“Calling yourself David&Goliath is pretty ballsy for the most part,” says Angelo, during a conversation in his El Segundo, California, office. “But it’s also been a guiding principle for us from day one. It brings you like-minded people and clients who want to be brave. It's about stepping outside your comfort zone and knowing you'll be better for it.”
Of course the first question is, what does brave mean in the context of an ad agency? “From a strategic philosophy, we build in bravery at every point,” explains account planner Tim Anderson. “On our creative brief, it doesn’t say, ‘What's the main selling point?,’ it says ‘What's the big, brave idea?’ Whatever it is we’re doing, we specifically ask, how is this going to be brave? And more important, is it the right thing to do? It’s not about just charging blindly into the fray. We’re trying to do things that are smart—being brave with a purpose.”
The idea informs the day-to-day business at David&Goliath in the following concrete ways:
Don’t go after clients because of the money. Be sure the client fits your culture. Angelo says, “We look at our client partners as an integral part of the brand. They’re as much a part of our place as anyone here.”
If the agency decides the client’s strategy or creative brief or point of view on their product is errant, don’t hide it. “We were in the Universal Orlando pitch and we let them know we thought their positioning was wrong, and that it wouldn’t lead to great work. They listened,” Angelo says, “and we got the business.”
A creative genius doesn’t have to be a major jerk. Executive creative director Colin Jeffery explains, “We have a no bullshit policy. And no attitude.”
“People wear many hats here,” Angelo says. “In that respect, an idea can come from a creative, client or the person answering the phone.” Says Jeffery, “It's essential that everyone here feels a strong sense of pride about the work.”
And don't be afraid to take on the underdog—or, in David&Goliath parlance, challenger brands. Part of the agency’s credo reads, “Remember, there will always be somebody better than you. Someone quicker, wiser, more experienced or more talented. It all comes down to who wants it more, who’s brave enough to push, to fight and rise to the occasion.”
The brave positioning says as much about the clients as it does the agency. Anderson describes a process that is collaborative. “We have work sessions where the agency and client brainstorm together and, during that time, we’ll challenge them and they’ll challenge us. We tell our clients, if you’re going to motivate your employees to do something brave, you have to give them something to buy into.”
“We rely on relationships of mutual trust,” states Angelo. “At the end of the day, you have to earn that trust and hold yourself accountable for everything you do. We make sure that our clients know we have their backs every step of the way.”
In 1999, the agency opened its doors with the Kia Motors America account. Angelo was living in New York and enjoying a year off the agency side as a sometime-consultant when he was offered the car business. “I had been working for Cliff Freeman & Partners and I felt tapped out. I decided to take a break from the business. One morning, I was having breakfast with a headhunter and a week later I got the call: Did I want to start an agency with the Kia account? My first question was, ‘Do I have to leave New York?’” The answer was yes. Shortly thereafter, he and his wife moved to Los Angeles where Angelo set up shop with two employees in a small office mid-Wilshire.
And now, at this printing, David&Goliath will have opened its doors in London—and once again, Kia Motors is behind the new office. With its first location outside of Los Angeles, David&Goliath will handle creative duties for Kia Motors Deutschland (KMD). The agency will work alongside Kia's in-house global lead communications agency, Innocean Worldwide Europe GmbH (IWE), based in Frankfurt. “Ever since I got in the business, I just knew I would someday have my own agency,” the principal says.
Angelo’s career began in 1989 at DDB New York as an art director. He later landed at Chiat\Day New York (now TBWA\Chiat\Day, New York) serving as vice president/associate creative director and at Team One in El Segundo. His last agency before forming his own was Cliff Freeman & Partners in New York. With a body of work that spans Lexus, Coca-Cola, Reebok, Little Caesars and Partnership for a Drug-Free America, Angelo’s creative experience is varied and rich. A collection of pictures hanging in his spacious office, which is walled in glass on two sides offering a bird’s eye view of the city below, chronicles high-lights of his career—funny moments on shoots, portraits with actors and a photograph with Bill Clinton, from his days as a creative consultant for the 1992 Clinton/Gore campaign. A portion of his numerous awards line shelves. Angelo has won a Cannes Gold Lion, One Show Gold Pencils, Clios, Addy’s and more—over 300 in all. The agency has a been a steady winner since opening its doors. Rather than coyly dismiss the accolades, he recognizes their worth; after all, he’s running a creative shop. “We say, approach every single assignment, no matter how small—whether it’s an FSI or POS—as an opportunity to win gold,” he says.
