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5 minutes with...

5 Minutes With… Tony Calcao

EVP, Executive Creative Director, CP+B Boulder

5 Minutes With… Tony Calcao


Tony Calcao started his career at CP+B, and 18 years later he’s still there – a testament to the power of nurturing good relationships with the people you work with. In that time he’s worked on ground-breaking work for the likes of Burger King and Dominos, and seeing his college training in design become increasingly relevant as the agency – and the wider industry – as the industry has evolved around him. LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with him to find out more.
LBB> You’ve been at CP+B for 18 years now. What is about Crispin’s that makes it unique? What has kept you there?
TC> It’s the only place I know. I came out of school and got a job in the studio there. For me, it kept evolving. When I started it was very small, about 40 to 50 people, so I got to know everyone easily and we got to grow together. As the place evolved, so did my career – as CP+B grew and succeeded, I was blessed with being able to grow and succeed with it. 
There’s a story I like to tell about head-hunters. They would call me and ask, “don’t you want to do TV?” – well, I was already doing TV.  Later on down the line I would get a call asking if I wanted to do Superbowl TV – “well, actually I am already doing Superbowl TV”.  It got to a point where Crispin’s was doing stuff that nobody else was doing, so I was able to start asking people if they wanted to come to us. 
As time went by, I became strong friends with Alex Bogusky, Chuck Porter, Jeff Steinhour – the people that ran the place. That means a lot to me. It’s a very family-orientated agency in that way, so I didn’t want to leave. 
LBB> There are a lot of conversations going on recently about brands, sustainability and relationships – it’s interesting to hear you talk about the importance of sustainable relationships within an agency. Why is it so important to you?
TC> I think it’s important. In advertising we work hard, for long hours, and I need to know that people will do that for me. You’re working hard for me and you’re working hard for the greater cause. It’s important that your boss knows that you’re not just here to advance your career or do something to get into an award show.
I like to think that’s what makes us special – we watch each other’s backs. What we do is all connected, so if I don’t do my job then it is going to let somebody down. I really appreciate those relationships that I have at work.
LBB> And how does that approach influence how you source creative talent to work at the agency? 
TC> Someone can come through the door with great ideas but I need to know that we can work together and I’m going to like them and that they’re going to like me. There are so many different ways of solving a problem. It has become more apparent that good creativity is not just about the ability to write a funny commercial or write a great headline. Team play is so much more critical now. If someone wants to be an asshole – done. You just won’t work with him. 
I was at a discussion panel event when someone asked if it’s harder today for juniors to break into advertising – I don’t think so. We’re all looking for the next big talent. There might be a perception from the younger side of the industry that only people with experience can solve the big problems, but in reality we are so excited about new people coming in and energising the process and creative environment. 
Personally I have never seen much ego in the industry. I have heard a few nightmare stories of directors, but I’m pretty proud of the industry that we’re in. 
LBB> In terms of work, what trends have you noticed that are exciting you at the moment?
TC> Right now, the work n is becoming more and more interactive, for lack of a better word. Rather than being pushed onto people, great work now is pulled or led by the people. And that changes the landscape and how you create that work. 
That’s what gets me excited. When someone can actually touch and interact with something we create. If that person can then do something good with what we’ve given them, that’s just the cherry on the top. 
LBB> What drew you to advertising in the first place?
TC> I kind of fell into it. I’m a design student and I didn’t know anything about advertising. When I was at school I needed an elective, so I said “hey, I want to try advertising!” I took an intern in advertising and learned that it was very much like design…
LBB> You’ve done a bit of judging this year, for example at the LIAs. From the work you’ve seen, would you say that there are any genuinely new ideas in advertising right now?
TC> I don’t think I’ve seen any new ideas, but I have seen a lot of the same encouraging things. There are a lot of product-focused ideas that are connecting the consumer to the brand in a very tangible way. It seems like a trend with real momentum. It’s ok that we haven’t seen the next big thing. What we are trying to do is to reward the people who are doing their job well, who create ideas that are clear and simple and relevant to the consumer. It’s not just about being entertaining or new. 
Something is definitely happening and I think places like Nike are leading the way. Maybe a few years ago when agencies and brands attempted projects like this it felt more like a gimmicky add on to a marketing campaign rather than a genuine attempt to create another product or extend the brand. I think that now they’re trying to find other ways of drawing consumers into their brands and their conversations. It’s about giving the consumer another avenue to engage with that brand or even buy the product. For example pizza companies have products which allow you to order a pizza with one button. Evian has a similar product that lets you order their water directly to your house. And then of course there are apps that allow you to interact with the brand in a rewarding way. It’s cool that we are seeing tangible ideas. 
LBB> You studied design at college – do you think that advertising is starting to adopt a design mentality?
