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Creativity Squared: Nicholas L. Rotondi Is Always Trying to “Do the Right Thing”

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Executive creative director at M&C Saatchi Sport + Entertainment North America on living by a mantra inspired by a Spike Lee joint and the healthy gut feelings of “a warmth or a ‘coldth’ or a fuzziness or an I-don’t-know”.

Creativity Squared: Nicholas L. Rotondi Is Always Trying to “Do the Right Thing”

As the executive creative director of M&C Saatchi Sport + Entertainment North America, Nicholas L. Rotondi oversees the agency’s creative output across the full client portfolio from strategy / ideation through to production / execution, along with the development of the studio team and its various integrated capabilities. He ensures the delivery of powerful creative concepts, campaigns, content, and experiences that are striking and unique while still grounded in cultural insight and strategy, and ultimately result in meaningful impact / change for both clients and culture. 

His ambition, shared with the rest of the senior leadership team, is to establish M&C Saatchi Sport + Entertainment North America as the industry's leading creative communications agency, as well as it's most healthy and inclusive studio environment in which agency, team, and personal success go hand-in-hand with physical and mental wellbeing. He is also a member of the agency's DEI Committee, a certified Mental Health First Aider, and a trained Leader for the Climate Reality Project.

Born and bred in NYC, Nicholas is passionate about his work because his work is comprised of his passions. He is a multi-faceted creative individual who actively moonlights as a self-taught filmmaker/director, photographer, writer, chef and athlete - all of which he taps into in delivering work. Other interests include old coffee table books, any film ever made, Pilot G-2 pens, Halloween, a good dinner party turned house party, and, unfortunately for him, the New York Knicks.

We tapped him for Creativity Squared where he educates us the healthy gut feelings of “a warmth or a ‘coldth’ or a fuzziness or an I-don’t-know”.



Person


My priority is to first and foremost try to be a good human full-stop, which inherently guides my creativity and who I am as a creative person. My personal mantra is also the name of that classic Spike Lee joint, ‘Do the Right Thing’. The goal is to be guided by morality - humanity is inherent and essential to creativity. And yes, I’m aware that if I was a character in GoT or Succession or any modern drama I would get my head chopped off within, like, three episodes max.

Alternatively, as a student of creativity, the words that come to mind are eclectic and curious. I could never focus on one realm of creativity because they were all fascinating. So I took architecture and photography classes, and music lessons, and attended art lectures, and studied graphic design and creative writing and the Divine Comedy… and then discovered I had no idea which one I wanted to pursue. Oops.

The result is that I can speak a little bit of a lot of different creative languages, but I’m also aware that there are folks more fluent than myself in any of them, which ultimately leads to humility, collaboration and a collective environment that defines our M&C Saatchi Sport + Entertainment North America studio family.

That, and I try to never make the same thing twice.



Product


It’s kinda basic, but my answer to how I judge a piece of creativity is simply, ‘did it make me feel something?’ In this short life, authentic emotion is our most cherished currency, as I imagine those moments we felt it are what we’re thinking about when the credits roll. The kicker to this, though, is that the emotion doesn’t always have to be defined or explainable. 

Yes, I can cite the clarity I find when standing in the centre of the third floor of Judd’s 101 Spring. Or the abject sadness I feel when the bicycle thief’s victim becomes the titular Bicycle Thief himself. My awe at Avedon’s Dior years. My appreciation for Rei’s designs / Dries’ embroideries / Phoebe’s silhouettes / Nicholas Daley’s dyes. The dread I feel reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula or anything by Cormac McCarthy. The tears I shed seeing Dragonheart in the theatre when I was eight years old (50% on Rotten Tomatoes - I wish I were joking).

But I still can’t describe wtf was going on in my head or heart the first time I saw those robot arms spray-paint that dress. Or any one of Cartier-Bresson’s ‘decisive moments’. Kendrick’s three verses in ‘Fear’. Anita in the Trevi Fountain. When that hill unfolds under Jack’s feet. Shawn Stussy’s handwriting. Walt Clyde Frazier’s syntax (and suits). Aerith’s theme. Trinity elevating for that first genre-shifting kick. The symbiosis of Q-Tip and Phife. The first four minutes of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The charge of the Rohirrim. Madlib, Miles and Monk. My sister’s wedding ceremony. My mother’s voice. My father’s watch. I cannot audibly describe my reaction to any of them. Sometimes it’s just a warmth or a ‘coldth’ or a fuzziness or an I-don’t-know. Good work should unlock passion, in whatever form.

