Interview: Andy Pearson, Copywriter at Crispin Porter + Bogusky
As part of Nothin’ But Awesome’s effort to offer original content, today I am proud to announce my FIRST interview of an advertising professional. There are many more than I plan on conducting over the next who-knows-how-long so if you’re down to be interviewed, be sure to email me.
Ladies and gents, allow me to introduce you to Andy Pearson, one of the most creative and hardworking copywriters in the business. He joins us today from Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Boulder, CO.
NBA = Nothin’ But Awesome
AP = Andy Pearson
All opinions expressed here are solely the interviewee’s and are not necessarily reflective of any of places of employment, past or present.
NBA: Hey Andy. Thanks for joining Nothin’ But Awesome for this interview. For those that don’t know you, tell us a little about yourself.
AP: No problem. Glad to be here. And by “here” I mean “sitting at my desk staring an impending all-nighter in the face” party.
A little bit about me: I’m a 5’6 1⁄2″ Libra who doesn’t believe in astrology.
But the stuff you probably care about is: I’m an interactive copywriter at Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Boulder, Colorado. I’ve only been here about six months. Before this, I was freelancing at Wieden+Kennedy Portland on the Starbucks account. And before that I was a lowly little advertising student at The Creative Circus in Atlanta. Oh, and I love microbrews.
NBA: I’m all about microbrews. There’s nothing like drinking something delicious and knowing your non-local friends on the Internet will never know the pleasure you’re experiencing. Or maybe that’s just me being an ass.
Anyway, you touched on The Creative Circus. You’re a successful copywriter, having worked at two major agencies in two different cities. Do you attribute some of your success to attending a portfolio school? Would you tell someone in high school or college to pursue a portfolio school in order to get into the industry?
First off, I’m definitely not a “successful” copywriter. I’ve had a lot of great opportunities and chances to work with some very talented people, but the word “successful” would never cross into my mind.
But I guess some may see success as résumé points, so yeah, I’ve been very lucky in that respect. I wouldn’t attribute my “success” to the Circus though. Honestly, your career/trajectory/journey is what you make it. While I was in school (and since), I’ve worked very hard to sharpen my craft, do great work and get my name known.
That being said, the Circus is a fantastic school. I loved it and personally think it’s the best portfolio school out there. It fit my personality really well. And without a doubt, I would not be where I am today if I hadn’t put in nearly two years of hard work there.
For anyone looking to go into creative, in my opinion, it’s an absolute must. My thought on it is: you can try to get in without it but it’ll likely be much more difficult and you’ll start at a lower tier agency and then spend years working your way up to a top place. Or, you can do portfolio school and hopefully get in at much higher level agency right off the bat. I actually left Circus half a year early to work at Wieden. Like I said, I’ve been crazy lucky.
NBA: Very cool.
So what did you study in college? Did you do any traveling abroad? Do you attribute your education, both in and out of the classroom, to your copywriting voice/perspective now in your professional career?
AP: I actually studied advertising in undergrad at the University of Georgia, along with Spanish and Portuguese. But the focus of the program there is much more account/research/media so towards the end of my time there, I realized I would have to go to a portfolio school if I wanted to do what I really wanted.
I knew I’d be doing advertising for a while and that I could start portfolio school at almost any point (because of quarter systems) so after I graduated from UGA I took off to South America. Traveled all around Brazil, Argentina, Peru, a little of Costa Rica. I was planning on living there a few years and teaching English, but I decided I couldn’t stay put in one place for long, so I kept on the road and made my money last as long as it could—about half a year.
I wouldn’t say my “voice” really has much to do with my education though. If you’re a writer, you tend to write and think in the most natural way. A lot of my ideas and writing tends to be irreverent because that’s just my personality. Go against what’s expected, be surprised, do something stupid just to do it. But obviously that doesn’t always work when you’re writing for something serious. So I’m definitely working some different muscles groups now.
NBA: Speaking of different muscles, word on the street is you’re not just a writer, but also a talented graphic artist, cookie baker, and facial hair curator. Care to elaborate?
