Ben Purcell helped launch LA agency David&Goliath - the ECD reveals how the agency has survived to turn 20 and why creatives shouldn’t always chase fool’s gold
Photo, left to right: David Angelo and Ben
Livin’ la Vida Loca was climbing the musical charts.
Michael Jordan retired. A second time.
And The Blair Witch Project was causing a serious decline in camping trips.
The year was 1999.
The year I met David Angelo and helped open the doors to David&Goliath.
This month, we celebrate 20 years.
Considering Forbes tells us that eight out of 10 new businesses crash and burn, how can an ad agency grow for 20 years?
And what on earth would possess a creative to stick around that long?
For the most part, advertising agencies are in a constant state of flux. People think if I take this job for two years, then I can get that job, which will lead me to this job. But what they don’t realise is that the key is to find a place and work with people who share your core values.
Then instead of trying to find Camelot, you can create it.
In 1999, there were only five of us. Two rooms. And a copy machine.
We shared a similar mind-set and a similar work ethic.
From the beginning, we were scrappy. We still are.
With a name like David&Goliath, there’s no other way to be.
We’ve always been more of a tribe than an agency, picking up like-minded individuals along the way. It’s been our mission to help our clients find their own challenger spirit.
And take down whatever goliaths stand in our way. Both professional. And personal.
And that’s never changed.
Part of our resilience could be that, from the early days, we have looked at every little project as an opportunity: dealer show notices, classified ads, even coupons ads. We’ve turned all of them into award-winning work. Not because we were obsessed with hardware, but because we've looked at every assignment as a chance to connect with consumers in an original way. Even as we produce multi-phased Super Bowl campaigns, we always make the most of every possible touch point. This has helped us build client trust, and helped those relationships grow.
That could explain why we’ve been working with Kia for 20 years, Universal Studios Hollywood for 13, California Lottery for nine and Jack in the Box for five. Even as we’ve grown to more than 200 people and added more resources, we’ve never stopped acting like that agency with five people and a copy machine.
Over time, we have learned that you can’t just open your doors and expect it to stay open just by doing your job. Like any relationship, you have to work at it. At times, you lift each other up. And at times you push each other.
You may disagree on everything from the director you hire, to the music, to which direction the background sheep should be running in a TV commercial you’re shooting in Spain, but every little quibble and every little experience makes the work stronger. And David&Goliath stronger, as well.
Friendship and mutual respect are other ingredients for longevity. David Angelo and I have been backstage with a client in Vegas eating birthday cake with the band Journey. We’ve been in an insect-infested cornfield covered in beekeeper suits trying to get a child actor to deliver one line in an authentic way. We’ve been in a visual effects room just days before our Super Bowl commercial airs, making sure that the CG iceberg Melissa McCarthy slams into looks sharp enough. When you share those connections, and you’re surrounded by talented people who pass the ‘No asshole’ policy, then when the time comes, you’re ready for anything. The kinship of the people and the culture we’ve created have turned David&Goliath into a force that challenges everything, including time. Prior to David&Goliath, I worked at a few creative boutiques and, for four years, I freelanced all over the country. It’s with that perspective, that I can say David&Goliath is a bit of a unicorn in the ad world.
It’s not to say everyone who has worked at David &Goliath has stuck around all these years.
But each year, our challenger spirit gets tested, we grow a little more.
Anyone who knows me, knows that for 20 years, I have given my all to this place. And I can say that I feel fortunate, knowing that as much as I have given, I have gained.
I have gained a lifelong mentor in David Angelo.
A sense of purpose.
A group of friends, agency and client side, who share a similar spirit.
And a collection of experiences that keep me going.
A couple years ago, I fell rock climbing, and broke both wrists, collarbone, scapula and several ribs. The doctors told me I’d be out a couple months. Within a week, I was presenting a campaign to HBO and writing scripts with dictation software. I realised I needed David&Goliath as much as it needed me.
As I look back at 20 years, I know this is just the beginning. David&Goliath will continue to expand and prevail. And unless an agency in Kentucky opens up that pays me in Pappy Van Winkle bourbon, I will continue to be part of David&Goliath.
So, if I could give a bit of advice to creatives out there, it would be to not chase fool’s gold.
When I started here, I was a newly married twenty-something with no kids.
Now as my oldest daughter applies to colleges and tries to figure out what it is she’s going to do the rest of her life, I pass on this advice, that as much as it’s about what you do, it’s about where you do it.
And that it may not be something you’re going to find. It may be something you’re going to have to help create.
Executive Creative Director, David&Goliath