Q&A: Ari Halper, Chief Creative Officer FCB New York – ‘Don’t Try to Be On Your Best Behavior’


Ari Halper is in the process of transforming FCB New York into one of the city’s most innovative agencies. A process that has seen a storied company with a 145+ year history direct its focus on having the start-up mentality of being ‘Never Finished’.

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Halper is heading to Korea in August as an Executive Judge at Ad Stars. Barbara Messer recently spoke with him to talk about how he’s changing the culture at FCB New York, why he publishes a food blog, and the story behind fathering the E*TRADE Baby, who starred in a string of Super Bowl commercials.

 
 

Last year, AdWeek described you as a CCO who is “in the trenches, close to the cutting-edge work their companies are producing.” Are you happiest in the trenches?

Like a pig in shit, as the saying goes. I read an article written by a junior creative in one of the trades a few years back and the wisdom in their words stuck with me to this day.

It was advice on how to be a great creative leader from their perspective, and one of the things they stressed was to never stop creating. Because once you do, you are no longer a creative. You are just a manager. Their words, not mine. But it’s a balance, so I am very mindful not to compete with the teams and merely try to inspire them, directionally.

Some of your most famous work has been campaigns for social good. Why is gun control, in particular, an issue that’s close to your heart?

After Sandy Hook, I was shaken to my core. Partly because it happened just 30 minutes from my house and partly because I have two children of my own, one who was very close to the age of the victims that day. And it was at that point that I realized I was playing Russian roulette with my children’s lives every time I dropped them off at school. As a father, I had to do something.

 
 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tsijvpYivVc

Let’s talk about fathering the E*Trade baby. As a copywriter, what was it like to land this brief – and keep the idea going for eight Super Bowls?

It started with a killer strategy, that while people fear taking their finances into their own hands, there are actually 1,000 new accounts a day at E*TRADE, meaning there was a “safety in numbers” dynamic. Which initially gave birth to the webcam confessions campaign. But for the Super Bowl we needed to up the ante.

I also make it a point to keep ideas anonymous until we’ve chosen what will move forward – this way junior teams have the same shot as seasoned veterans. It’s a level playing field and the best idea always wins. Lastly, we encourage everyon

So, we upped it to child’s play, or “so easy a baby could do it.” But talking babies were done to death on the Super Bowl, so we decided to do it differently, taking the piss out of ourselves, from tone to puke.

How have you shaped the culture at FCB New York since joining in 2016?

I’ve tried to keep it pretty flat and make myself as accessible as possible. I don’t have an office so my door is literally always open.

I also make it a point to keep ideas anonymous until we’ve chosen what will move forward – this way junior teams have the same shot as seasoned veterans. It’s a level playing field and the best idea always wins.

Lastly, we encourage everyone to take ownership and pride in the creative product so everyone from planners to project managers to accounts all feel free to throw out creative solutions.

You also remodeled the office. Why?

The remodel of the office was something I took very much to heart as I wanted the space to feel contemporary, but not cold or sterile, something I fear too many agencies are guilty of in their attempt to be modern.

The art on the walls was commissioned by street artists from the city as well as a trio of evil eyes from Turkey and pillows from India and the Middle East

We encourage everyone to take ownership and pride in the creative product so everyone from planners to project managers to accounts all feel free to throw out creative solutions.

I worked with the architects to choose a more eclectic, inspiring mix of unique materials and furniture. In fact, I chose almost every single piece in the office, from a reclaimed bowling alley turned into a long table, to a chair shaped as a face, to a lodge style room complete with a “fireplace” (it’s electric, but has a true mantel). I didn’t shy away from color, using vibrant pops here and there to pay homage to the FCB logo.

Is it true you make it a point to go to lunch with everyone?

It is. And I LOVE it. You learn some pretty incredible things about people. Unfortunately, it’s slow going though because everyone is so busy. But I try to make it a priority. It’s the best way to get to know someone as a person – over a meal. I also think it helps to break down barriers so that people feel more comfortable to come and talk to me about whatever they might need down the road.

You went on 50 interviews before landing your first job, which must surely make you an expert in the art of interviews. What advice do you have for those who are just starting out?

My biggest advice is don’t give up. Don’t get frustrated. It’s a hard business to break into, but it’s so worth it. As for during the interviews themselves, I think it’s important not to be too self-conscious. Don’t try to be on your best behavior. Be yourself. Let it shine. And don’t just answer questions, be sure to ask smart questions too. I actually find the questions candidates ask of me to be every bit as important as the answers they have to the questions I ask.

What inspired you to start your own food blog?

Everyone was constantly asking me for restaurant recommendations because they didn’t trust Yelp. They either wanted to entertain a client, had a big date, were taking out friends or family from out of town – even to set the mood for a marriage proposal.

And every time I had to ask them a host of questions: What kind of food do they like? How much did they want to spend? What kind of vibe? What neighborhood in the city? It started to become a real time suck. So, I launched the blog and now I just tell everyone to go there and they can search for anything they could possibly want.

If you could name one favorite restaurant, what would it be?

Animal in LA, L’Affable in Cannes and Momofuku Ko in New York. Haven’t been to Busan yet though, so stay tuned.

Why did you accept the invitation to judge at Ad Stars 2018, and what are you most looking forward to?

I love judging shows in general, so it was an easy decision. I find it inspiring, but also very educational, almost like a masterclass in creativity. Plus, this was a rare honor to be a jury president and to see Korea, which didn’t hurt either.

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