As chief creative officer of The VIA Agency Greg Smith has guided the brand, creative and strategic development of almost every VIA client. He's overseen the development of award-winning campaigns; been a judge at The Effies, The Direct Marketing Association of America; and been a repeat, featured speaker for The American Marketing Association, The Midas Financial Services Awards and several northeastern universities. During his eleven years at VIA, Greg has built the agency’s creative capability by establishing and maintaining core standards for integrated planning and execution across advertising, direct, PR, web and media.
Before moving with his family to Maine, Greg was the president and founder of Front Porch Productions, a New York film and video production company where he wrote, produced and directed over 20 corporate videos while overseeing production and new business.
Long Walks through City Streets
If you have a degree in what field is it? A BA in English from Columbia University.
If you could choose one person to work with (outside your own agency), who would it be? I would have to say Bruce Springsteen. I’ve been a huge fan of his since the age of fourteen. I’d love to make a video with him; he’s never made a video that matches the integrity and power of his songs (it may be because he’s a control freak, so the collaboration might be a disaster, but I’d love to take a shot at it). Interestingly, I’ve also always wanted to work with Philip Seymour Hoffman. I think he’s the greatest American actor of his generation, and up there with the best of all time—Pacino and Day-Lewis. He recently signed on to direct a commercial for us that should come out in early 2012; I’m looking forward to that.
Who was the client for your first advertising project? Fujisankei, I think it was called. It was for this wacky TV show on the Japanese channel in NYC, teaching English to Japanese immigrants through real-life scenarios.
If you were to change professions, what would you choose to do? Well, up until about five years ago I would’ve said make films, but now I think I’d like to teach or coach.
What do you consider to be the greatest headline of all time? Sadly, I think you have to go way back; headlines are a lost art. If you look at most of the award-winning work over the past decade it is almost devoid of true headlines. I love that old Volkswagen Bus ad that read, “It’s unusual to drive the vehicle you were conceived in.” It not only makes me smile, it really defines the product and the brand in terms of its relevance. Most recently, it would have to be Canadian Club’s, “Damn right your dad drank it.”
From where do your best ideas originate? I’m only half joking when I say, from my staff. Outside of that, I’d have to say from my dreams. It sounds kind of quirky, but I sometimes wake up “feeling” an idea that I’ve subconsciously developed while sleeping. It’s invigorating. Sleep is undervalued.
How do you overcome a creative block? Long walks through city streets. Looking at old photographs with iTunes on shuffle. Never the Internet. It just doesn’t work for me; it’s too expansive and too hard to navigate and it tends to disappoint in terms of inspiration. I find it more utilitarian than inspiring.
If you could choose any product to create an ad for, what would it be? I would love to do a campaign that takes on the education system. It’s so tragically broken. From public school and union and funding issues to the overinflated costs of a private college education. It’s a crime that, in this country, we can’t figure out how to teach our children and young adults in a way that doesn’t exclude so many or virtually bankrupt those who do participate.
Do you have creative outlets other than advertising? Is Angry Birds a creative outlet?
What’s your approach to balancing work and life? They are one and the same. I’m fortunate because I have a job that I love and a family that I love and they aren’t mutually exclusive. I think people put too much unnecessary pressure on themselves trying to divide the two and inevitably end up disappointed by one or the other.
What product/gadget can you not live without? An alarm clock. Sometimes I think I could easily sleep through life.
What's your favorite quote? “When you are going through hell, keep going.” —Winston Churchill
Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? Work. Take it all on. This is a field that requires a lot of practice. So just keep working. It’s really the only way to find out if you’re cut out for it or not. There are a lot of people in creative fields who talk a lot but do little. Take the time to not just think about what you want but to do it.
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? It’s okay to fail. I beat myself up pretty bad a few times when I failed to succeed. I wish I could’ve had a broader perspective on it.