AP: Ha, well, I thought I was an aspiring graphic artist. My partner here is an incredibly talented art director, and this place is full of hyper-talented folks. I’ve learned to leave that part to them.
The cookie thing is a long story, but here’s what happened: Last June three of my classmates and I at the Circus found out we had won two Cannes Future Lions between our two teams. Problem was, we found out about four days before the festival started (in France), and had zero dollars to our name. Plane tickets alone were $6,000, plus a week in Cannes, we were looking at about $10,000. We were wracking our brains to figure out how we could make it, and I just started thinking about other fundraisers.
Bake sale. Duh. If we could sell cookies for $500 apiece, all we’d have to do is sell 20 cookies. Easy. So, we did a quick photo shoot, threw up a website overnight and the next morning started emailing everyone in the industry whose address we could get.
A few hours passed without a word, and we thought it wasn’t going to work. Then, out of the blue we got a call from Leo Burnett wanting to buy a dozen cookies. Then, AKQA bought two more, 22squared another too and some more kind people here and there. So yeah, we went to the festival/France for 10 days for free. It was incredible. Coolest thing that’s ever happened to me. (You can see the website here)
As for the facial hair, I’m just into doing stupid shit with my hair. It’ll grow back so why not? I honestly think half the reason I got the job here was because I had a ridiculous mustache at the time. In fact, I ended up selling that mustache on eBay a few months ago. Ended up getting $16.50 for it.
(Selling his Barnum and Bailey ‘stache on YouTube)
NBA: Yes… I’ve placed your facial hair in a glass box surrounded by candles. It creeps the girlfriend out but she can’t stop me! Ahem…anyway…. So now that you’re working in the industry, is it everything you thought it would be?
AP: Everything and more. Hahaha, no, it’s fun.
You know, I think throughout your career you have moments that knock you in the face as awesome. I had one while I was in college working on the NSAC project when I realized I could just be creative. I had one at Wieden when we had this crazy scheme for a Starbucks project launch. I had one here a few months ago when my partner and I had this ridiculous idea for one of our clients and then suddenly people were making it and we were getting specialists in to figure how we could build things and all that. It was a cool experience to see some silly idea you have start to take on a life of its own.
One thing that was a surprise was the sheer amount of work that you create versus what actual ever runs. It’s mind-blowing. In school you assume you come up with an idea and all these awesome parts to it and then bam, it’s running. But now it’s got to navigate clients and budgets and CDs and ECDs and CCOs and everything else. I’ve learned to never get my hopes up that anything’s ever going to happen until I see it running on a screen somewhere.
But to answer your question, yeah, I’m having a blast. I get to work on amazing clients I have no business working on and working under and very closely with some of the most brilliant minds in the industry. It’s an honor to be here, and I’m thankful every day, even if I didn’t get a chance to sleep that day.
NBA: No doubt. Seeing an idea come to life, then get shot with an AK47, only to be replaced with another, better idea is quite the experience. Nothing like it.
Now the advertising industry, specifically consumer advertising, is notorious for being a playground for the young. You don’t see too many older people unless they’re in upper management. First, why do you think that is? Second, how long do you plan on making this career?
AP: So true. That’s one of the things that really blew me away about this place. It’s all young people here. Even people in upper management are really quite young. It’s exciting because it feels like there’s a chance for any, no matter age or experience, to step up and do something big.
The reasons for the young mean age are three-fold I think:
1) You can get burned out. Obviously. It’s a crazy business. I worked for 35 hours straight “yesterday.” You can’t do that forever.
2) You lose relevance as you get older. Sad but true. In terms of mass media culture, we’re driven by the 18 to 24 demo. It’s hard to stay in touch. The guys that are older and still around are luminaries, just brilliant minds that ooze creativity, no matter what the cultural landscape.
3) We’re all artists of some sort. We get antsy and want to move on and try something more. Advertising is commercialized art. Sometimes you just want to make art.
