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Originally from Memphis, Dave Smith, creative director at Bohan Advertising, graduated from college in 1988 and began his career writing about the finer points of valve springs and camshafts. Since then, he's spent time at Slaughter Hanson Advertising in Birmingham, BBDO in Atlanta and Hill Holiday in Boston. His work has been recognized by Communication Arts, The One Club, Archive and he has two silver pencils from the D&AD.


Blocks of Product-Related Poetry

If you have a degree what field is it in? I have degree in English from the University of North Alabama.

If you could choose one person to work with who would it be? There are really a ton of them. But if I had to name just one I think it would be John Doyle. He is one of the all-time great art directors and someone who I’ve followed since I started my career.

Who was the client for your first advertising project? My first job was at the in-house agency for a camshaft company in Memphis. I spent the first year of my career writing ads about the finer points of tire shredding torque.

If you were to change professions what would you choose to do? Right before starting my first advertising job I had applied and been accepted to the Police Academy in Huntsville, Alabama. So if I had to change careers maybe I would go into some sort of public service. Either that or teach advertising.

What do you consider the greatest headline of all time? I’ve always been a fan of the type of headlines that are really more like blocks of product-related poetry than actual headlines. My all time favorite is one that Ernie Schenck wrote for Dunham Boots: “There are feet that don’t care what a Bentley Turbo is going for these days. There are feet that don’t care what the NASDAQ is doing. There are feet that wouldn’t know an espresso machine if they tripped over one. Dunham. They get the job done.” I love that kind of honest stuff and I spent so much of my career copying Ernie’s writing that he eventually ended up hiring me.

From where do your best ideas originate? I’d have to say from deep in the heart of the award show books I studied early in my career—and combining that with current pop culture. One of my best ideas last year came while watching Bruce Jenner and the Kardashians box.

How do you overcome a creative block? Everyone is different but I can’t just stare at a blank page and wait. I’m kind of a workout junkie so when it’s not coming to me I go run or lift weights or go to a Krav Maga class. Anything that takes my mind in a completely different direction. Or if I can’t actually leave work I will read something about the importance of working out—I love that essay by Henry Rollins, “The Iron”—after that I usually find some way of overcoming my inner-hack.

If you could choose any product to create an ad for what would it be? It would be cool to work up some ideas for NFL films or maybe the UFC.

Do you have any creative outlets other than advertising? You know I’d like to be able to say that I paint and write poetry but the truth is I don’t. I do love to cook though, to me that’s pretty relaxing.

What is your approach to balancing work and life? I don’t subscribe to the whole being chained to your desk/office thing. For me what works best is to immerse myself in the work then keep it in the back of my mind while doing other things.

What product/gadget can you not live without? If I were anymore low-tech I’d be Amish. I can’t live without a note pad.

What’s your favorite quote? “As you think, so shall you become.” —Bruce Lee

Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? Keep all the new technology and mediums in mind but remember storytelling is storytelling. Learn how to tell a story first then deal with where it will be told later. And study the award show books from the past; just because something is in a typeface that screams 1988 doesn’t mean it isn’t well-written.

What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? I wish I had known how many tremendously talented people I would get to meet and work with over the past eighteen years. If I had known, I would have taken the time to get to know some of them better.