McCann’s North America CCO on Fearless Girl, writing for Letterman and swapping law school for advertising
If there’s one word to sum up Eric Silver’s 2017, it’s ‘fearless’. Thanks to a 4ft tall girl, defiantly staring down a bull, McCann New York has done what so many try and fail to do – create culture and authentically become part of a conversation. And it’s not the first global breakthrough project that Eric has seen since his tenure as Chief Creative Officer at McCann North America (he joined in 2015). Fieldtrip to Mars for Lockheed Martin dominated the awards circuit in 2016 and the start of 2017.
Curiously, for all this success, Eric almost didn’t end up in advertising. Had he not stumbled upon a Nike commercial that opened his eyes, he may not have jumped ship from law school to advertising. Thank goodness he did – these days he gets to spend his time nurturing the next generation of creatives, helping cultivate their own creative fearlessness.
LBB’s Addison Capper caught up with Eric.
LBB> You joined McCann in 2015 and took over the North American CCO role, a position that didn’t exist previously. Given that you stepped into a completely new role, what were your main aims when you started?
ES> To be totally candid, there was not a specific checklist of things we wanted to accomplish. I have known Rob Reilly for a long time and I think we both just trusted that good things were going to happen. I met my North American partner, Chris Macdonald, and we clicked immediately. If the chemistry is good, everything else is easy.
LBB> Prior to the job you were the head creative at your own agency Silver + Partners - what did you learn from the experience of running your own company?
ES> Going into that job I probably had a reputation as a comedic TV guy and spent most of my four years there trying to erase that perception, constantly experimenting with social and digital. We had some hits and misses but the lessons learned were invaluable. The other thing you quickly learn at an independent shop in New York is how to be scrappy. Relentless. That is a must.
LBB> Obviously a huge success for you and McCann this year has been Fearless Girl (read more about it here). Not only has it been a huge story within the industry, it’s also had an impact on mainstream culture, globally. Why do you think it proved so popular and did you expect it to be so?
ES> I did not expect it to break through the way it did. I loved the idea from the beginning, but did not predict the outpouring it received. In hindsight, the political climate is such that a four-foot statue of a bronze girl challenging corporate conventions serves as a perfect rallying point to the current administration, and its antiquated rhetoric and ideology. My daughter texted me the day after we installed Fearless Girl to let me know that her high school English class spent the entire class discussing what the statue meant and what it conveyed. It was then I knew we had something bigger than just advertising.
LBB> The execution is a statue, which is one of the oldest forms of communication and is something very human and very tangible. What do you think its success says about the changes that are happening in the industry with regards to data and digital?
ES> The year prior we created Field Trip to Mars for Lockheed, which turned out to be one of - if not the - most awarded campaigns that year. That idea obviously had digital at its core and created this concept of “group virtual reality”. I can truthfully say, we are not in search of ideas that are digital or traditional. That is most likely a trap. We are focused on very simple ideas that will cut through and get our clients talked about. That is usually a pretty good blueprint for success.
LBB> How did you initially get into the industry? Was it a planned thing or more of a happy accident?
ES> I spent a year in law school in Los Angeles followed by a summer internship. It was during that time, I saw a Nike commercial and thought “this seems like a much better career fit”.
LBB> You had a stint as a writer on the Late Show with David Letterman - can you tell us about that experience? I’ve read that you were a big fan of the show growing up, so working directly on it must have been quite something.
ES> I loved Letterman when it was on NBC in the ‘80s. I still think in many ways it is one of the bravest, most honest shows to ever air. Without question, it shaped much of my sardonic, somewhat cynical sense of humour. The importance of Letterman and Saturday Night Live to the comedy world cannot be overstated.
I probably got there a couple years too late. When Letterman moved to the 11:30 time slot on CBS, I think the ride was over.
LBB> McCann has six offices across the US and four in Canada - how do you go about keeping in touch with each outpost and which are particularly interesting you now?
ES> We have lots of really great people in those offices and I think they’re first hitting their stride. My hope is that all the offices continue to cross-pollinate and feed off each other.
LBB> If you had to pick one piece of work from your career that you’re most proud of, what would it be and why?
ES> If I had to pick two things, I guess I would say Outpost.com and Fearless Girl. They are almost 20 years apart, and totally opposite in approach but they both were totally unconventional and fostered a ton of discussion.
LBB> Who have been the most important mentors from your career and why?
ES> My time spent at Wieden+Kennedy was the job that shaped me the most. This idea that advertising should never feel like advertising was totally revelatory. And liberating. I will always be grateful for that experience.
LBB> Outside of advertising what are you into? What recharges your creative batteries?
ES> Three things: (1) My daughters. One is 16 and one is 18. My oldest just landed at UT Austin, which is mind-blowing. (2) I got married Labor Day weekend to a woman who helps keep me calm and sane. (3) I have been a creative director for 20 years now and it is still so rewarding to watch young creatives start to “get it” and grow. That is one of the best feelings in the world. I feel very fortunate.