The Interview Series // 41

Are you a Weights and Measures Inspector (http://wiki NULL.answers or something just as mundane? Do you dream of chucking it all (http://www in and becoming a creative? Well, meet your new inspiration, Peter Cortez. Our boy Pete may have started his advertising career late, but he’s sure made up for lost time. Since going back to study at Miami Ad School at age thirty, he’s made some ads, worked with big brands, developed and launched two iPhone apps of his own and even started a New York lunch club (http://www NULL.tplc Oh, did we mention he helped get the President of the US of A elected?  We thought we’d pick Pete’s brain about his ever-changing career path.

Junior: Dude! How did you get into advertising, Pete?

Peter: Before I worked in advertising I was an Optician for many years. I always felt I was a creative person, but I felt my career as an Optician wasn’t very creative. One day I went into a Barnes & Nobles bookstore on my lunch break and in the magazine section I saw a close up shot of a woman in a bikini and a small man with a lawn mower going down the right side of her bikini. I said what the hell is that? It was a Luerzer’s Archive magazine. I was hooked at first site seeing that cover. I bought the magazine and remember thinking, people get paid to do that? I want to do that! So I ending up changing careers and started over at 30 and went back to school. I went to the Miami Ad School.

Jr: An Optician! Wow. It’s amazing how many people have come from vastly different careers to advertising. Do you think your life experience and time spent as an Optician aided you in your second career in anyway?

P: I’d like to think my life experience has helped me as a creative. I think the one thing I took with me as an Optician to advertising was being a good listener. Listening to patients and clients is very similar. Being a creative is about craft and voice, craft being the technical skills. Voice is having something to say and bring in real life experiences.

Jr: What was the ad that made you chuck it all in?

P: The Luerzer’s Archive mag cover was an ad for Kookai (http://www NULL.coloribus

Jr: Coming into the industry late as an Art Director, how did you learn your craft, mac skills etc? Were you always a visual person?

P: I had never used Photoshop before and was a bad illustrator. I went to the Miami ad school and started to learn on the fly. It was tough, my first quarter most of the kids already new Photoshop and Quark. I just dated myself… wait, I said Quark – wow remember Quark?!

Jr: Totes. We learnt it in first semester uni and by the time we came back after semester break, they told us to forget everything we’d learnt and that we’d now be using some thing called InDesign. ‘Quark’ sounds cooler.

P: Ha. I think being a visual person helped me when I started, because I at least had a sense of what I wanted to do. The hard part was I didn’t know how to make it, and I had to learn how to use the tools and the design rules.

Jr: At SS+K (http://ssk you worked on the Obama campaign – what was that like?

P: Amazing! I feel so fortunate to have been a part of that campaign. Not for the work, though I love the work we did, but for what the cause was about.

Jr: Getting a President elected seems like a big job. We wouldn’t know where to start. What was it like when you first got the brief?

P: I can’t speak for the rest of the creative department at SS+K, but for me I was excited and freakin’ scared! The opportunity felt like a one of those moments in life that don’t come around everyday. Lucky for for us we worked for an amazing Creative Director, Marty Cooke, who instead of starting us off with a brief, gave us both of Barack’s books – ‘Dreams from my father‘ and ‘The audacity of hope‘. After we read the books, we were briefed.

Jr: We’ve already chatted with your copywriter at the time, Daniel Bremmer (http://lifeatthebottom as well as Scott Thomas (http://lifeatthebottom who was responsible for the look of the campaign, so we won’t dwell too much on the subject. But, did ‘vote for change’ come from you and Daniel, or somewhere else?

P: The Obama campaign thought of the name, and the site. Daniel and I came up with the idea for reasons and the the line “Don’t get mad. Get registered.” Everything fell out of that.

Jr: You’ve had an amazing advertising career. At what point did you decide advertising wasn’t what you wanted to do anymore?