Personally, I don’t know how long I’ll stick around here. A long time I hope. I love this. But I’m not gonna lie. I’ve tried to peer into a crystal ball 20 years down the road and see what I’m doing. But the crystal ball won’t tell me shit. I think it’s broken.
NBA: Share with us your personal approach to the advertising craft. What does it all mean to you?
AP: You know, it’s funny. It’s very rare that I feel like I make advertising. Yes, I suppose if you look at a breakdown I spend X hours making banner ads for this or writing print ads for that. But most of the time I feel it’s about ideas. Creating ideas. Big ideas that you can’t ignore and sometimes little ideas that you have to lean into to even notice. Either way, it’s about showing someone something unexpected, and getting them to love you for it.
Advertising that’s still purely advertising makes me sad. I see it all the time. It’s not self-aware. It doesn’t understand the environment in which it lives. That’s why I love what I do now. Being free to follow the best ideas into whatever medium they belong is priceless. Let’s create an in-store installation instead of a print ad. Let’s start a cruise line. Let’s launch a school bus into space. Let’s make this TV spot interact. Let’s invade Wichita. Let’s put trampolines in the subway.
But at the same time, it’s not about gimmicks. I think a lot of people are pulling that too. Videos of giant groups of people dancing in train stations and whatnot. It’s about making truly compelling ideas where you can’t look away, where you have to immediately get your hands on it and start playing with it. That’s what advertising should be.
NBA: See, now, Andy you make a good point that I really think needs to be explicitly stated when it comes to advertising today. You may have read a blog post I put up a couple months ago about the shift copywriting has made in recent years.
I’ll be honest, dude. I wanted to become a copywriter because I wanted to write for a living and couldn’t picture doing anything but writing in some form. I’ve loved writing as long as I can remember and I think I’m pretty good at it. I chose advertising because, well, from everything I researched in college, you can make a better living than other “writing” jobs and there’s lots of room for advancement, not to mention the creativity involved, the team collaboration, and seeing your work everywhere.
It’s not about the money, sure, but most journalists are compensated rather poorly unless they’re at the top pubs in the country. Plus I saw the coming collapse of the paper industry and how bloggers made $20k a year and I said no thanks. I hate to break things down into money versus art versus passion etc. etc. that’s a debate for another day, but I did want to get that out there.
So in a sense, I’m a little disappointed. In healthcare, I get to write, although it’s scientific. And when I was doing interactive, working for a financial client gave me a chance to write a lot because they’re more straightforward and less apt to, to borrow an example from you, invade Wichita. But I think about the big agencies and how it feels like they’re not looking for “copywriters” as they are classically known, but more like “ideasmiths”.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the industry. But in a way, it’s not exactly a pure-writing paradise. I think I’m 40 years too late! So in a sense, what can prepare someone to have such a creative mind? You can formally train to become a great writer if base talent is there but there’s no way to major in “creative ideas”. Thoughts?
AP: That’s awesome. I love that you love to write. But yes, it does feel as if you’re in a slowly shrinking minority. The thing is, there’s just as much copy to write today as there’s ever been. In fact, I’d say there’s even more copy today than ever (maybe). There’s still just as much TV and radio being produced but now add to the mix interactive experiences, internet videos, press releases, all sort of stuff. Maybe it’s more that the writing has changed. There will always, always be a need for brilliant storytellers. For the foreseeable future, we will still have print media and OOH and need great writing that grabs people.
That being said, the currency of advertising is really ideas. And when, as advertisers, we free ourselves from media, we find that maybe the best solution is just a package redesign or different placement on the shelf. It’s the move from prescriptive art to intuitive problem solving. Sure, ideally these two things mix, but sometimes craft suffers to ideas. I’ve seen both sides of that in places I work, and honestly I prefer big ideas to great ads. But then again, when you see a sweet piece of copy and it just makes your face melt with how good it is – I love that.
