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Michael Ventura is founder and chief executive officer of Sub Rosa, a design studio based in New York City and London. In 2005, Ventura founded Sub Rosa at the young age of 24, inspired by the idea of creating a best-in-class, strategy-led experience and innovation practice. Some of Sub Rosa’s most notable work includes the conception and execution of Levi’s Workshops, a series of craft-based community spaces built to encourage creation, inspiration and collaboration; the GE “For Women By Women” initiative that re-imagined the mammography experience; and the global brand launch of Nike Flyknit, which brought designers and athletes together to create installation pieces for key cities around the world. Prior to founding Sub Rosa, Ventura developed campaigns for clients such as Citigroup, Merrill Lynch and Fidelity Investments and consulted for New York University, DaniloBlack, BMG and American Media. He holds a BS in Business Management from Babson College.


Inspired Problem-Solving

Where do your best ideas come from? I find that the best ideas start from a place of empathy. Instead of thinking about a solution from the perspective of the client or the brief, focusing first on the participant or end-consumer often yields the most relevant, engaging and exciting ideas. A good stress test is always asking yourself, “Would I care?” If the answer is no, go back to the drawing board.

If you could choose any product to create an ad for, what would it be, and why? Rotary phones. I have a fascination with old phones and the idea of “land lines” returning to popular culture. Mobile technology is great, but it has completely reinforced our distracted nature. To consider that we could sit, tethered to a wall, and be fully present while we talk with someone we care about is a wonderful bygone idea that I believe is due for a return.

How is the rise of technology helping or hurting the brands you work for? Technology is like a good martini. If you have too little of it, it doesn’t work. If you have too much, it’s a disaster. Like with many things in life, the right moderation is going to make for the best experience. Social technology, mobile, and localization are all helping to bring new levels of personalization and customization to brand experiences, and when executed deftly, they make the consumer’s engagement exponentially richer.

What trends in advertising are you most interested in and why? Bringing in top talent from outside of advertising. Too often, this industry becomes revolving door. People are accustomed to leaving one shop for another after a few years to get a new title and a raise. That’s not the type of culture we are building here at Sub Rosa. We’re looking outside the industry, bringing talent from academia, brands, retail, design and entrepreneurship into the company for fresh ideas and brave ambitions.

What is one challenge currently facing advertising agencies that they need to address in order to remain relevant? Media centricity. In the work we do, agencies are often hell-bent on focusing deeply within a specific, often paid, channel of media. The problem with this is that consumers have evolved. I’m not saying that paid media is going away—far from it. But if the industry is going to make deeper, more meaningful connections with consumers, a heavier emphasis on earned media is going to need to play a role. Experiences are what drive deep engagement for people. I don’t just mean physical experiences, I mean all types—great content, great social conversation, great product—this is where the industry will need to focus its attention if it wants to remain relevant.

Where do you seek inspiration? The best thinking isn’t going to happen behind a desk, staring at a computer screen. Get outside. Go for a walk. Move your body around. See a show. Visit a museum. Talk with a stranger. Sit in the park. Do whatever you need to do to get your blood moving, your mind clear and your instincts sharpened. Then the right ideas will reveal themselves.

What would you be doing if you weren’t in advertising? I’d be a shaman.

What skills do young creatives need to succeed in advertising today? Come to grips with the fact that this is commercial art, not fine art. Too often, young creatives think their idea is the be-all-end-all. Remind yourself constantly that this is a service business. If you wanted to be considered a fine artist, you took a wrong turn somewhere. Our job is to be intelligent, inspired, problem solvers for our clients. Taking a brief and responding with the best idea that satisfies the client’s objectives and your creative aspirations is the sweet spot everyone should strive toward.