Greg Smith

Chief Creative Officer The VIA Agency

How did you get your first big break in advertising and what have been some of the highlights so far?

I’m not sure it was a “big break,” but when I was just getting out of college I was a struggling actor, and my agent threw me into an audition for a print campaign for Partnership for a Drug-Free America. Amazingly, they cast me and I did a national print and outdoor campaign where I posed with a gun up my nose alongside the word Cocaine. Long story short, I learned the true power of advertising. I was amazed at how many people saw that work and how much they talked about it.

What is your creative philosophy?

In today’s world, it is not enough to write great copy or have a stunning eye for visual beauty. You have to be able to think in new ways, to develop ideas, programs and platforms that will change your client’s business. Before any copy gets written, or any images get selected, or an ad gets laid out, we as a creative group must question, probe, consider, reflect and ideate.

All that being said, here are the three basic pillars of our creative offering:

Ideas, ideas, ideas – Ideas matter. They are the only true way to differentiate a company in today’s overly saturated marketplace – not a color, or fonts or “ownable visual elements,” etc. It has to be ideas.

Be surprising – Truth is, most consumers could care less about what your company has to say. That’s why you must surprise them; touch them in some fun, poignant or provocative way.

Execution is everything – The hardest thing a marketer will ever do is get something truly great, unique and powerful into the marketplace. Why? Well, you know, budget, politics, handoffs to junior staff at the agency, lack of oversight of the details by the creative director, etc. At VIA, we don’t accept those, or any other, excuses. We’ll work hard – no matter the budget, the layers at corporate, the compressed schedule – to execute work that delivers.

Tell us about the creative team at VIA.

The creative team is made up of some of the most open, hardworking and collaborative people you will ever find. I am so fortunate to work with them. I am inspired every day by something one of them will do. Something I would never come up with let alone really do.

What are some of the hallmarks of a VIA campaign?

Hopefully they all feel different. Everything we do is designed to address a certain audience and to achieve specific objectives. If there’s one common theme, I guess it’s that it’s a reflection of the given audience.

Which recent VIA campaigns have provoked the most discussion?

There are two that have really gotten a lot of attention. The first is PERDUE® Chicken. In that case, the campaign is really drafting off the cultural discussion as to where your food comes from. How it’s raised, processed and shipped.

The second is 1800® Tequila. There the talk is much more surface-driven in that it’s all about Ray Liotta, a great performance and great direction from Anthony Mandler.

What was the last thing you saw or heard which inspired a creative idea?

There was a recent art exhibit at the Portland Museum of Art called Piece Works. It’s all about how process can not only drive creativity but be the creative idea in and of itself. Really got my head spinning. In a good way.

Name some of the smartest creative people in Adland.

There are a ton. Martin Sorrell. David Alberts, CCO of MoFilm. Lisa Donohue at Starcom. To name a few.

What life experiences have enriched your creativity?

All of it. The good and the bad. The reward and the heartache. At my age you learn that it’s all part of a creative life. You don’t get to choose what will happen. What you do get to choose is how you deal with it. What you will make of it. That’s the creative life at its essence.

Professionally speaking, what is your greatest fear?

That I stop learning. If you don’t keep learning in this business you are done.

What predictions do you have for the coming year in advertising?

That 99% of what people are predicting will prove to be grossly false or irrelevant.