As for becoming a great “creative thinker”. . . Yeah, I’m not sure it’s a skill one can learn. But it’s definitely something that you can foster. By consuming mass quantities of it from around you. Learn to analyze everything—the way people read a website, the relationships end, what makes one band cooler than another. As you’re coming up with ideas, think about if it’s buzz-worthy. Would people really pass this along to their friends? Would if get picked up by the local news? National news? If not, your ideas probably are not big enough, so keep digging till it is. Don’t just come up with ideas and hope they’re big ones. Set your goals from the beginning to be big. That being said, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Let ideas flow. Just think what would be big.
NBA: I think there’s a saying in advertising that the best work is made with the ballsiest clients. Many companies can be conservative, both in ideas and financially, in the best of economies.
I can tell you that in the past I’ve never had the chance to work on something with an enormous budget. Plus in my world, an “edgy” client in healthcare is from a different planet than consumer. I think if I showed you what some of our groundbreaking work was, you wouldn’t think too much of it. On the flipside, if I came into a client meeting with big, crazy ideas that are appreciated in consumer, I’d get laughed out of the room because it just doesn’t compute in this realm. Not without a bit of tweaking.
What happens with your big ideas when they get too big or out there for the client’s head or budget? Do you find that as long as you come up with the biggest idea possible, you can always scale down, but it’s much more difficult to scale up?
AP: Oh, what happens indeed. Frankly, they usually die (as most ideas do). It’s usually the case where the client get really excited about a big idea in an initial, and then in subsequent meetings things start to come up—budgets, legal, logistics, timing. But that should never stop you from thinking big. Like you said, go big and you can always scale down. I’m really not even sure if scaling up is even possible. You either have the idea or you don’t. If you work with a smaller one, you might find an idea that’s bigger, but it’s usually a different one. Go big from the beginning. If it’s too big or scares the client shitless, congrats. If you’re super-lucky, you just might be able to convince them to do it too.
NBA: So if you’re not working 35 hour “days”, what do you enjoy doing to unwind?
AP: Unfortunately not a lot as of late. But if I do get the time, I’ve been hiking a good bit. It’s awesome living 18 blocks from the Rocky Mountains. (My house is on 18th. The streets count down to the edge of town, which is were the mountains start.) I’ve picked up snowboarding since I moved here. I play guitar some, design a lot of my own t-shirts that I make with stencils and spray paint. Wish there was more time to enjoy good beer, but Friday’s the only time for such things, and sadly it’s mostly just PBR at that point. I honestly spend a lot of time on the internet too. Poking, looking, doing little experiments. It’s a fascinating place.
NBA: Well your PBR consumption would fit right in with the hipsters here in New York. Care to share any online resources that you’re a fan of? Any side projects, currently running ads, or anything else you’d like to plug?
AP: Huge fan of Buzzfeed. Fantastic links/interesting shit site. I contribute to it too.
There’s a great ad/interactive/interesting shit site called ettf.net. I have no idea what that stands for other than awesome.
My friend runs a lovely blog of some of the dumbest stuff on the internet. It’s called Just Kidding But Seriously.
Another friend started a great blog that takes on douchebags from Match.com called I Know Why You’re Alone.
One of my teachers from Circus has one called the Hedonism Chronicles that takes on moronic status updates.
I just started my own side project called Accidental Dong. It’s totally SFW. (NBA Note: Unless your work objects to phalli shaped signage and shrubs). You can also watch me live at work most days on ANDYVISION.
The key to the internet is now either razor thin specificity or aggregation of everything awesome.
NBA: Haha, those are some great sites. Alright man, thanks for stopping by. Looking forward to talking again in the future when you change the agency name to Crispin Porter + Pearson. Has a nice ring to it, don’t ya think?
AP: Ha, I think some people might take issue with the name change, but we’ll see. Thanks for the convo. I had fun.
(Andy and his fellow cookie bakers chronicling their lives after winning Future Lions last year)
And that concludes NBA’s first interview! Hope you enjoyed it and gleaned some insights. If you did, please comment. That’d be appreciated. Also please pass this onto your friends, Tweet it, FB it – whatever!
Thanks again to Andy for participating. Please do check out his blog!