As Chief Creative Officer of Team One at Saatchi and Saatchi in Los Angeles, Chris Graves spends his days overseeing and inspiring the integrated branding efforts for all of the agency’s clients, including Lexus, The Ritz-Carlton, and Flexjet. His experience spans nearly two decades of award-winning creative work in a broad spectrum of consumer categories, including an extensive background in automotive advertising. Prior to joining Team One in 2003, Graves spent ten formative years at TBWA/Chiat/Day. His interests outside of the agency walls include documentaries, small-batch bourbon and occasional unlicensed dog-breeding.
Be a Finisher
Where do your best ideas come from? Usually when I stop trying so hard to come up with my best ideas.
What's the strangest request you've received from a client? One client recently asked me to remove his logo from an ad to make it more “mysterious.”
What trends in advertising are you most interested in and why? The cross-pollination of creativity and technology has created some of the most powerful ideas of the last few years. It has become critical to look beyond traditional solutions and skill-sets. We’re looking at ways to create more convergence of creative disciplines within the agency, with writers, technologists, product designers, filmmakers and experience designers all working on the same project—new combinations of creative problem-solvers coming together to craft entirely new solutions.
What was your riskiest professional decision? I walked away from a great job to get involved in a startup agency that imploded in less than a year. It felt like a huge setback at the time. But after all the dust had settled, there were some invaluable lessons learned. Suddenly I became a believer in all those clichés about failure being the best teacher.
If you could choose any product to create an ad for, what would it be, and why? A political candidate would be interesting. The outcomes of political races obviously have far bigger consequences than marketing beer or shampoo, but most of the advertising efforts behind them are surprisingly unsophisticated and pandering. I’m probably naïve, but I’d like to think we could do better.
What challenges must advertising agencies address in order to remain relevant? For such a creative industry, we sometimes struggle to adapt and evolve. The consumer has fundamentally changed and so have our clients’ needs. There is a temptation to rely on old answers in response to entirely new questions, but the rapid pace of change demands that we become more agile and flexible, not to mention humble. We need to embrace not always knowing everything, and we need to be even more determined to learn.
What’s your favorite quote? This one by Shunryu Suzuki struck a chord recently: “In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”
How is the rise of technology helping or hurting the brands you work for? For our automotive clients, technology has created huge transformations. Obviously, within the vehicles themselves, technology has enhanced the driving experience in some impressive ways. But the people who drive our cars have evolved as much as or more than the cars themselves. The way they connect with each other, and the way they shop for and experience their cars has made it critical for automotive brands to find new ways to build relationships with them.
What skills do young creatives need to succeed in advertising today? Fortunately most young creatives arrive already equipped with an impressive fluency in digital and social culture. It’s in their blood, and it will be critical to their success. I’m secretly jealous of them for it.
What's the best advice you’ve been given in your career? Develop your own instincts. And then learn to trust them.
Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? Be a finisher. There’s no shortage of people in this business who are able to come up with interesting ideas. But surprisingly few have the discipline and tenacity to make them real. Oh, and be nice.