This month Inside the Industry features Fabio Orlando, Chief Creative & Partner at tag idea revolution, Member of BBN – The Business Branding Network, and President, CEO, and Partner at Comfy Kids Inc. Fabio manages his multiple projects and teams with fun. He’s always on top of the latest trends, and innovates in every new project. His team management skills and efforts to create a unique corporate culture over at tag make him an interesting candidate for us to speak with. In our eyes, Fabio is a creative entrepreneur who has figured out the “secret sauce” for inspiring a team and keeping them motivated. Here’s a snapshot of our discussion with Fabio.
1. I usually like to start our Q&A session asking the interviewee about their career path. Can you tell me a more about yours, and how it brought you to your current position as a Chief Creative?
I suppose I have always been a bit of an entrepreneur.Even as a child, I found ways to influence friends on our street into creating carnivals, go-carts, street festivals, elaborate imaginary worlds and even a short film. I also liked being very hands on with things and understanding their intricacies before simply executing what the instructions read.This is certainly a little immodest, but I believe I was born for this.Sure, I studied and graduated tops in the Advertising & Design Arts program at Seneca, and yes, I spent a little bit of time at some good shops and had some great experiences. But the real truth is, that I “bought my way to the top“. Not in any formal currency, but more so with an entrepreneurial spirit and a lot of sweat equity.We began our little agency some 17 years ago with a tremendous work ethic and a creative exuberance that was uncommon.We were not traditional “agency people”.Nothing was inherited. We did not walk away from a big shop that had accounts follow us.I had to rely on my creative philosophy of “clarity in creativity”, which, in short form, means that you offer up the most singular and powerful idea behind a brand’s promise and not convolute it with tertiary messages. It doesn’t pay to spray. You only end up coming across with a lack of confidence, both to the client and the end audience. With that, and pure determination, we had to earn every single win, measured only in the depth of the bags under our eyes. I recall sleeping on cubical dividers laid on the floor – it’s pretty much a blur at this point and probably bordered on torture, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.Eventually, we fortified our little group with some really smart and talented people. What flourished out of that was an exceptional chemistry of respect and creativity that feels boundless. And thank goodness for that. I remember working for other CDs where they would scoot you away to come up with ideas, only to invite you back to the table to present them, where you would either get a “yes” or “no” answer to your concepts.And I remember how horrible it all felt – as if creativity were but a commodity. “How many boxes of creative would you like?” I used to muse. I couldn’t wait to escape to an environment based on real creative collaboration that was founded on true respect for ideas.
So I created one.
2. What was the craziest thing you did for a job – to get, or the keep one?
We used to do some pretty wacky stuff.I remember attempting to create an oasis in our boardroom, complete with rocks, trickling fountains, ambient forest noises and a view of the mountains. Unfortunately it came with some decomposing birds as well, but that’s another story. I think there was a time and a place for all that. But just as with consumers these days, clients are more discerning, hyper-aware and realize that creative solutions rooted deeply in strategy and that are born of powerful insights are far more valuable than a flash in the pan.The dog-and-pony, as it were, is dead.I’d like to turn your question on its head and say that the craziest thing you could do for a job is to go in blindly touting how creative you are without first backing it up with smarts.
3. We notice you are always overlapping projects, and assuming multiple positions in different companies at the same time. How do you manage all this happening at the same time?
The answer to this is fairly simple – “I” don’t.Once upon a time we were a miniscule agency of seven, and I would make sure that I was extremely hands-on and involved in every facet of the assignment. I didn’t help to grow the agency until I learned to trust people.Many believe that trust is earned, whereas I profess quite the opposite. Trust should be immediately given until you discover that it may need to be stripped away.Bringing in talented people into various projects, accounts or even companies is easy. There is no shortage of talent out there. Being able to empower those people is the hard part, but that is where positive chemistry lives – and where respect and appreciation are created.Important stuff.It all translates into giving me the ability to keep on top of everything, steer and contribute, without micro-managing or pretending that my ideas and thoughts supersede everyone else’s. That philosophy also allows me to partake in a variety of “pet projects” and satisfies my entrepreneurial spirit.I still don’t get much sleep. But that’s okay – sleep is overrated.The cousin of death as I understand it.
4. We came to visit you in your studio, and were so impressed by the collaborative environment that you and Tag’s leaders foster internally. Can you give us a little insight into what Tag has been done under your guidance to embrace its culture internally? What’s your “secret sauce”?
Again, you give me too much credit. And again, I’ll repeat. There is no shortage of great talent out there, but there certainly is a shortage of chemistry.We are extremely careful as to whom we allow “into the family”. If we feel that they won’t gel with the rest of the group, regardless of how smart, thorough or creative they are, they will simply not make the cut. Do we always succeed with that? Not always. But we are quick to rectify it.So that’s it. That is the ”secret sauce”. Allowing people to embrace their own culture without mandating what they do to create it. You just need to set the right tone and example to the point where it becomes infectious.Around the office, I’ll belt out a tune, randomly dance, play a little foosball, get down to business, be serious about the work and be a fool at just about everything else. It’s how I am, wherever I am. My partners have their own interesting contributions as well, to be sure. It helps to set the tone and energy of our fantastic group dynamic.I grew up Catholic, so perhaps that where it partly stems from. You were told when to go to church and how to respond and react to the liturgy.When to sit.When to kneel.When to stand.And yet, you were expected and even encouraged to be completely enthralled during the ceremony.That’s not for me and certainly not for our group.