Case-in-point: a close friend and I have a text thread where we share movie frames that blow us away. Generally, the response is not a defined emotion, but a simple “holy f****** s***”. That’s creativity, IMHO.



Process


Any healthy creative environment - including ours at M&C - runs on what I am choosing to call the five ‘i’s: 

Integrity: It is our moral obligation to do right by our clients, but also by culture en masse. For better or worse, we live in a capitalist country, which means brands have some of the biggest voices… on every project we are directly accountable for making sure they deliver healthy and positive messages to society. Good intention / action can be inherent to good work. This ties very closely to the ‘Do the Right Thing’ bit above.

Inclusivity: One of the very few rules I enforce strictly at our studio is that no one is allowed to call anyone ‘a creative’. Calling some folks ‘creatives’ implies that everyone else isn’t, which in my experience couldn’t be further from the truth. Creativity’s most dastardly adversaries are apprehension and insecurity, and I’ve seen the best ideas come from an intern when they feel empowered to share – you just need to make them feel welcome to, and you need to be listening. Everyone is invited to take part in the creative process here if they want to, regardless of role or professional experience.

Impartiality: Unless specifically briefed to do so, we try to approach every project channel-agnostic and narrative-first – the medium should suit the story, and not the other way around. I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by a talented and multi-faceted team who allow us to operate across any format. My favourite part of any project is when we find out ‘we’re doing this!’ followed by a ‘wait, how are we going to do this?’.

Information: You know that scene in the first episode of Mad Men when he takes the research team’s GIGANTIC report and dumps it straight in the trash? I hate that scene ☹. Someone worked really hard on that! Ideas are born of insight, and IMHO insight is born of a mixture of instinct and attention (Don, as talented as he was, seemed to only care about the former).

Individuality: We invite everyone to keep their footwear of choice on while walking around this proverbial household (as opposed to my actual apartment – shoes off before the welcome mat, tyvm, and definitely no outside clothes on the bed). It is the unique cocktail our personalities create that makes our creativity original versus any other agency or studio, so let your freak flag fly. My goal is for everyone involved to evolve into big versions of themselves as opposed to little versions of me.

On a personal level, I always try to keep the following axiom-of-sorts in mind while making stuff: if you don’t jump off the cliff, you’ll never find out if you can fly. There was a MET exhibition a few years ago with an anecdote from Tom Morello that explains this perfectly. In short, it’s scary to put creative things out in the world because they’re A) extensions of ourselves, and B) never going to be perfect (at least in the most literal sense of the word). But if we succumb to a never-ending quest for perfection, we ultimately won’t put anything out at all – at which point everyone loses. Sometimes you have to let go and leap. Trust your intuition! Even if you do end up falling… well, I think Alfred Pennyworth said this one best.



Press


True story: growing up, I wasn’t allowed to watch TV – instead, I could read any book in the house, watch any film in the house (we had a LaserDisc player, Google it), or listen to any record in the house. No OC, no Ryan and Summer and Seth and Marissa, no nothing. So, my exposure to both advertising and pop-culture was quite minimal in those formative years. Therefore, my answer on what can break a creative project? Insularity. I’m constantly encouraging our team to seek inspiration outside of our immediate realm. A great marketing campaign offers a blueprint for how to leverage the insight / idea construct; however, it’s my opinion that by opening our aperture we set ourselves up to generate concepts that are truly original. You never know whether it’s a Patagonia ad or On Kawara’s calendars or a Quil Lemons cover shoot of Young M.A. that is going to inspire your next idea.

That, and the fact that the world is quite literally on fire. Every campaign, every image, every word offers an opportunity to try and make the world a better place; to create a platform or message or impact. The biggest performance indicator we judge ourselves by at M&C is ‘positive change’. Do the right thing!


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M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment NA, Mon, 28 Mar 2022 15:18:15 GMT