Interview: Alex Bogusky talks ads, CP+B culture, fun, and focus


Alex Bogusky - Social NerdiaAlex Bogusky is the co-chairman of Crispin Porter & Bogusky, one of the most awarded and creatively relevant ad agencies in the world.

CP+B has quite an impressive list of clients (Burger King, Guitar Hero, Hulu, Volkswagen, Coke Zero, Microsoft, etc.) and it will soon also provide the services of its interns to the highest bidder in an eBay auction (Update: Sold for $17,655!).

Alex, who has won hundreds of top industry awards and was recently inducted into the Art Director’s Club Hall of Fame, was very cool to answer our questions during Memorial weekend and we’re confident you’ll enjoy reading his wise and down-to-earth words.

Please make sure to learn more about CP+B, follow Alex on Twitter, and allow yourself to think like a 12-year-old more often after reading this.

1. Crispin Porter + Bogusky has been named “Agency of the Year” by AdAge, Creativity, Clio Awards, and others. What is it like to be part of an agency that creates so much buzz for clients that it gets some buzz of its own?

It certainly doesn’t suck. But the accolades come and go and the buzz about the agency can sometimes get distracting. And I think a lot of the buzz is because we were the first agency to really rise to fame during the digital age. It’s been pretty wild because we haven’t had anybody to model ourselves after when things get bumpy. But it’s all good. The real fun is in helping build businesses by using the tools we have both with media and creativity to make our clients famous. As a rule we get off more on the culture jamming aspect of what we do for clients than the actual advertising aspects. For example we get more excited to see all the twittering on Hulu than we do about the creative awards. And for me the best part is you get to spend the day with a ton of your favorite people.

 

CP+B Intern Auction - Social Nerdia2. CP+B has such a great reputation that it is auctioning its interns on eBay (and they get to keep the cash!). What does an intern need to do to stand out and “graduate” from what you’ve referred to as the “Harvard of Intern Programs”?

Well, all interns graduate I guess unless they get let go. Which has happened a few times. There have been some bad eggs that we had to ask not to show up anymore. But the real process of internship is to get real work experience. So they do real work. But what is real work in an agency? It can be anything from running out to get a giant lobster costume to setting up a focus group. You hopefully learn, that is all that matters. There are no small or unimportant jobs because they all are interrelated and if one piece falls through it could all fall through. If you learn to go above and beyond on every task you’ll have an amazing advertising career.

3. What is CP+B trying to say when it claims to be a “factory that makes advertising and branded creative content”?

We believe it’s our job to make things. Not to have meetings or play golf. So we focus on what we make and don’t feel like we’re doing our jobs well unless we’re getting our product out into pop culture. So a factory is a good model for us. But the difference is that everything we do is custom work. There is no assembly line and we are only as good today as we decide to be. Every day we have to work to raise the bar.

4. From dog-friendly offices with bleachers to a bus service for employees known as the “Disruptive Thinker Transport”, the agency’s culture is a blend of fun and hard work. What has been the secret behind the success of CP+B’s unique culture?

I don’t think there is any secret. We just like dogs and buses and fire poles and bikes and skateboards. Seems like a lot of people do. I personally keep trying to build the company I dreamed could exist as a twelve year old kid. “What would twelve year old Alex do?”, I ask myself. Twelve year old Alex was wise.

5. Chris Kahle used Twitter to get your attention and he is now working for CP+B. What impressed you the most about Chris’ application?

We hired him and were working through some visa issues now. I loved his approach because you’d be surprised how many people just e-mail a link and think they have really done something to get a job or to get our attention. We’re in marketing after all.

FastCompany Cover Alex Bogusky - Social Nerdia6. If you were on one of the “I’m a PC” ads, what would you say afterward? For example, Bill Gates says “I’m a PC and I wear glasses.”

I’m a PC and I don’t mean politically correct.

7. I enjoyed reading your 9-Inch “Diet” book, which is based on eating small portions. Do you think our society as a whole could use smaller portions in other things besides food?

9-Inch "Diet" by Alex Bogusky - Social NerdiaI think the good life comes in smaller portions. A smaller home is easier to live in and can provide a better quality of life. I’m always surprised by how wealthy people gravitate to huge homes. Who wants to walk a half block to get a midnight snack? But smaller alone isn’t really the whole story. Smaller and higher quality is really the opportunity.

8. What do you do for fun and what would you be doing if it wasn’t advertising?

Everything I do, I do for fun, including advertising.

9. You will be a judge in the upcoming Small Agency Awards. What makes an agency “small” and how does CP+B try to remain small, at least in spirit?

I’m not sure how they are defining small but I think it’s important and we will probably need to do some work in this area so the awards actually work well for the small agency community. I’ll try to do what I can to shape that in the first year.

10. What advice would you give to anyone trying to make it in the ad world?

Figure out what you like to do best in the world of marketing and forget the rest. Focus you energy in those areas and develop your own philosophies. We’re all making it up as we go along. Nobody knows anymore or any better than you do so tap into that personal passion. And if it’s not fun, figure out why and change it. Repeat this process about a hundred times during your career.

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