TC> I think we are all trying to improve or enhance life in some way, so I think that there is always a need for good design in advertising. You can’t just put a product out there that doesn’t look good or work well. It needs to feel good, be simple and easy to use; that all comes down to design.
LBB> How do you think that this will change the way agencies work? 
TC> I think the innovative agencies will start hiring product designers. Agencies will look at a brand from the beginning of a product rather than always trying to tack an ad campaign to an existing idea. 
Advertisers should be inspired to understand the business so well that they can influence or recommend a product. For example, if you work for BMW, you should understand the business to the point that you can recommend a certain vehicle, the way a door opens or even something as simple as a colour. I think the advertising industry will start to infiltrate into the heart of the brand, and that, ultimately, into the product that the brand is offering. 
LBB> Is this something that brands are welcoming? Are they quite happy to have the agencies literally come right in? Or does it depend on the brand?
TC> I think it depends on the brand. This is a very new thing in our industry. Very innovative brands like Nike and Starbucks get it. They understand the power of collaboration. It’s not a typical model and I don’t know if some brands are pushing back. There is a natural learning curve that has to take place. An agency can have an idea for ‘that’ BMW car, but BMW have been working on ‘that’ car for months, maybe years. It’s hard to get ahead of the product. It’s even the same with smaller things too, like hamburgers for example. There’s a lead-time that just isn’t naturally part of our advertising timetable and process. 
We are working with our brands to figure out how we can be injected into their process earlier. We want to be involved so that we don’t come to a meeting with a great idea only to be dismissed and told things like that take years.
LBB> Working in that way requires a sturdy, long term relationship between brand and agency. In the current climate, brands seem a lot happier to ‘shop around’ rather than nurturing that kind of bond. How can you square that apparent contradiction? 
TC> Absolutely. There are so many agencies out there: advertising agencies, design firms, events-based agencies. So brands now have a choice. They can go to your agency for one thing and another for a different service… they can break their marketing apart into component parts. In that case, there is no place for product innovation. Our most successful relationships are the ones that work more of a partnership, where we embrace the company and our client embraces our thinking for all facets of its brand. 
This whole product innovation factor involves a completely new skillset, but we’re figuring it out.  We had an idea for Volkswagen a long time ago for a certain vehicle, but it takes years to develop something like that. It’s not quite the same as coming up with an ad – that can be on TV pretty soon after you come up with it. Soon it will become faster to prototype, test and manufacture products, and as that time shrinks it will be easier for outside parties to become more involved in the design process. 
LBB> So how has your agency been able to foster their long term relationships with brands like Domino’s? 
TC> Through understanding and wanting truly to help their business and by proving that. That is what they want and need. It’s one thing to just present ideas and just be there when a client wants an ad. It’s another thing to be there for them when they don’t expect it, to throw ideas around and give them suggestions when they’re not asking for them. It might be in relation to something that you’ve seen on the news or it might just be that you’ve noticed something about a different part of their business. 
For example we do a lot of TV and some digital for Domino’s Pizza. We are aware that delivery is a big part of their business but when we walk into their store and order a pizza for pick up and interact with their staff, we can go back to Domino’s and talk to them about their store. We might ask whether they have ever considered kitting out the store. This would be a big opportunity for the customer to touch things and really experience the brand. The one person that comes to the door to deliver a pizza is an important representative of the company, but when someone walks into the store, they have a bigger opportunity to understand who you are as a brand. They appreciate that you are looking after them. I think we have done a good job of really trying to understand our clients’ business.
LBB> Which projects have you worked on recently that have particularly resonated with you?
TC> I can’t help but be excited about the Domino’s campaign that we’ve been working on over the last few months. It’s called ‘The Ultimate Delivery Vehicle’ We held a competition and invited consumers to design a new delivery van and some of the ideas have been truly inspiring. I am excited because it is another extension of the brand. It could potentially revolutionise delivery - and not just for Domino’s or pizza delivery. A FedEx truck is just a truck with a box, but has it actually been designed with package delivery in mind? 
LBB> The kind of creativity that seems to be exciting people at the moment is the work that is designed to give the consumers a platform to be inventive, like this Domino’s project or, for example, The Guardian’s Three Little Pigs. Why is it proving so popular? 
TC> I think people want to be creative and they want to be a part of the brands that they love. If Domino’s acts like a brand that wants to be loved, then hopefully people will love that brand. Some brands just push a message and a price tag, but when a brand just changes the direction a little, it speaks volumes about the values of the company. We are clearly trying to sell pizza but that shouldn’t stop us saying “here’s this opportunity, come play, experience, help out, be a part of it”. It shows that brands have values and that they’re willing to put them out there. That has resonated in the past with Domino’s and will continue to be a very powerful aspect of their relationship the customers.