Local hero, copy + design: Mike Pitts

Local hero, copy + design: Mike Pitts

AN INTERVIEW WITH MIKE PITTS,  COPYWRITER, DESIGNER, LOCAL BRANDING GURU

BFC:   So, Mike. What makes you different?

MP:   A sixth toe on my right foot.

 BFC:  Really?

MP:   No. Not really. Just buying time while I think of a good answer.

BFC:  Any time you’re ready.

MP:    I suppose it’s a combination of things. I always start where the reader is. I have a strong visual sense. And despite the fact that I could be classified as creative, I’m very strategic. I generally do pretty cool stuff, but rarely just because it’s cool.

BFC:  Do you have a philosophy?

MP:   In a sense. For instance, I believe that all good ideas have three basic components: The visual. The headline. And the reader, who puts the first two together. In other words, an ad should invite the reader into the creative process– which has the effect of starting a dialogue with him or her. And once you have a dialogue going, you’re closer to building a brand.

BFC: I thought logos were brands.

MP:   Naw. That’s just the representation of the brand. A brand is a relationship, which is largely mental. Everything the consumer sees and hears– good, bad, and indifferent– contributes to the formation of a brand. So consistency– and being consistency engaging, consistently smart, consistently on target– are paramount. Or else.

BFC: But enough about you. What about your background?

MP:   I’m a proud graduate of UT Austin, with a bachelor’s in advertising (a B.S., appropriately enough). I worked in a local agency my last year of school, and skipped classes because it was so much fun. You know that dream, where you have a final and you can’t find the class? And you aren’t wearing any pants? That was me, for real, with one or two of my classes. Except for the pants part. Still managed to graduate magna cum laud.

 BFC: So you’re from Texas?

 MP:   Not exactly, pardner. I was born in California, and grew up moving around every two years or so. I went to high school in Rome and Tehran. Did my first two years of college in Munich. I wound up in Texas because Austin was an amazing town. From there, I went to Houston to work for Ogilvy, then to Ogilvy New York. I rose from copywriter to Sr. VP, Group Creative Director very quickly. My accounts included Duracell, TWA, Hardee’s Hamburgers, British Tourist Authority, Ryder, Open Pit BBQ Sauce and a few smaller Seagram’s and Unilever brands.

BFC:   But you’re not in New York now?

MP:   No. I moved to LA to be Exec CD of Doyle Dane here, followed by a gig with Jerry Della Femina’s LA office, primarily on Isuzu. I went on my own about 20 years ago, and have since worked freelance for LA agencies like Chiat/Day, Saatchi and others, as well as shops around the country. Besides Isuzu, I worked on Toyota, Nissan, Suzuki, Kia and Daewoo, along with banks, packaged goods, fast food and lots of other categories (I’ve always been a variety junkie). Today, I tend to focus on retailers and education foundations.

BFC:   Retailers? Like with big starbursts and lots of exclamation marks?

MP:   Not exactly. In fact, nowhere near that. When I was on staff, I couldn’t help but notice that anything local was always considered second-class. You’d do up a dealer handbook or send out various ad-like components, but as a Big Agency Hotshot, you always wrote them off. And I never quite understood that sort of attitude.

These days, local advertisers, small businesses and the like– they’re up against huge chains, many with some pretty strong advertising. There they are, people who began their businesses as a labor of love, typically with little background in marketing or branding, pretty much left to their own devices. So my labor of love is to give them the kind of Big Ideas that the Big Boys spend Big Bucks with Big Agencies to get. That’s worked out pretty well.

BFC:  I was about to ask.

MP:   My client Fresh Brothers started as a mom-and-pop three years ago in Manhattan Beach. They’re now getting ready to open their 7th and 8th stores. We’ve never run a price ad, or a buy-a-pizza-get-a-liter-of-soda. I got involved very early on, helped create the strategy, and we’ve stuck to it.

 BFC: Which is?

MP:   With a name like Fresh Brothers, you’d better be fresh in every sense of the word if you want to be believed; “fresh” is not a word with a lot of currency these days. So to make it truly fresh, we decided that it had to apply to their thinking as much as anything else. Fresh ideas. Executionally, we knew that no fast food is more fun that pizza, or more associated with fun times. But it simply wouldn’t be fresh to show happy smiling people having fun with pizza. Or, for that matter, lots of cheese pulls. So instead, we made the advertising itself fun, so that the very act of seeing it would be fun.

BFC: And Education Foundations? What’s that about?

MP:   Since the late 70′s, the state has systematically gutted the education budget like a fish, and local parent groups have begun foundations to raise money to fill the gaps. Not an easy task: the need is leagues beyond what you can raise with a few bake sales. I got involved with the Education Foundation in Manhattan Beach, where I live, and helped them dramatically increase their donor base and raise as much as $4 million in a year. So it’s very much a specialty of mine.

BFC:  But your favorite ad here has nothing to do with any of these things.

MP:   Correct. Although it does speak to my visual sense: a simple change– a bottle shot, but with the cap off– making a huge and involving difference.

But mostly, it demonstrates another skill– one that seems to be lacking today– the ability to extend and sustain a campaign idea over time. Duracell was similar, in that the campaign I created ran over 10 years. It’s all too easy to ditch a campaign, or depart from it, just because you’ve had a cool new idea, or because you’re tired of it. Advertisers and agencies get tired of their work long before the consumer ever does. Keeping a great campaign fresh and effective over time is one of the hardest things we creative types are ever called upon to do. And it’s something I do pretty well.

 BFC:  You seem to talk about print a lot. What about new media?

MP:   I love print, even though– or maybe because– the first years of my career were primarily TV. But I’ve done a lot of web work. I’ve found that too many web sites diverge wildly from the rest of the media mix, and that’s not so good. Everything should work together, and I strive to make it so.

BFC:   Any last thoughts?

MP:   Yes. If you look at my work, I think– I hope– it’s clear I don’t have a “style” per se. It all depends on the client and their objectives. It’s important to keep a lot of tools in your toolbox. If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

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expertise:  advertising concepts, ad copy, advertising copywriting, branding copy, brand identity, brand naming, logo design

categories:   consumer products, fast food, restaurants, retail, local clients, B2C, B2B, food, beer, spirits, liquor, supermarkets, home improvement products, building products, education, education foundations,music education,early education,gourmet foods, travel, airlines, pilates, exercise, banking, shopping centers, oil and gas, energy, automotive, residential real estate, corporate real estate, spas, healthcare, hotels

 

 

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