In Part 1 of our interview with Pete Heid, Creative Director of Edelman in Atlanta, he talks about making the jump from a long career in advertising to a PR agency, how to spot a great idea and how to build a modern-day creative department.
Rudy Fernandez: 00:00
Hey, this is Rudy Fernandez from Creative Outhouse, and on this episode of Marketing Upheaval, I talked with Pete Heid, the creative director of Edelman in Atlanta, and actually we made this two episodes. He had a lot of insights and I love talking about creative. In his first episode, he talked about making the jump from his long career at ad agencies to now working at a PR firm. He also talked about what he looks for when he’s trying to build a modern creative department in this crazy changing world. Check it out. Welcome to Marketing Upheaval
You’re listening to Marketing Upheaval from Creative Outhouse.
Welcome to Marketing Upheaval. My guest this episode is Pete Heid Creative Director at Edelman. He’s had a great career in advertising in traditional ad agencies and three years ago decided to go the PR route. Thanks for being on show, Pete.
Pete Heid: 00:54
Oh, thanks for having me.
So first I got to ask you what, what made you decide to go from Ad Agency to PR Agency?
I actually get that question a lot from my advertising buddies. This is basically my answer. Um, advertising agencies were, were starting to act, so like PR agencies and I found that PR agencies were starting to act like advertising agencies. And when Edelman reached out to me, I felt like they were somewhere in the sweet spot in the middle. And it was from this space that I was seeing a lot of creative energy that was happening. It was producing all kinds of really cool work that really got me excited. Advertising kind of didn’t feel like advertising at Adelman. They had done some really good work. Um, you know, at the time for that had won a recently a Cannes award.
So I saw that and I was like, God, if they’re winning Cannes awards, I want to be part of that.
Which one did you see?
So that was for a work that a San Francisco office did for Adobe. Okay, got it. Yeah. Yeah. It was, it was pretty, it was pretty smart. And I’d never seen anything like that before. Yeah. But I didn’t know I don’t to was doing that kind of work. I was like, damn, I’ve been wanting to do that kind of work since I started, but we never really quite had the right opportunity. So that’s kind of what brought me here.
So we, we both grew up in advertising. So what is the difference, do you think right away when you came here, was there a difference between a creative department at a PR agency and let’s take the creative department in an ad agency?
Oh yeah, most definitely. I think what I was seeing is that creative I’m in a PR agency was more of a support function. What do you mean? Well, uh, when I first got here and what I was told how things used to be was that, uh, the PR function, the PR practice would require, they would have ideas that were, requires some level of creative production and they would reach out to, they’re almost like an in house agency at a company and a brand. And uh, of course they, that didn’t interest me because that’s not what I wanted to do here. Make this. Yeah, yeah. No, it’s exactly, they would tell you how to think and you are just basically either hands. Yeah. And I remember when I first got here, uh, someone who told me just get used to not making things. I was like, what do you mean?
And they’re like, you make a lot of decks, PR decks. And I was like, no, I, I’m not here for that. I’m, I’m here to make things. And you know, if it’s any indication by the work that was being done in New York and Chicago and San Francisco, uh, abdomen offices, then, you know, that’s the kind of stuff I wanted to bring to Atlanta. Uh, so, so really that’s kind of the difference. Like in an advertising agency, that creative team is the product. Here, it’s a little bit different. And I’m not interested in just kind of trying to sell an idea just for the idea sake, or we’re just presenting a deck. We’re going to make things, we’re going to make a, you know, a video series or we’re going to make a product or we’re going to make a VR experience. We’re going to start making things here.
So there was a little bit of education that had to happen. I certainly was appealing to me because I was starting something and that, that kind of energy around that and the uncertainty of it was really exciting to me. How do you able to change that and how receptive were the people here when you said create it as actually a product that are going to make instead of an add on to a plan that you already have? Well, I just kept repeating myself. Then at first people would not, and probably not really believe me or even understand what I was saying, but I just kept repeating the same message and it became a, you know, a consistent thing that I was saying so that I was starting to educate people, but I couldn’t do it alone. I’m using the word I, I mean it’s a team and, and my boss really was super supportive of the creative product in, he always said creative should be the center of everything we do.
And when he said that, that’s when stuff started to click and I knew it would happen. He just said, it will take time. You have to have patience. And it did. It took a good year before I was able to start to get things going. And once we got a good team in place, uh, we really kind of saw how to make this happen. And people started joining the cause, uh, account people were starting to see how they could make it work. Um, our strategy folks were really excited. We have a paid team, a digital paid team that is really cool to work with and they started seeing how we could work together. And pretty soon we were starting to see that creative was getting involved in the, the front end of it, not the backend. And that meant that we were partaking in budget discussions and making sure that was part, that creative was part of all of that.
