Interview with Jonathan Schoenberg, Partner and Executive Creative Director at TDA_Boulder

Jami Oetting
Jami Oetting



Tell us more about TDA_Boulder and the work you do there.

We are lucky because we work on a really diverse group of clients and because we have had a bunch of new business wins over the last two weeks. I run the advertising, and my business partner Thomas Dooley runs design, which is an integral part of the agency. I have been here since 1998 when Thomas (who started the place in 1989) and I got “professionally married.” Thomas and I get along really well and agree on most everything, even though we are different in many ways. The fact that we are so often in sync is one of the reasons we have a really nice place to work. He is the greatest partner you could ask for because he cares about every aspect of the business, but he also cares just as much about the people.

From a work perspective I see everything, and I am intimate with all the accounts. I still get to actually work as a copywriter on some stuff, which I love. We also have an amazing creative director named Jeremy Seibold who is always making my life and the agency that much better. He is so smart and allows this place to grow at a time when I can no longer oversee all advertising accounts as a creative director. He has allowed us to take on more clients in the past six months with work as consistent as we could ever hope it to be. I have really enjoyed seeing the work later on in the process because he does such a great job.

TDA_Boulder has gained media attention for some pretty unconventional campaigns, including the “not all startups are created equal” hoax and the Holiday Party Sobriety Test for Webroot Security. Do you find most of your clients give you free reign because they know what they’re getting from the very start, or do you usually have to persuade them of the effectiveness of such a unique approach?

10 years ago we would ask clients to do things outside of their comfort zone, and it was not always in their interest or ours. I feel like when I started in this business, you tried to coerce clients into doing good work. Today clients want it as much — or more — than many agencies. Most clients very much understand the necessity of getting noticed — especially since the model of deep pockets building brands is not really as relevant with modern consumers. Brands want to be as engaging as possible, and we often find ourselves having conversations where we sound more like a client than an agency in terms of contemplating possible risks.

What is it like creating advertising for brands TDA_Boulder has a vested interest in, like Sir Richard’s Condoms?

We work on Sir Richard’s the same way we work on any other brand. I am on the board, but Sir Richard’s has a CEO, and he is the client and approves work. Sir Richard’s operates as a separate company with its own staff and investors. I wish they had more money for branding endeavors, so we could put more hours towards the company. As we go into mainstream pharmacy in 2013, hopefully we will have bigger budgets. We incubated the company at TDA, but it would not be proper to devote more energy to it than other clients. That said, clients have been really supportive of the brand, and several have invested in it.

Is entrepreneurship a big part of TDA_Boulder’s company culture? Do you think it’s important for advertising professionals to be comfortable with the risk of failure (or looming shadow of success) that comes with a new business venture?

I think our industry should attract and hire the most entrepreneurial folks we can, and we want that when we hire. Somebody who wants to run or help run a part of the agency.

Failure is not a joy. Thomas and I made so many mistakes with TDA in the early days and have watched so many clients make poor decisions along the way. Some failure is inevitable, but we try and turn it into a learning experience. We can help companies avoid errors we have seen others make and are better today from recognizing the mistakes we have made. Today’s bigger marketing departments have a collection of MBAs from Wharton, Kellogg, Tuck or wherever, but the game has changed. They have to be courageous and can’t buy consumers interest as they could in the past. They can’t fall back on case studies from business schools that are no longer applicable. No CMO wants to fail, but playing by old rules these days can lead to just that.

How would you argue that traditional media (broadcast, print, direct, etc.) is still relevant in an industry where a lot of focus lately leans towards the importance of social, mobile and digital tactics?

Pixels are awesome. I think we can all agree brand advocacy from the consumer is more important than evasive mediums that only take from the consumer versus giving them something useful or entertaining. Everything should tie back to a social engagement. That said, there are a lot of amazing ways to spend time with brands within the crowded digital universe, and in some cases you need traditional mediums to build or gain traction for your digital endeavors or social media presence. An outdoor board is sort of this undeniable thing you see, and you are unlikely to ignore in a major city. We just have to remember the end goal is people caring enough to advocate for our brands.

How has the role of a creative in an agency changed over the past five years? What does the future of the creative director’s role look like?

I guess what has changed is we are all digital creatives and digital everything else versus the titles we were seeing like “digital art director.” I don’t think a creative director’s role is going to change that much since it is always going to be about making sure the work is as engaging as possible.

What emerging trends in advertising are you most excited about and why?

I love how much social causes are becoming part of big business. I love how videos are playing this bigger role. Videos are moving more toward a TV length of 30 and 60 seconds than longer forms we were seeing a few years ago, but since they are existing in places with fewer limitations they can be closer to HBO censorship than NBC censorship.

One reason you love what you do: I got into this business by accident, but I have always loved it. I think the main reason is the variety of how you spend your time versus working in a coal mine where you have only one task. A bad day here is still a relatively great day compared to how most people spend their workweek.

Mentor(s): Gerry Graf showed me how to make an ad, Nick Cohen showed me how not to make an ad and Mark Johnson showed me how to make an ad for big clients.

Must read book: Patti Smith’s “Just Kids.”

You can connect with Jonathan Schoenberg on Twitter @schoenieee.

Topics: Creativity

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