Amy Ferguson’s career pretty much kicked off at TBWA\Chiat\Day, where (after a very short stint at another agency in Seattle) she was one of the agency’s first ever inductees to its YoungBloods creative residency programme.
These days, as its chief creative officer since December 2021, and as an executive creative director with long-time partner, Julia Neumann, for three years prior, it’s Amy’s job to sew every seam of TBWA\Chiat\Day New York’s creativity, and to identify and capitalise on its greatest opportunities. She has also reignited the very creative programme at the agency that once got her into advertising.
After starting her career at TBWA\Chiat\Day, Amy joined Grey New York to work on E-Trade and produced the hugely popular ‘Talking Babies’ Super Bowl spot. She (along with Julia, who is now the CCO at Johannes Leonardo) was one of the first hires at MullenLowe New York, where she was brought in to kick-start the office and serve as a creative director on the JetBlue business. This led to the viral Mother's Day film ‘FlyBabies’.
Recently, TBWA\Chiat\Day New York broke every rule associated with advertising on TikTok, with a quite frankly Titanic-esque 10-minute ad for Hilton. It currently has over 35 million views.
LBB’s Addison Capper caught up with Amy.
LBB> You've been CCO of TBWA\Chiat\Day NY for almost 18 months. What were your main aims stepping into the role and how has it been going so far?
Amy> My aim as a creative leader has always been to make amazing, memorable work that people notice and love, and create a work environment that feels collaborative, kind and fun. And since taking on the role of CCO, I’ve learned that the hustle, drive and relentless pursuit of creative excellence starts with me. Good work doesn’t just happen - you have to work tirelessly to sniff out the opportunities and find the creative potential in everything you do. Even if you don’t see it right away, there’s a creative way to solve the problem in every brief.
LBB> How did your career in advertising start and did you always know you'd be doing this?
Amy> I always knew I’d do something creative. Growing up, I thought I’d be an artist, a journalist or a filmmaker. After graduating college I found myself with a communications degree and no clue what to do with my life. I had minored in photography, so I started looking into post grad portfolio programmes. I found the (now closed) Creative Circus and when I read the description of the art direction programme, I thought, ‘yeah that sounds like me’. I enrolled and it became clear that it was a fit. It was hard, but I was good at it. From Creative Circus, I did a very brief stint at Publicis in Seattle, but I’m an east coaster through and through, so when TBWA\Chiat\Day New York called and offered me a spot in their YoungBloods creative residency programme, I quit Publicis after only a few weeks and got my ass on a plane to New York. Sorry about that, Publicis.
LBB> TBWA's guiding manifesto is 'Disruption'. How can brands/creatives disrupt their thinking in a positive way? How do you disrupt yours?
Amy> Disruption is so simple, but it freaking works! We basically look at what everyone else in a category is doing and use that to guide us in finding a new space for the brand to occupy, or a new way to bring an idea to life. You still have to be able to have a great idea, but disruption always gives us a solid starting point.
LBB> I love the recent Hilton TikTok work. Please tell us more about it! How did that come to be and why did it work for the brand?
Amy> We launched ‘For the Stay’, Hilton’s first-ever global brand platform last year. After the initial launch, we wanted to find interesting and unexpected ways to bring the ‘stay’ platform to life and turned to social. We then wondered if we could get people to stay on the fastest moving place there is: TikTok. So, we created ‘The Ad You Stay In’. Partnering with Paris Hilton and a collection of other huge TikTok stars, we created a 10-minute TikTok that felt very true to the platform, but also broke every rule when it comes to length. The average viewing time on TikTok is about 25 seconds, and we asked people to stay and watch our ad for 10 MINUTES! And you know what? They did! It kind of blew up, which has been so exciting. I think it’s because it was a simple idea born from our brand platform, executed in a surprising, disruptive way, and brilliantly and beautifully crafted.
LBB> How do you think about your role as a creative leader? How have you shaped a culture and environment in which creativity can flourish?
Amy> I’ve realised that I alone have to focus the agency on the kind of work and calibre of work we want to do. At the beginning of this year, I introduced ‘Fearless & Famous’, which is our creative north star. In order to live up to the creative legacy of this agency, we have to be fearless - fearless about what our clients expect, and fearless about what’s possible. I try to hold a very high bar for the work, but I also try to be in the work when I can be, helping, searching and shaping along with the team. That is the fun part.
LBB> What are some hard to swallow lessons you've learned in the industry that you wish you knew in the beginning?
Amy> Oh man. You are asking at the right time because I am writing a talk about this right now. One tough lesson is you are only as good as what you’ve made. No one cares if you had that idea but it didn’t sell or if you worked long hours but don’t have anything to show for it. You have to figure out how to make stuff and you have to fight to make that stuff really good. That’s how we’re judged as creatives. And, it’s still true for me, just on a bigger scale when I think about the agency... I am constantly asking, ‘what is the next thing we’re making?’
LBB> Advertising has been adapting to the new challenges and opportunities wrought by technology for decades now and the industry seems to have absorbed those new things into its creative practice - just look at this surge of AI we’re seeing (which seems to be improving by the week). Does that represent a unique threat to creativity or will creatives adopt and adapt to it?
Amy> I’ve seen what AI can do and how helpful it can be, but it’s a tool just like any other tool. Try it, mess with it, learn it and use it. I’m kind of over the ‘AI is taking our jobs’ narrative. Like any tool, you need someone who can operate it.
LBB> What has been inspiring you recently in culture, tech or society?
Amy> I have three young kids, so it’s a lot of ‘Paw Patrol’, ‘Bluey’ and weird ass YouTube videos of people playing with toys... but, I love a good book! I finished ‘Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow’ earlier this year and thought it was a really fantastic story about creativity and friendship. There were some interesting parallels to our business because it was about a creative partnership. Bonus points for a beautiful cover design too. And of course, I love (and spend way too much on) TikTok. The addiction is real.