Now always say one of our jobs is to make your client famous. And if they start bragging about the work that they’ve done with the agency, that’s when you know you’re, you’re hitting your stride.
Do you think Edelman’s unique in how they value creative and how they value the idea. Because I’ll tell you, is what you just requires investment. It’s not just hiring a bunch of creative people or some creative people or one creative guy and saying, let’s do creative. It is understand that sales might dip. Clients aren’t used to this. They’re going to push back. There are systems that have to take place in order for great creative to get done. So do you think Edelman’s unique in that way? Do you think other companies are willing to invest the way out of Manhattan?
I do think we’re unique in that perspective and it goes all the way to the top. Richard Edelman literally said those words, I am ready to invest in creative. And he said them 10 years ago because this doesn’t happen overnight. So we built the infrastructure to allow it to happen. But it was more of a mindset, a mindset that, hey, we’re not profitable now with, with this creative offering that we have, but pretty soon it will become not only profitable but absolutely necessary for the existence of the agencies. 10 years ago he was talking about this, but now starting to see now it’s, it’s not a hypothetical. It’s actually in practice and you know, we have our battles and you know, we have uphill battles still, but more times than not, we’re having discussions about how to make this idea happen, uh, with a certain budget or how to, you know, trying to find the right photographer or road videographer, right. Technology as opposed to, do you think, uh, the, the client will hire us to do creative project?
That’s not, of course they will because all they’re looking for is a good idea and we’re definitely ready to do that. And how would you define great idea? You know, a great idea. Something that can live anywhere. It can live and breathe in a tweet or a video or a VR experience. If it’s a great idea. It’s not a TV script. It’s not a print ad. It’s not a oh check out this app I have. That’s not an idea. The idea is bigger than that, but I like to save that. The idea is something that you can tell a friend in five words, so picture like you’re, you’re in the bathroom and you’re like, hey man, I heard you came up with a cool idea for I dunno, M&M’s and you’re like, yeah, and you can say it in five words. That’s a killer idea and it’s almost like when you’re telling a story, you love to tell that story and you keep telling you, oh, he’s telling that story again.
I mean that’s what a great idea is. You want to just keep telling that idea and then other people get excited about it and pretty soon they’re telling your idea to other people and it grows and that’s what gets me really super excited about the big idea because everyone wants to talk about it. When you put an idea up on a wall, let’s say you put up a 10 ideas, you’ll know what the big idea is because everyone will gravitate towards it and start making it better. And when you see that, then you know you’re on to something. It’s the idea that you really want to work and you just keep trying to push it and you’re spending hours just trying to come up with a second execution or a way to extend it. That’s when you know it’s not a big idea. It’s big ideas. You get them, it’s easy to make it grow.
Yeah. I remember many, many years ago as a young writer came in, was interviewing and she had, it was just, uh, it was a eight and half by 11 pencil drawn idea and we went up, my God, it was amazing. It was an idea for a light bulb. We actually got the thing produced. One is Silver Lion at Cannes and she got the job obviously. Yeah. But it was that it was that powerful and it was just a, it was a crappy drawing in my opinion. Cause a great idea connects somehow to something human. And, uh, let me ask you this. What do you think of the nature of ideas now, the nature of creative that you see floating around in the ether on digital or whatever medium?
Well, it’s like you said, it’s, it’s got to connect to people and you know, it can’t be, I have this new product, and I know this sounds like obvious and trite, but it’s not, it’s not enough anymore that I have this new product and it does this. Now you have to create something that’s engaging that will make people laugh or cry or feel something and make them want to share it with someone. If that doesn’t happen, then it’s not going to work.
So how was the access to more data affecting creative, do you think? I’ve seen it help and hurt. So it helps when it informs a creative, but I think it hurts it when it dictates the creative. What do you think?
You know, I can give you a specific example where it actually does work and it’s really smart. And we were working with our digital team on this with one of our clients, the Florida Department of Citrus. We teamed up with the CDC and uh, they had this sort of hot zone chart that when the cold and flu season popped up that they could tell where the city, uh, you know, per city where the flare ups would happen. So when we connected to that database, um, we would populate ads in those cities for Florida orange juice about now, we couldn’t claim that for now. Orange juice will keep you from getting a cold. But if we talk about the nutritional benefits of drinking orange juice and about how it could build up your immune system, um, you know, those things are pretty powerful, especially when you turn on the news and say Cincinnati and it’s like, oh my God, everyone has the flu. There is a flu outbreak and then you all of a sudden are targeted with a message for Florida orange juice. That’s a power of data. Where you can really make it dynamic cause you just gotta be careful because if you, you know, if the data is pointing to something and you create an ad specifically for that and there’s no connection, human connection, then it’s hollow and it’s not going to work. It’s not going to connect. It can’t just be based on the data that you, that you get. It’s gotta be based on a brand truth or an insight and you really have to still connect with people.
