoln bypassed its relationship with WPP in assigning to Wasserman-owned Laundry Service and its content studio, Cycle).

“The campaign came out beautifully, and it was really inspiring to watch such a strong, accomplished woman take on this leading role while juggling the responsibilities of being a star athlete and a new mother,” Warshaw says. “I’m so glad that I got back in time to help out with those final rounds of creative review during the postproduction process.”

Eddie Opara
Partner, Pentagram

“Very Blade Runner-esque.”

That’s how Eddie Opara describes one of his favorite recent projects, the visual design of a seven-story digital screen you can walk through to enter Thailand’s MahaNakhon Cube. The towering display fronts a mixed-use complex outside Bangkok’s tallest tower.

The project represents the fascinating fringe of how “design” is defined in the modern world, with Opara’s team working to create everything from a custom typeface tailored for the towering screen’s elongated pixels to a dynamic visual aesthetic that reflects the city’s daily cycle (calmer at sunrise and dusk, faster-paced at rush hour).

Such futuristic projects might create the mental image of Opara as a frenzied visionary from science fiction, but in fact he finds he’s most rejuvenated when he finds moments of peace and reflection.

“Through finding a quiet stop, sometimes going for a walk, or at Mass—yes, Mass, how un-PC—I find that I zone out easily, and it clears my head and allows me to think,” he says. “I need to go way more often to that.”

Born in London, Opara received his MFA from Yale University less than 10 years before starting his own design firm, The Map Office, in 2005. In 2010 he became a partner at Pentagram, one of the field’s most respected firms.

His advice for those looking to reach such professional heights? “Travel and see this amazing world we have. It will open your idea about so many cultures and ways of seeing—more than Instagram, Facebook and Twitter combined.”

Jim Wood and Carren O’Keefe
Partners and ECDs, AnalogFolk

Going into a recent pitch for a fitness brand, Jim Wood had one goal: “Be first or last.” Anything else would mean his team at digital agency AnalogFolk hadn’t stretched itself far enough in redefining the client’s expectations.

“Their RFP asked everyone competing to explore unique ways of curating content,” he says. “Instead of creating it, we presented them a new business model. And we won. Sometimes, the brief isn’t the brief.”

Wood and fellow ECD Carren O’Keefe live on opposite ends of the continent—he in NYC, she in Portland—but share a mindset of restless innovation developed as creative partners at AKQA, where they worked on clients like Mondelez, Google and Anheuser-Busch.

With more offices in London, Sydney, Hong Kong and Shanghai, AnalogFolk has quickly grown its own premium portfolio of clients, such as Nike, for whom the agency developed the Nike Training global campaign, interactive Trainers Hub and a partnership with meditation app Headspace to provide exclusive content for Nike Training Club members.

For Clif Bar, the agency has been equally ambitious, creating a route-design tool for runners called Scout, an inspiration-fueling Mantra Maker and a gender-balance hub called Equality Every Day.

A passion for physical activity isn’t only found in the agency’s work, either. “I’m a powerlifter and I love it because it challenges what I’m capable of,” O’Keefe says. “I was buried under a 275-pound squat once, and my trainer congratulated me on my record-breaking failure. He said, ‘Wouldn’t you rather fail at something spectacular than succeed at something safe?’ That’s become my motto for creativity.”

Lewis Williams
EVP and Chief Creative Officer, Burrell Communications Group

His passion may be for running marathons, but when it comes to work, Lewis Williams is a team player. That doesn’t just mean collaborating daily with dozens of creative colleagues at Chicago-based multicultural agency Burrell Communications Group; it also means working closely with other agencies.

For the launch of the 2018 Toyota Camry, one of several high-stakes roll-outs Williams has been tasked with, his team worked with three other agencies to make the campaign a success.

“To go through such an extensive process and end up with both an amazing and effective creative outcome is a feat within itself,” he says. “It also reflects how clients are demanding that agencies put egos aside and work together. In the end, the work was amazing. It’s not always easy, but we did it.”

Williams began his career at Burrell as an art director before a 14-year run at Leo Burnett Chicago, where he rose to svp and creative director. He returned to Burrell in 2006 and has led creative on projects for massive clients like McDonald’s and Procter & Gamble, not to mention extensive work for Toyota.

Williams says he often finds inspiration while running marathons or practicing yoga, but he also remains energized by an aspect of the job that many creative leaders find more exhausting with each passing year: staying culturally relevant: “The challenge is to connect with today’s consumer, who has become more savvy and difficult to reach. They demand that you stay aware of the latest trends, platforms and cultural shifts. I find that exciting and motivating.”

Gavin Lester
Partner and Chief Creative Officer, Zambezi

Sports drink ads are supposed to be sweat-soaked, aspirational odes to physical perfection. So why is Vitaminwater Active being sold by a “Sorta-Fit Spokesguy” who admits that when he can’t find convenient parking at the gym, he’ll probably just go back home?

The answer is Gavin Lester and his creative team at Zambezi, the versatile L.A.-based agency named for an African shark that can swim in saltwater or freshwater. For Vitaminwater’s new electrolyte-enhanced drink line, Zambezi proposed a break from cliche.

“There is a whole demographic of people who are not looking to get ripped, who prefer light workouts,” Lester says. “That was the core insight, which was not based on the product ingredients so much as on the consumer. We executed against that insight creating a new type of spokesperson—the Sorta-Fit Spokesguy. My role, besides nurturing, supporting and encouraging the work, was to serve as a model. If anyone here at the agency is sorta-fit, it’s me.”

This story first appeared in the June 11, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@griner david.griner@adweek.com David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."
Publish date: June 10, 2018 https://stage.adweek.com/creativity/27-agency-senior-leaders-2018/ © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT