The Interview Series // 28

Alright, alright. We know what you’re thinking, “Another ad-guy? When you kids gonna get over this ad-schmer-tising thing, huh?” Well you’re right. Evan Fry (http://evanfry NULL.com) is an ad-guy. But he ain’t just any ad-guy–he’s a true-blue award-winning ex-Creative Director of Crispin Porter & Bogusky (http://cpbgroup NULL.com/) style ad-guy, and he has some good shit to say, so chill out, bro. That sort of heritage makes him better than most ad-guys, who on the whole are a dime-a-dozen, and definitely don’t look this good with a head wrapped in ostrich feathers. He just left CP+B to start up the world’s first ad agency utilising the power of crowd-sourcing, named Victors & Spoils (http://victorsandspoils NULL.com/). That’s pretty cool-magool if you ask us. You know what else makes Evan cooler than most? He’s an old-school copywriter. Which tends to be rare these days. So if you’re one of the few who want to take up the lost art of copywriting, listen to what Evan has to say. You can actually use his advice–which is darn considerate of him, seeing as most of these so-called ‘ad-guys’ have a lot to say about nothing. In summation: Evan Fry ain’t just your average ad-guy, he’s a super-talented old-school copywriting mega-machine, and wants you to Be Fucking Awesome (http://befuckingawesome NULL.com/).

Junior: We heard somewhere that you’ve got a crazy story about getting a job at Crispin Porter + Bogusky (http://cpbgroup NULL.com/). Apparently it’s a ‘doozy’. May as well tell us the whole thing!

Evan Fry: Sure. But it’s a long one. It basically began with me having been fired from the job I had and sending my book to Crispin. At that point, this was the spring of 2002, I had been a writer/ACD for 8 years already, and I wanted to work for CP+B more than anywhere else–so I sent my book. About a month after I sent it in they returned it to me with a form letter, “signed” by Alex Bogusky (http://alexbogusky NULL.posterous NULL.com/) himself. It was encouraging, but standard. Very professional of them to be that on top of their shit, I thought. And then I forgot about it. About two months later, after becoming a bit bored of not getting much play from the shops I truly wanted to work for, I had an idea: what if I acted as though that letter really was a sincere letter from Alex to me, and started sending him weird notes from the stance of ‘jilted-lover-gone-psycho-at-not-getting-any-more-letters-from-Alex’?

So I got some really precious stationery like a grandma might use, a super nice calligraphy pen, and went to it. My thought was keep them short, keep them anonymous, and keep them weird. And not think for a minute that Alex himself would ever even get them. I think the first one said, in really weird cursive, “It’s been two months since you last wrote me, Alex. Don’t you love me anymore, Alex?” Nothing else. A few days later I sent another one. And then another, after a few more days. For the fourth one, I reduced a photocopy of the original form letter he’d sent me, but used black permanent marker and inked out my name on it. I accompanied it with a psycho note on the psycho stationery that this time said, “Perhaps by now, Alex, you’re wondering who the hell I am? Well maybe I’m a lot like you, Alex.”

Four days later as I was thinking about how to take it up a notch, I got a FedEx delivery. It was from Miami. When I opened it, it was clear something was weird. There was another envelope inside. And then inside that envelope was a Ziploc bag. It had the vibe of an evidence bag like in lawyer movies. I opened the Ziploc and there was a Photostat-camera blowup of the part of the form letter I’d sent where I’d inked out my name. But by blowing it up 10 times, its size had revealed the name under the ink. ‘Evan’, just huge. Stapled to it was a copy of my letter, and in red ink someone had circled “… who the hell I am.” And that was it. It was all just one big fucking “touché, motherfucker. We got you.”

I was psyched beyond belief. Because all of a sudden I had concrete proof that not only had my letters been getting to him, but they’d been actually getting to him, you know? And he took some time and effort to play the game. So I immediately loved Alex. And the day after I got the envelope, Veronica Padilla, his assistant at the time, called for my book again. I thought I had a job in the bag, or at least a flight out. But it didn’t work like that. I didn’t hear anything for weeks.

By then I’d started a whole other self promotion idea where I was mailing a weekly photo of myself to the top 30 or 40 creative directors around the world who I wanted to work with. Each one was literally just a 4×6 photo – showing how much time I had on my hands. Like, in one I was having a tea party with stuffed animals. In another I was drinking tallboys with bums on the street. On the back of each, every week, I wrote in pen something that went with it, like, “God I need some work,” and I’d include my phone number.

So I had these going on, and was also sending them to Alex. But I still didn’t hear from him. However the photos were working, and I was getting a lot of great freelance so I didn’t care as much, although CP+B was still where I really wanted to be.

About six weeks later Alex himself finally called and said, “I’ve been meaning to call you, why don’t you fly out.” I did, and had a great interview. Thought I had it in the bag for sure, and… didn’t. He didn’t have a slot for me. So I kept the weekly photos going, kept freelancing, and then four months later I was freelancing at Mad Dogs & Englishmen (http://www NULL.maddogsandenglishmen NULL.com/door NULL.html) in San Francisco and got a message on my answering machine. “Hey Evan, it’s Alex, call Veronica back and tell her the code word is pineapple.” I called her back and she said Alex wanted to offer me a job. It was literally one of the best days of my life. P-e-r-s-e-v-e-r-a-n-c-e.

Jr: Wow. Ok. That definitely is a doozy. It’s nice to see someone with experience and good work struggle like the best of us. In fact, your website mentions that at twenty-six you “weren’t exactly setting the advertising world on fire”. How did you push through that? Did you ever want to give it up and go mountain biking for good?

E: Oh man, you got that right. Actually, a few times. I got out of school from the University of Oregon and unlike my partner in school, Glenn Cole, I didn’t take a good job out of school. My book was shit and I spent a year working on it but the only job I could land was at the ‘third biggest place in Portland’ – which basically means nowhere you’ve ever heard of. And even though I only stayed there a year, it seemed my destiny was sort of set. I couldn’t get play in the Weidens (http://www NULL.wk NULL.com/) or the Goodbys (http://www NULL.goodbysilverstein NULL.com/) of the day, so I was just floating around at the mediocre places, like 95% of us.

I moved to San Francisco in 1996 and experienced more of the same. But I moved to be in a bigger market with more chances. I kept at it, kept trying, and just didn’t give up. I guess that’s why I ended that last question by saying perseverance. That’s really the only answer when you feel like you’ve got what it takes, when you know that in your heart. If you know you’re good and you know you’re smart but can’t seem to get a break, you’ve got to prove how smart you are and make your own break. I’m 100% convinced of that.

Jr: You’ve written your entire career. But a lot of young people aren’t taught hardcore writing anymore. From our experience, advertising education tends to be more ideas-focused. What advice would you give to young writers?

E: I think this is true. I went to a School of Journalism program, and was lucky enough to be a decent writer just inherently, I dare say. And then in school at University of Oregon, I was also lucky to have two great ad professors who were classically trained. So the mix was pure writing and grammar, mixed with classic concepting classes, and barebones, fucking copywriting courses. It didn’t hurt to have Dan Weiden (http://danwiedensuperdad NULL.blogspot NULL.com/) himself teaching a couple of intensive seminars. But today, you’re right–ad programs stress concepts first, at best. Copywriters today, I swear to God, most of them shouldn’t call themselves “writers” at all. But it’s not really the game now, nor is it anyone’s fault really.

The advice I would give is to read a lot. And to pick up the book Grammar for Journalists (http://www NULL.amazon NULL.com/Grammar-Journalists-E-L-Callihan/dp/0801968232) and study it like there’s going to be a quiz on it every day. I’d also say to use self-discipline. And read The Book of Gossage (http://www NULL.amazon NULL.com/Book-Gossage-Howard-Luck/dp/0962141534). Teach yourself. If you’re a copywriter who can actually write, you’re set for life. Love the headline, love long copy, do it all the time, get better at it, write hundreds of options for each headline idea. Treat it like a craft. That’s what it is. I still love to write ads.

Jr: Do you get the urge/time to do any writing or other creative stuff outside of advertising?

E: Nope. I really don’t, not writing. I get the urge to do other things besides advertising though. And I do those things. It’s why I started sharklove.com (http://sharklove NULL.com/) and also befuckingawesome.com (http://befuckingawesome NULL.com/). Be Fucking Awesome, especially, is just a labour of love. I kept having this idea where I would write a book that would be a sort of “guide for living.” I had this idea for a title and it was “How to Be Fucking Awesome.” This was while I was really cranking at CP+B, on the road producing all the time. So I didn’t really have the energy to do it, but I bought the URL befuckingawesome.com (http://befuckingawesome NULL.com/) and felt good enough about doing that. Then I just sat on it for a couple years.