Yeah, I agree. I think that’s a really cool idea.
I think it will change and it is changing how we come up with ideas and the effectiveness of ideas. And of course clients love to see that. Sure. It’s just, you know, you, you can’t forget the, the idea part, the insight driven idea part of it where we’re connecting with a consumer with something that’s new and innovative. It just has to still be there. It’s just, it helps you find fine tune the message and it helps you get to the right people at the right time.
You’re building a broader creative department here in Atlanta. We grew up in advertising as a copywriter is an art director or designers. What do you think’s changed in terms of the types of teams and the types of people you use to staff up a career department?
Well, it’s funny, I have a friend that works at a large advertising agency in New York City and he always talks about, you know, his writers and art directors and he’s got, you know, 10 writers, 10 art directors, designers underneath that. And it’s a huge team. And you of course, they have huge budgets. I think what I’m seeing is we no longer just hire an art director or a writer. I like to say that we are people as slashes in their title. And so what I might do is, um, you know, when I’m looking at an art director, my question is, oh, can you edit or what else can you do? And nine times out of 10, they, they, they’ve got four things they can do. And you’re seeing that, especially with millennials, you’ve seen multiple abilities. Now of course they have to have something that that is their sort of area of concentration. Like, I am definitely an art director, but I also am a video editor or I also am a photographer. Um, you know, I have a writer who’s also a musician, so he’s a song writer and he composes music.
So, you know, that really helps because a department of my size, a creative department of my size can do a lot more with a lot less in the budgets. Certainly dictate that. But it’s nice to be able, uh, to do what we can do with the amount of people that we have. It’s just that we’re doing a lot more, like my art director is editing videos. He’s a great video storyteller, uh, but he’s also a really good designer and he is a good conceptual thinker. So like he’s coming up with the idea, uh, one day and then he’s on the shoot the next day. And then as soon as we get all the dailies and he’s editing the footage and it’s pretty incredible to see that all happened with one person. Can you imagine that 10 years ago?
I love that I spent the last several years working in tiny agencies where you had to do all the antics of copier, but I love that the technology has allowed us to do that. I mean, just walking around your offices, you’re building a little studio here. You have, you have an editing suite. Basically. You have, you have so much going on.
Yeah. And you know what? We don’t use it as a crutch. We just help us. It helps us come up with ideas faster and it opens up our possibilities to make stuff too, to make stuff. You know, in the end we like as gravy, but we like to make stuff. It’s sort of like a, you know, when you cut your grass and you finish, and one of the most things is looking at the lawn, the neat little lines that you’ve made and looking at how perfect everything is, you’ve made that long look better. I mean, it’s the same thing in advertising. You really want, um, to see that video. Um, you know, one of the, one of the coolest things that happened in my careers, um, we created this piece, um, for a restaurant group and I was really proud of it and this was before kind of content was a thing, but we just did it and it ended up coming up really nice and we’d put it out there hoping people would watch it.
And then about a week or two weeks later, a friend of mine came up to me and said, I just saw this thing online. It’s the coolest stuff I’d ever seen. I was like, oh, we’re going to do that. So it’s replaced the, Oh my, I saw your TV spot on the playoff game with how many likes that your video has gotten. And just that’s so exciting to see now. And it’s just the way that content is, is consumed in brands or consumed now. It’s a much different experience than it was 10 years ago.
It does give you a thrill doesn’t it? The first time I’m around, I ever went on a shoot. Early in my career we had written some scripts and things for our hospital. And then you go on a shoot and there’s a crew people and you’re thinking, what? Because something, I said, why are you listening to me?
There’s a story that a director always told me. He used to be an art director and then he became a, an actual director and he said, uh, the first, uh, his, the first shoot he went on, it was the first scene and uh, he’s looking in this little lens and you know, he looks up and there’s like 20 guys looking at him waiting for him to tell him what to do. And then he’s like, I’m not ready yet. I don’t know what to say. So we looked back down in that lens for about 10 minutes. And then finally he was thinking of what to say and he comes back up and goes, okay, this is what we have to do. But it’s like you come up with an idea and then 20 people or 30 people or depends how big the production team is, are scurrying around trying to make that happen.
Now it’s a little bit different now. You don’t have 30 people at, I don’t know. Sometimes you do, but um, you know, I, I have one client that is a rather large production. We have like two film crews at the same time going and it’s pretty, uh, you know, you’ve got drones and underwater cameras and all this stuff going on. It’s really fun. On the other hand, we have a shoot where it’s just you and a camera guy walking around just capturing stuff. And both of those are kind of exciting and both of those can produce equally good words.
Agreed. So I was just about to ask you, how have the assignments changed do you think between advertising and PR, but then also in the last few years, but first them advertised to me or how do the assignments change?
So, you know, look, I need smaller budgets. It’s obvious that the budgets are smaller. You also have less time to complete your assignments. So it’s like, oh, this campaign is running in a month. You just briefed us. How are we going to come by? I mean, how is that all you do? We have to come up with the idea, but then we have to produce it and then has to get out of here, you know, so, so the time constraints are much less, it’s almost like when you’re doing like video production, uh, the expectation is it can happen as fast as a print ad and you know, it’s just not the case. But in some cases it really is. It’s just your, your budgets are smaller. You’re going to do more in if you get to do more with less budget and less time. But I also think there are more assignments coming in.
So you look at the whole budget and you know, that’s decrease, but then what they’re asking for is increased. And that means what it means is instead of doing one big shoe, you’re going to just, you know, you’ll do a couple big shoots, but then you’ll do a lot of smaller shoots throughout the year. So, you know, since I’ve been at Edelman, I shot more production here than I have in my whole whole career. Uh, not my whole career, but the, you know, specific agencies where, um, you know, I’m shooting easily once a month or some of my team are shooting something. We’re always shooting something. It could be something as simple as a table top products or a bigger production, but there’s just more going on and it’s happening faster and faster and faster. And also the assignments, um, well some of that is still brand focused.
A lot of it now, uh, tends to be more reacting to what’s in the marketplace. So if a product’s not selling because of weather or maybe some kind of market force, a forces that are going on, we, we, we get an assignment to combat that and it has to be done in a week because in a, and was the week goes by, it’s irrelevant. So if we don’t make it fast enough, then we’ve missed our window. So that’s why the productions have gotten smaller because we’ve had to become more nimble. It’s, it’s no longer, hey, here’s the brief. You’ve got, uh, two months to come up with an idea, a a month for production and a month for finish. It’s just not the case anymore. Do you think that’s PR advertising or just the nature of now I will say that it’s, it is definitely PR advertising.
I’m not going to sugar coat that part of it. It’s definitely a, a PR focus. But I, I will say I’m sure that advertising agencies are going through the same thing. Their budgets are getting smaller and they’re asking for more. And what I’ve seen also is that advertising agencies are going through this. A friend of mine just told me this, they’ll see a piece of content that doesn’t feel like advertising and they’re like, I want that right now. We have this big splashy TV spot, but I want this content that has real people in it and it’s about real stuff and how do you give me that? And, and that’s happening more and more and more. And now I think for me, I’m at a place that can actually make that happen.
I think I’ve seen a lot of production companies, the ones that I see are doing, they’re doing very well, are, they’re doing a lot of stuff for smaller margins and doing it fast. What do you think of that does, in terms of when you’re balancing? I get to do more stuff. I get to create more ideas, but I don’t really get to craft them. How do you balance that?
You know, there’s a, um, it is a delicate balance. There’s, you know, you push your creative team and you push them with deadlines and with the creative product itself. But there’s also the problem of burnout and creatives can, can, that can happen really quickly, especially when they’re doing the same thing and it gets, it gets to be where there’s just no breaks. And creative burnout is, is really tricky, especially in a, in a good economy because they could just go somewhere else and get a job really quickly. So you gotta make sure that you’re feeding, uh, their soul too and made sure that they’re doing work that is engaging. Um, because I think if you’re not doing that, then you, you risk actually having your, your creatives want to uh, look, look elsewhere. How do you do that? How do you feed their souls? Well, um, you know, the client will ask you to do certain things and sometimes it’s not what you know, your creative team wants to do.
I found that in an environment like at, at Edelman for instance, we can be more proactive and we can come up with ideas that we think are right for them. And when you find the right clients for that, it’s perfect because then, you know, we might have an idea that they’re not even thinking about, you know, we might identify a problem that we keep seeing happening in the marketplace and say, what if you did this? And when I throw those proactive assignments at my team, that really is kind of invigorating and they get really excited about…
So you have the authorization, let’s say, to say, okay, now, okay, you have this assignment that they’ve asked us to do. But I also want you to think of these things that they haven’t asked us to do, to say, here’s some things that we see happening. How would you solve that? So you’re allowed to just create an assignment.
Sometimes, because sometimes a client will say, I asked you to do this and you’re not doing this. You’re doing something else. So you got to be careful that if you do proactive thinking, it can’t be just the proactive thinking, it’s gotta be what they asked for. And then proactive thinking. However, sometimes you can fill in the gaps. So if you’re not, let’s say you’re in between assignments, you know, what you might be able to do is bring them proactive thinking throughout the year. Then they, I always say that, you know, if you’re just taking orders and just doing what they’re telling you to do, you’re going to find yourself not in that relationship very long. But if you’re constantly giving them ideas and always, you know, they might not buy any of those. Maybe they buy just one out of 10, but that’s valuable at the end of the year. They can look back and go, look, got all these great ideas. They brought us, you know, we, we didn’t do that one, that or that one, but we did do this one and we didn’t even ask for it and now look at it, we want to get an award for it. So, um, you know, I think a, you know, an example would be some of the work that Edelman Atlanta did for Crockpot, which actually this idea, uh, came from one of the guys that works in our crisis department and he works with Crackpot, um, that, that’s one of his clients. So he’s watching a, This is Us as us, we show
I knew, you were going to bring that up.
And uh, the, it was like one of the season finales and the main characters, you know, well, I don’t want to spoil for anyone, but
He dies because the crockpot catches fire. I’ll ruin it.
Exactly. I think there’s a statute of limitation where, where you can start talking about the spoiler two years after it’s happened. But anyway, that happens and he gets furious. He calls a client, what are we going to do? They’re like, you know, we’re not sure. We got to think of something. So he calls NBC and gets in touch with the writers and they both come up with this idea about issuing an apology, uh, to Crockpot. And, uh, we, you know, the whole thing was kind of based on the main character and he was talking about how we all have to get along because it was during the political upheaval of the current administration, but it was also the Superbowl. So there’s a lot of attention on brands. And then he sent it, by the way, it’s not Crockpot’s fault and that kind of blew up.
And it, we even made stickers, not Crockpots fault and they had Janet’s face on it. We ended up winning a Cannes Lion for that. But that’s kind of how we operate too. Like good ideas don’t just come from the creative department. I mean, Eric in, in Crisis, he works on the crisis department. Um, you know, that idea came from him and you know, we helped develop this idea, but that was his baby. And it’s cool to see that when you’re in an agency where everybody’s thinking and everybody comes up. I know, again, that, you know, especially as a creative, you know, I hear, Oh, anyone could come up with an idea. Well that’s not really what I’m saying. What I’m saying is when we foster an environment of creativity, people feel safe to bring you an idea because they’re not going to be sort of made fun of or put down a where you might see that in a traditional agency.
Um, you know, we get great ideas all the time from account people, from strategists, from media people. Um, and a good idea is a good idea. I agreed. I think I’ve always said creativity is solving an old problem in a new way. So really anyone can come up with an and, and the crisis person was ready for the training crisis and ready to respond to that. Yeah. Yeah. So, um, I think it’s just an exciting thing. It’s, it’s exciting to be part of, uh, an environment where creativity, you know, everybody’s trying to come up with ideas and, and it’s truly an open, um, uh, an open space for in a safe space to, to, to say what you think. Now, one of the things that happens here a lot of times is we talk about these brainstorm sessions where there’s a room of 20 people and you know, as a creative director, I don’t necessarily like those.
I think it’s a good idea to have them to start the, uh, the briefing off and just to get ideas jumping. But people have to have ownership of the, the creative and we have to drive it in a strategic fashion, but we also have to know what’s possible. Um, so I think a room full of people like that, uh, isn’t necessarily the most efficient way to do it, but it’s certainly the right way to start an assignment. And I think you, you break it down to your traditional teams, but it could be non traditional teams. I’ve worked with account people, I’ve, you know, I’ve worked with a lot of different kinds of people, producers, a strategy, people just to come up with ideas. Like you’re your typical a copywriter. Art Director partnership is not necessarily the case anymore. You know, it’s kind of limiting sometimes. Yeah, it really is. Um, you know, I think though you get locked into, once you start getting in a room with an art director, you know, just doing things a certain way. Whereas if you talk to say an account person or strategy person or media person, they may come at it from a different level. Um, and it’s, it kind of opens your mind up a little.
Yeah, I think that it sounds like a fantastic environment. Yeah.
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And remember if the current state of marketing has got you confused. Don’t worry. It’s all changing, see ya.
Listen to part 2 of our interview with Pete here.