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Meet the Technologists: Chris Pierantozzi


Saatchi & Saatchi’s ECD on why data isn’t a cage, using TikTok for research, and why AI will change how we work and the way we think, writes LBB’s Ben Conway

Meet the Technologists: Chris Pierantozzi

Chris Pierantozzi, ECD at Saatchi & Saatchi has always considered himself a ‘creative person’, bringing with him to every job a unique perspective and a varied background in computer science and data analysis. Hoping to create experiences and ads that are effective as well as great, Chris helps Saatchi & Saatchi remain nimble and use new technologies, platforms and data to ensure its clients are in constant communication with consumers.

A creative with a background in programming, data and analytics, Chris welcomes the marriage between data and creativity, and has used this expertise at several of the industry’s biggest agencies as an art director and creative director - RPA, TBWA\Chiat\Day and, since 2008, Saatchi & Saatchi.

Speaking to LBB’s Ben Conway, Chris discusses the utilisation of data in the creative world, the recent innovations that are inspiring his work and how his passion for the combination of technology and art bleeds into his personal life too.

LBB> You started your career as an art director for RPA and TBWA - what did you learn from these experiences in the industry? Why did you make the jump to creative directing?

Chris> Technology has always been a passion of mine. Ever since my parents gave me a Nintendo back in 1985, I’ve been enamoured with it.

After graduating college, it made sense to start a career in computer programming. I was lucky enough to land an internship in the field of bioinformatics, which fed my engineering appetite - but at the same time, I was experimenting with building websites. The way art and technology coexisted in that world piqued my interest in creative direction, rather than solely focusing on programming. That’s when I joined a digital ad agency, where I was able to learn so much in this burgeoning realm of digital marketing. 

Then, around 2006, these major agencies like RPA and TBWA started to really build out their digital expertise, bringing technology and creativity together. I jumped on the opportunity to get in the door and enhance my then-limited digital skills.

LBB> In 2008 you joined Saatchi & Saatchi as a creative director - and you’ve been there ever since. Why is the agency such a great fit for you? How is the agency utilising and helping develop new creative tech? 

Chris> I’ve been here for the larger part of my career now, and what’s amazed me about Saatchi & Saatchi is that they think like an entrepreneur; try new things, figure out what works, build upon it… It’s one of the defining qualities of the organisation. That, and the way all the different groups work together. It’s one of the few agencies left that has media, creative and strategy all under one roof.

Those two things have let us do what’s usually impossible. We’ve built out a data and technology practice that surrounds every discipline: creative, strategy, media, production, analytics. Everyone you need to make that kind of endeavour work is available to us.

LBB> You describe yourself as a ‘data creative’ - can you elaborate on that? How are you using data in your everyday work?

Chris> Data is this four-letter word to many people in the creative world, as if it’s mutually exclusive to creativity. They see it as cold, limiting and restrictive. However, I try to view data not like a cage made up of a bunch of numbers or graphs, but as the people and how our work impacts them.That perception, and the utilisation of data as a guiding tool, has given me and the people I work with a deeper understanding of who we’re talking to and how to be relevant to them. With that understanding, we can figure out what works and what doesn’t. It takes our ego out of the question and tells us if we’re truly doing what marketing and advertising is supposed to do: shift perceptions for the brand.

LBB> What other creative tech (besides data) is exciting you at the moment? I see you’ve been using AI tools for Toyota - tell us a bit about that!

Chris> For the better part of a decade now, we’ve been trying to use AI in marketing. Back in 2017, it brought our ads to life in a funny and sort of nonsensical way. We tried a couple more times, as a gimmick. It was interesting, but ridiculous.

But the recent leaps in generative AI, through tools like Midjourney and OpenAI’s GPT, have been incredible. Now, we can realistically move past the use of AI as a novel marketing hook, and instead take it seriously as a mechanism to integrate into our creative workflow - figuring out how to utilise them, not only in executional ways, but even as a concepting and ideation tool.

It's going to change the way we work and the way we think. Like how Photoshop and Illustrator changed the industry, AI has more potential than just speeding up our creative process; it can give us more capabilities than we ever had before. 

LBB> What sorts of clients and briefs do you get most excited about and why? 

Chris> The ones that don’t have an easy solution. With new clients and even with a client that you’ve worked with for decades, where you know each other like an old married couple, those opportunities constantly come up. Finding a way to reinvent a solution by building something new and innovative - that’s what gets me excited about a brief.

LBB> What do you find is the most useful resource or area of knowledge to draw upon in your work? How do you stay on top of the fast-moving world of creative tech?

Chris> It used to be certain publications or newsletters I subscribed to. But believe it or not, I actually get most of my news from TikTok these days. It’s astounding how well it tailors itself to you. I’ve curated my entire feed to be a constant source of industry news that ranges from creative techniques to technological advancements and to trends in data. You’d be surprised how much faster you find out what’s new there [on TikTok], than through any other blog or ad industry site.

LBB> When the landscape is changing quickly, how do you focus your energy on certain areas of innovation? When there’s still a lot up in the air, like with the metaverse, AI and other emerging tech, how do you know when you can really commit to something?

Chris> There’s a lot to be said about hype. Those early adopters who rave about the latest thing and its usage in marketing and advertising - it’s generally done for the cool factor versus actual value.

Just look at the metaverse. It showed up and everyone jumped on it, really without understanding why they needed to, other than to be there. But while I do believe there’s massive potential for the technology, we’re just not there yet for mass adoption. So, while using it may get you a headline, is it really going to impact the people that you need to reach?

Now, on the other hand, the same could be said about AI almost seven years ago. However, if you look at where we are today, it’s not a gimmick. It’s not a headline. It’s about to be one of the most disruptive forces we’ve seen in decades. And that happened almost overnight.

So, to me, it’s about being ready and innovating with purpose. Have that nimbleness to experiment when the opportunity arises, but know why you’re doing it. Our audience is pretty savvy and they’ll see if you don’t have a reason for your innovation - and will avoid you at all costs.

LBB> What do you nerd out on when you’re not thinking about work? And what makes it so interesting to you?

Chris> I keep talking about the combination of technology and art. And when I’m not thinking about work, there’s this one area that I have an unreasonable passion for: music. Specifically, electronic music. It just fits who I am. I enjoy listening to it, experiencing it, and figuring out the right hardware and tools to capture every detail of it - exploring how artists are able to create in the space, and how it’s constantly evolving in the techniques they use. It’s a lot of fun, and I’m sure everyone around me could attest to the fact that ‘nerding out’ about it is an understatement.

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Saatchi & Saatchi - USA, Wed, 12 Apr 2023 16:36:00 GMT