Finally I had John Parker, my partner at the time and now a CD at W+K New York, do up a branding identity for BFA. He rocked it. And it sat there again. Then I had the idea to tweak it into a social network of sorts where you could post your Fucking Awesome deeds, let the world vote on each one, and those votes would contribute to your Awesome Quotient. So then I fucking had to do it. And that’s what I did. I found another amazing designer to help with the design, a fantastically talented developer, and sunk a lot of my own money into paying him to develop it. It’s been live now since the end of September. It isn’t really taking off the way I’d hoped, but I am learning a whole lot from it and know what to try to make it take off more. It’s really satisfying, in some ways. But mostly, it’s just a massive learning experience.

Jr: So, now that you’ve left CP+B to start your own agency, what can the world expect from Victors and Spoils (http://victorsandspoils NULL.com/)?

E: Good question. I think the world can expect to see a viable new way of coming up with ideas for the advertising industry. A way where the clients feel like they get the service and attention that traditional agencies give, but ideas and work that is devised from a much broader base of amateurs and/or the users of their products and services–then directed and shaped to be on brand and on brief. So it’ll feel like an ad agency to the client, but engage the world to help solve their business problems. What we’re trying to do is show that there is a new way of doing things. A way that works and can let more people into the process. We’re all savvy critics of ads and marketing communications nowadays – because we’re exposed to it from birth. There are a lot of people out there who could be really good at it, and we want to give them a way of working on things just like those of us who went to school to become experts. There’s a shitload more to it than that, obviously. But the world can expect some really interesting briefs to work on for some really interesting clients. At least.

Jr: The business model you guys described on launch, was anything but ‘more of the same’, but there’s going to be the inevitable detraction from folks not into the whole model. Are crowd-sourcing naysayers the new ‘30-seconds-of-TV-is-the-only-media-we-need’ dinosaurs?

E: I don’t know; that’s a good question. There are naysayers out there. Basically what the internet gives people is a voice, and they love to use it to say how dumb everything is that isn’t their own idea. I learned pretty fast after we launched that I just had to turn it off, it was exhausting trying to answer or consider everyone’s points. Which we still care a lot about, but so many people were just being so aggressively mean and negative, so full of hate, that we realized very fast that no answer would satisfy the vocal minority. It’s one of the most loaded issues out there right now and because we consciously launched with as much hoopla as we could create, we became the brightest bull’s-eye. It’s cool though; we intend to just continue doing our thing and trying to get some good clients and craft briefs that let people play with brands if they want to. If they don’t want to, that’s cool too.

Jr: How does a junior (or anyone for that matter) get a shot at working for a hot shop like CP+B or Victors & Spoils? Can you give us five awesome tips?

E: What if I give you one tip and explain the shit out of it?

Jr: Evan, you do what you feel…

E: Good.

 

1. Get really good at the craft of being a creative.

– Write down everything. Take notes as you learn. Take notes as you concept.

– Doodle as you think. Keep the pen moving.

– Do lots of options for everything. Only through looking at it can you know if something is better or worse than what you already have. Look at it.

– Take it seriously; don’t expect it to come easy. Focus on the brief. Do “concepting intervals” where you focus and write every idea down. Then have a break. Then get back to it.

– Sketch everything. Go analog. Don’t fucking concept on your fucking laptop. Pad of paper. Pen or pencil. You alone, or you and your partner. Find somewhere to get in sync and focus and riff. When writing headlines, that’s when I think writing on your computer is good. But try using all caps, or two spaces between each headline. Treat it like art, and have some pride for how the words look. Do a bunch. Edit them a little. Do a bunch more. Edit a little. Repeat. If you’re building your book, keep the presentation simple. But don’t ignore the presentation.

Jr: Is there life after advertising? Should advertising be a means to an end?

E: For me, I think there has to be. For anyone, for sure there can be. Depends on how much a boner it gives you, I guess.

Interview by: Pete Majarich (http://petermajarich NULL.com NULL.au/)

Written by Junior
Originally posted on: 20/01/2010