P: In June 2010 I realised I really wanted to make iPhone apps. It was kind of a perfect storm for me. I was in the middle of building a app called Recco (http://myrecco with two partners, and brands started coming to me to build apps for them. At the time advertising was not doing it for me. I felt like it was still stuck in this mode of ‘we make things, the public views them and we all form opinions about those things’. I felt like the way the world is today you need to create tools that people use, and if they find those tools useful they will like the brand. Content is still king, it just lives in a mobile device and not a television box anymore. People still listen to radio, and people will still watch television. Everyone will still surf the net, but the way the world is today people are on the go and they expect their mobile device to keep up with them. And smart phones have everything. There’s apps for everything!

Jr: How did you get into the app business from there?

P: In early 2009 I started making my first iPhone app, B-BOT (http://myb-bot I partnered with Tristan Eaton who I met while working on the Obama campaign. Tristan is the creator of the Dunny and Munny for Kid Robot (http://www NULL.kidrobot They are the two biggest platforms for vinyl toys out there. We created B-BOT together. If you’ve ever wanted to make a vinyl toy in tribute to yourself (or another), this application lets you do just that. There are over 4 trillion different B-BOT’s you can make. Yes, trillion. After I made B-BOT I was hooked. It’s hard to beat being the client and the creative at the same time.

One of the many things I learned while making B-BOT was how much I enjoyed being a producer, and building a team who can make a project come to life. In advertising as creatives, we would give account service and clients our recommendations for directors, photographers, and illustrators. Sometimes they understood, and sometimes they would just flat disagree. When I started making apps, that changed. There is no difference from when I was a creative to a guy making apps — I always recommend who I think is best for the job. Unfortunately, the client often thinks they know more then you do. With apps, it’s so new that we are all learning as we go along, so clients have more trust.

Jr: Where do you start when working on an app? What kind of creative process do you go through?

The process is always the same for me.

Phase one: What am I being asked to do? Do I agree with it? Why do I agree with it it?
Phase two: How do I make it better?
Phase three: How do I make it better?
Phase four: How do I make it better?
Phase five: How do I make it better?

The idea is a great start, and not a place to finish. I think creatives hold too much weight in how good the idea is. To me it’s much more important to find out what are you going to do with an idea. And, what will it become?

Jr: So once the idea and its functionality is nailed – what next? Is the process similar to designing a website? i.e. Design it, then someone cuts it up, etc?

P: Exactly, just like a site. Designing, wire frames, and UX. If you are going to start coding you have to know what you want to do. I always say nothing matters until you hold an app on a device and can play with it. Before that it’s all theory, no matter how much thinking you have put into it. You have to be willing to beta test your app and be willing to change it to make it better, and not hold onto the exact idea you had in your mind.

Jr: We just downloaded Recco (http://itunes – an app for recommending restaurants to friends. It seems like it’s got a lot of potential to be big. But then, there’s so many apps that are great but never really take off. How do you become the next Foursquare or Instagram?

P: I love talking about this question. I think the best way to try and become the next Foursquare or Instagram is to not try and be the next Foursquare or Instagram, and work hard at making a platform that people really enjoy using, and have a need for. One way of doing that is always working at making the product better. It should never end — your product is a living breathing thing that you need to pay attention to, and give attention to, all the time.

Foursquare didn’t take off with a bang to start with. They didn’t have a lot of users for the first 8 months, but they kept making the product better, and offering a great service. They were ahead of the curve and the users caught up at some point with all the great press they were getting. Instagram did hit the ground running, but they’re always constantly updating, and fixing, and adding.

J: What should someone do if we have an idea for an app, but they’re not sure how to get it off the ground. Should it be sold to a brand or a developer? Or should they just do it themselves and see where it leads?

P: So many people think the idea is everything. Its NOT. It’s just the start of something. Find a way to make your idea into a reality — it’s all about making things and finding out what they can become. Find developers who will make your idea in exchange for equity, if you don’t have money. You can always pay for it yourself, I am a big believer in this one – that’s what I did with B-BOT. We found a developer who liked our idea and wanted to work with us. As far as selling an idea, it’s really tough to sell just an idea with out a proof of concept. But always try to find a way — persevere, if it’s an idea that’s got legs it’s worth it.

Written by Junior
Originally posted on: 26/01/2011