'Creativity is a force multiplier'

  • Article by: DAVID PHELPS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 14, 2011 - 8:40 AM

After 38 years in the advertising business, a veteran BBDO executive tries retirement.

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Denny Haley is retiring after 21 years with ad agency giant BBDO, most recently as president and chief creative officer for the Minneapolis office of BBDO. Photographed at BBDO in downtown Minneapolis December 6, 2011.

Photo: Courtney Perry, Star Tribune

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When Denny Haley joined the world of advertising in 1975, his mentors were the men and women -- but mostly men -- of the Mad Men era.

Copywriters used typewriters to pound out the brand message, artists worked on drawing boards. The whole business was analog.

When Haley walks out the door of the Minneapolis office of ad agency BBDO early next year, he will be leaving a business that on the one hand has changed completely and on the other hand has changed not at all.

After 38 years in the business -- 21 of those years with BBDO -- Haley is retiring to do some reading, writing, traveling and spending time with his wife, Catherine.

He says, tongue in cheek, that he might do a reality show called "Retirement" or "Lollygaggin" in which the TV cameras would watch him in a coffee shop "slowly turning into a crank."

He leaves the 70-person BBDO office as president and chief creative officer. Last year he helped the agency oversee its 80th anniversary in Minneapolis, a presence that was established in 1930 to help a southern Minnesota client then named George A. Hormel & Co. The agency's relationship with Hormel Foods Corp. remains strong today.

Q How have things changes in your 38 years in advertising?

A We've gone from an analog world of typewriters and drawing boards into a digital world where things today are a combination of mass media and personal media. On the one hand, the technology is radically different and has an impact on how people work. But what we do hasn't changed. We create content. And to create content you need the same kinds of things you always needed, which is talented people.

Q How does the creative process work?

A It's about curiosity coupled with craftsmanship and raw inspiration. It involves preparation and organization -- everything from being on time to understanding the client's needs. Look at Chris Rock. What is it about Chris Rock? It's preparation and execution. It's like an athlete who works like a dog. But they make it look so easy. It's about discipline and curiosity. Some things can be taught, like graphic design, some can't, like writing. Some people just have a knack for things. Creativity is a force multiplier, the better the work, the higher return on your investment.

Q Describe BBDO's relationship with Hormel.

A We're the oldest ad agency in town. We've been the most consistently successful. We've been through wars and depressions with Hormel. They make great products and we do great work and that equals a great brand. Our values are aligned. But it's more than just business results. It's about integrity, trust, candor and honesty. That's hard to explain if you haven't worked with clients that don't have those qualities.

Q What are some of your favorite advertising campaigns?

A A few years ago we did one featuring Spamburgers. That is a very important product to Hormel and they came up with a different way to use the product and it was very successful. The same with Jennie-O. People are eating burgers all the time and we wanted to help them make the shift from hamburgers to turkey burgers. I did one for General Mills for Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal featuring three animated bakers in a kitchen baking the cereal. But the best stuff I ever did was for Hormel.

Q Is personal media advertising, such as with tablets and smartphones, more cost effective than mass media?

A The jury is out. Everybody says digital is less expensive but broadcast is so efficient at reaching many people. I don't think it is an 'and/or' option. It's an 'and' option. TV is the most powerful and effective but if you do digital as well, you make TV more successful. And that's where creativity comes in. You need the content to flow through all of these media seamlessly. You need creative marketing people to manage content. It's like the movie business, you need something to get people in and then you need word-of-mouth to get the message out. It's a great time to be in this business. There are more places to show your stuff.

Q What does the next generation of advertising look like?

A It's going to be about portability. It will be on a screen and will bypass the laptop. It's all about something you hold in your hand. But not all the other forms of advertising will go away. Everything is faster now. That's the biggest change. People are more connected than ever before but something is getting edited out. That's face-to-face, heart-to-heart experience.

Q Why are you retiring ?

A When someone said one of my comments was 'wise,' I knew it was time. Advertising is for the young, smart and reckless. I felt the agency was in a great place right now. I want to read some of those thick books. I want to spend time with my granddaughter.

David Phelps • 612-673-7269

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  • About Denny Haley

    Saturday December 10, 2011

    President and chief creative officer, BBDO Minneapolis

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