On a Wednesday afternoon back in December, eight people assembled around a low table in Atmosphere BBDO’s Midtown offices to look at ads.
The group, a mishmash of creative and account service types, were analyzing a slew of mocked-up display and pre-roll executions for one of Atmosphere’s major accounts. A client meeting was set for the next day, and Atmosphere hoped to show a large volume of new work. Four junior creatives presented the ads, while Group Account Director Will Townsend and Senior Creative Director Arturo Aranda presided and rattled off questions. Atmosphere permitted a guest to sit in on the condition the client not be named.
Aranda, 37, who has been with the agency since 1999, listened as a young designer presented an elaborate interactive pre-roll ad. The proposed execution would incorporate five potential user clicks, each pointing to a different two-second video.
“Keep it to a minimum,” he told her. “I wouldn’t do more than three videos. The truth is, even getting someone to click once is a big deal.”
His guidance demonstrates a couple important points about Aranda. First, he’s seasoned — as seasoned as it gets in digital circles. Having started in new media when Web advertising was mostly limited to e-mail, he’s now instinctively familiar with online behavior. Second, he’s budget conscious — a sensibility he revealed again a few minutes later when presented with another ad. He liked the execution, which invited people to interact by dialing a number and screaming into a phone.
“Do we have to build this with an Oddcast or can we do it ourselves?” he wondered aloud.
Such remarks, which are taking place at agencies all over New York and the U.S., hint at the new pressure on digital creatives to do more with less.
“There’s this pressure to deliver quality work but also maintain profitability,” he said after the meeting. “We’ve had to become more self-reliant, creating more assets internally. It used to be we needed a photographer, high-end CGI, and a camera crew. We’ve always been able to go out and get specialists for that kind of stuff.”
Other folks at Atmosphere are feeling the same thing. One is senior account director Shawn Zupp, a top account guy whose office is right next to that of Atmosphere’s CEO, Andreas Combuechen. Zupp, previously with BBDO and Ogilvy, works with Arturo on the Target account. He also handles Bud and Corona. Thick-set and dressed in a white shirt and tie, Zupp said he looks to Arturo and Atmosphere’s other top creative directors to innovate when budgets come in lower than he might hope.
“It forces a level of nimbleness,” Zupp said. “If we don’t get a big budget, guys like Arturo…have to be increasingly creative.”
Zupp said analytics and measurement are a growing part of his discussions with clients, and that plays into creative decision-making as well. “It’s our job on the agency side to help them identify how we measure success,” he said. “It helps focus the creative in a way.”
At the time of our meeting Arturo was dressed in jeans, a green short-sleeve shirt, and dark framed glasses. He seemed to have shaved not yesterday or the day before, but perhaps the day before that.
He commutes to Atmosphere’s Avenue of the Americas offices from Garrison, NY, a Hudson River hamlet about 45 miles north of the city and close enough to West Point to see its sheer walls and feel the reverberations of blank shells detonated in cadet training exercises in Orange County.
Garrison is a tight-knit town. Arturo, who moved from Manhattan’s Lower East Side, was recently surprised by the extent of local mourning over the shuttering of Guinan’s Pub & Country Store, a family-run watering hole that was nestled against the Metro North platform. “It affected the entire community,” he said of the loss.
Aranda lives with his wife and two sons aged six months and two years old. He said it took him about a year to get used to the commute, which is an hour and twenty minutes door to door. He said getting an iPhone completely changed it however, making it easier to watch shows, play games, and mess around with apps.
“I basically satiated myself with hundreds of app experiences,” he said. “The potential of the app realm is unlimited, and it’s going to be a fun challenge to be contributing experiences into that space.”
He also works while commuting. “My day is usually a series of interruptions, and what you can do on the train is seriously focused,” he said.
Once at work, Aranda spends about half his time meeting with his creative teams and going over work, and the other half in discussions with clients or his counterparts at BBDO. Atmosphere employs approximately 150 people, while BBDO has several hundred more than that.
At his side during the creative meeting in December was Will Townsend, a group account director whose approach is slightly more confrontational than Aranda’s. “It’s not screaming a simple elegant message,” Townsend said of one rich media execution. The two took turns peppering Atmosphere’s junior creatives with questions and criticisms before concluding the meeting.
The relationship between Atmosphere and BBDO has grown closer with time. Officially, Atmosphere is BBDO’s digital network, but the two agencies serve many clients separately and their work on shared clients has sometimes been competitive. Until recently they were stationed in different midtown buildings, a circumstance that may have exacerbated turf wars.
“We’ve been in this building for a little over a year now, ” Arturo said. “Before then it’s not that the relationship was antagonistic. We just didn’t all know each other intimately. Everybody’s striving to come up with the big positioning idea. It’s easier to sell it when you know each other. Otherwise people get very territorial.”
Aranda, who works on accounts including Target, Starwood, AT&T and Johnson & Johnson, is very much a collaborator — more interested in facilitating the creative process within a communal framework than in seeing his own ideas win out.
“Going forward with the stuff alone, while it sounds heroic, [is tough],” he said. “That’s the strength of being integrated with BBDO. When we go in together it makes the stuff bulletproof.”
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