It is so wonderful and rewarding to see our team take the initiative on developing social committees, lunch-and-learns, communication strategies for the agency, contributing to our “wall art” and so on.
I feel very lucky coming in to tag every day.
5. It’s clear that you have a great passion for our industry. What fascinates you most about being an art director, and where do you get creative inspiration?
This is a lift from an article I recently wrote for the BBN:
I find inspiration within the complexity of my mind. Sure, I admire works of art, am engaged by great advertising, and marvel over a good book – but it is the way I internalize and am influenced by these things indirectly that truly inspires me.That’s not to say that my mind is much different than yours. We all interpret various stimuli in our own unique way. I’m going somewhere with this, I swear.When you are a deemed “creative” you are expected to look at things from a unique perspective and yet flesh them out in a manner in which the masses, or a selected audience, will be receptive to – and all ultimately responsible for motivating a change in behavior – a sort of unfamiliar resonance.Therein lies the dichotomy, and the ever-present challenge.The way in which I successfully balance the two is to address that challenge.I once read that if a horse has the potential to jump over a hedge, then it is perceivable to the human mind that a horse can equally leap over the Grand Canyon. That has stuck with me for the longest time and for me, that is where the answers live. The place where I can challenge the challenge. That is the space in the human mind where things like faith and hope exist. It is not a stretch. It is a perceived reality, and thus, a fundamental truth that I attempt to communicate through my craft.And that is how you keep it interesting.That is how you appeal to everyday people while pushing the boundaries of creativity.The beauty is, that it changes and evolves regularly.Once you have carved a place in human perception, which becomes generally accepted, then it can push out even further. So now, the horse can jump over the moon.
Who knows where it will jump to next?
But then, it is your own headspace that will determine that.
6. Digital Marketing is a fairly new field, and we are all still exploring it, and juggling to finding better ways to make use of it. Which part of this field enchanted you the most, and what are your predictions for the future of digital marketing – or marketing in general?
Wow.Well I have to admit that I’ve been around long enough in the world of digital that I have seen many trends act more like fads.But to say that it is new is so anti-digital to begin with. This stuff is evolving so quickly to the point where even dog’s years can’t even begin to compete. What was now is now so last year.Anyone ever ask you to create a viral video? I thought so. The very notion makes me cringe. And this is just one example of how digital marketing is misunderstood. But in fairness, everyone wants the buzzwords in their corner without knowing why they want it. 12 short years ago, it was a web site that acted like an online brochure.“We need a Facebook presence.”
”We need a Twitter account.”
“We have to respond to every comment, even if they are – what did you call them? – trolls?”
“What about Pinterest?”
“We need to create digital content that tells a story – or is that ‘contributes’ to the story?”
I believe digital engagement begins with a paradigm shift in advertising philosophy.
I remember when marketing was about consumers aspiring to have your product or use your service. When it used to be simple. Some are still doing it. Axe comes to mind – use our product and you will get laid – and it has had some tremendous success and has produced some very creative, original and witty executions.
But it’s all different now and certainly more complex. Way more layers and a lot more noise.
Almost everyone is “virtually living”, as I like to call it. Their experiences exist in both dimensions so much so that they meld into one. The more it becomes seamless the more you can strip the “virtual” part away.
With that, there is this immense propensity to create an alignment with your audience that never really existed before. Now it feels as if you have to ask permission to be included in their purchase decisions. Almost “reduce” your product to their level versus having them covet it. Weave yourself in. The beauty industry is a prime example of that sentiment. Dove started it.
Funny how the same entity owns both of the brands I mentioned. But I digress.
I am not disputing the shift; I’m just calling it to attention.
So you want me to predict the future of digital marketing?
That’s easy, too.
Very soon, people will stop calling it “digital marketing” and just plain old ”marketing.”
We used to market tag with the notion that it was a truly integrated agency, with all services, and profit centers, under one roof. Now it feels as if that is the price of admission.
I think that we have to be smarter than the fads. Marketing has this cool way of establishing real trends simply by applying tactical strategy around a new platform – but we also have to be dialed in to decipher where the money should go and where our efforts may be deemed as a nuisance to the virtual lives of the people using the technology.
We are not far from becoming the intrusive telemarketer of yesteryear and we must recognize that.
Permission is an important word. Perhaps not in its traditional sense, but more in that you need to know how and where you are not going to offend people with your presence. Facebook is going that way – putting shareholder profitability ahead of the personal social interactions they themselves created. Should be interesting to see what happens next.
I also believe that the technology has yet to catch up to the aspirations of marketers as well. Given that so much of our efforts rely on contributions from our audiences – uploads of photos, videos, etc. – Internet service providers have yet to address the need to “push up” versus download. Especially when talking mobile. But that is just around the corner I bet.
I’m more interested to see when advertising again comes full circle and we start using James Bond to start selling electric shavers again, in a newspaper ad.