Over the years, work for Kia, which took an unconventional road for car advertising, earned the agency attention, awards and, eventually, a lot more business. Rather than employing the sleek-running-car-footage-hugging-a-mountain-road-with-voiceover approach of most car spots, Kia commercials were humorous, unexpected and fun. “Our earlier Kia spots were brave in terms of doing car advertising,” explains account planner Clive Whitcher. “Now we’re being brave in terms of making you think.” Using YouTube and microsites along with traditional media, the brand is staying relevant, reinventing itself over the last ten years. One hilarious YouTube video is a Home Shopping Network spoof called “Kia's Unheard of President’s Day Sale,” hawking a soap-on-a-rope bust of Millard Fillmore for only $13,500, with a 2008 Kia Spectra thrown in as a bonus. In print, a 2009 Borrego SUV ad asks, “Since when is overpaying a status symbol?” The collective work says, cheap is chic. Inexpensive is smart. You are smart.
In 2007, David&Goliath hit a turning point in growth, poised for even larger stature in the industry. Considering that it is an independent agency in a sea of conglomerates, every decision matters. Angelo brought in executive creative director Jeffery to take over part of his own duties—the day-to-day operations and work product of the creative department. “You realize you can no longer do it alone, explains Angelo. “We share the same vision and passion for building an agency. He’s the guy you want in your foxhole.”
Jeffery brought car experience with him, having most recently served as vice president/creative director on Volkswagen at Havas’ Arnold, Boston. But it would seem his biggest calling card is his global track record. Born in South Africa, Jeffery has worked at TBWA/Hunt/Lascaris in Johannesburg, King James in Cape Town and Publicis Groupe Saatchi & Saatchi in Singapore, on accounts ranging from Toyota, Lexus, BMW and Land Rover to Timberland and ESPN. This multinational training informs his approach to the business.
“In smaller markets like South Africa and Singapore, you have plenty of creative freedom but limited budgets—and little access to Hollywood type production and celebrity,” Jeffery says. “This forces creatives to be incredibly resourceful, come up with simple, smart ideas and adopt a ‘make it happen’ attitude.
“On the other hand, larger markets offer bigger budgets and extensive production resources. But those bigger budgets come with massive amounts of red tape and legal limitations. By understanding the pros and cons to both worlds, one can create work that is highly effective and equally rewarding.”
Although he loved working in Boston, when Angelo offered him the job, he was characteristically excited about crossing the country to a new place. “As a creative, you're only as good as the experiences you’ve had. The more things you’ve seen and the more places you've been, the better. I encourage people to spend time in foreign countries and try new things.” Jeffery feels it’s been a perfect fit, both the agency and its head. “We have similar personalities in that we have a very strong work ethic. We like to get in the trenches and get dirty and make things happen.”
Since its beginnings, the agency has grown to 100 staffers at this writing. Kia now accounts for just under half of billings. Clients include MGM resorts and casinos New York New York and Monte Carlo, Universal Studios Orlando and Hollywood, Anchor Blue Clothing, Mammoth Mountain and on a project basis, Bacardi. What these accounts share with Kia is a sense of humor and a respect for the audience.
Conveniently located next to Los Angeles International Airport in El Segundo, David&Goliath occupies one-and-a-half floors, housing the agency proper, its in-house editorial facility called Spinach (an homage to a kindred brave soul, Popeye) and DNG, a full-service Hispanic division. The agency is also growing a design division. The interiors are sleek with concrete surfaces but they’re colored in warm hues so the feeling is unexpectedly cheerful. Thanks to the alliance with Bacardi, a fully stocked bar is stationed at one end.
Aphorisms are everywhere—in some cases, office doors act as two-sided, giant canvases that slide together to create a single massive poster of sayings or drawings. One set of doors reads: ‘Do what you fear. Watch it disappear.’ In the sleek lobby, a giant slingshot sculpture sets the tone of the agency. It holds a rock with the initials WSP: We Shall Prevail. A corridor is lined with pictures of agency staff documenting brave tasks they've undertaken and conquered: karaoke, sky diving, French lessons.
Currently, the agency is forming The Brave Foundation, a pro-bono unit set up to work on worthy causes. So far, they have mounted projects for a homeless shelter, a get-out-the-vote initiative and staffers have adopted a school in South Los Angeles, collecting gifts for students during the holidays. “Whether you’re in advertising or any other field, being brave helps you realize your true potential,” says Angelo. “It's amazing to watch what happens when someone is faced with a challenge. If you work and do the right thing, anything can happen.” ca