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Alex Bogusky Interview

Alex Bogusky, Interview

Alex Bogusky began his career over 20 years ago when he joined Crispin and Porter Advertising in 1989 as an art director. Alex became the creative director five years later, a partner in 1997, and co-chairman in 2008. Under Alex’s direction, Crispin Porter + Bogusky grew to more than 1,000 employees, with offices in Miami, Boulder, Los Angeles, London and Sweden, and with annual billings over $1Billion. During Alex’s leadership, CP+B became the world’s most awarded advertising agency. CP+B is the only agency to have won the Cannes Advertising Grand Prix in all five categories: Promo, Media, Cyber, Titanium, and Film. In 2008, Alex was inducted into the Art Director’s Club Hall of Fame. In 2010, Alex received the rare honor of being named “Creative Director of the Decade” by Adweek magazine.

Alex has always been drawn to social responsibility. While at CP+B, Alex created groundbreaking cause initiatives like the “Truth Campaign,” the most successful youth-focused, anti-tobacco education initiative in US history. He also helped Al Gore debunk the notion of “Clean Coal,” with TV spots directed by the Coen Brothers of “Fargo” fame.

With FearLessRevolution.com he has continued his work on Climate with Al Gore, rebranding Gore’s Climate Reality Project and launching 24 Hours of Reality last year – the highest-viewed streaming web event to date with 8 million viewers tuning in for an average of 58 minutes. With FearLess he also launched COMMON, the world’s first collaborative brand. COMMON is a creative community for rapidly prototyping social ventures, all done under the world’s first collaborative brand. Most recently, he helped launch MadeMovement, a new marketing agency in Boulder, Colorado, dedicated to the resurgence of American Manufacturing.

I’m incredibly inspired by the evolution of Alex’s career and life- the way he has moved from advertiser to advocate- seeing a need for a higher sense of social responsibility and acting on it.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?
A lot of different things. Like a lot of kids, I remember I wanted to be a jet fighter pilot. I was really into World War II airplanes. I built models and carefully airbrushed the camouflage and the insignias from each of the theaters of the war, so I had a dogfight from the Pacific War hanging in my bedroom in one corner and the African and European theater in another. I think that was part of it, most boys like the idea of war, too. I raced bicycles and motorcycles, so I also like the idea of a certain amount of risk. It seemed cool, so my thought was, go into the Air Force and become a pilot, and then become a commercial pilot and that would be my career. But I met a guy who was a pilot, he was a friend of the family, and I was telling him about my plan. And he was like, “Oh you don’t want to do that, my job is terrible.. blah blah blah…” I was about 14 or 15 and I was like, OK. Well that’s not going to work.

I learned a couple things there. Later I met him and I was like remember that time you told me… He said “No, why would I say that, I love my job! I work five days, and spend 15 days in Hawaii, and then I work another five more days.” I was like, “Ahhhhhhhh!” So what I learned was to be very careful when you give advice, because the person might take it. I tend to either tell that story or disclaim advice and suggest that you don’t take it, but you only use it as a little data point. Be careful about advice.

What do you love?
I love my kids and my wife and my family, but everybody loves those things. It’s changed over time; there have been times where I have really loved doing things that other people noticed. Recognition. Like when I was young I loved recognition. I think I still like it. But I really loved it, I worked hard and everything I did was to be recognized. And then something happens when you get a little bit older. For me now, I don’t do it all the time, but what I LOVE, is mentoring other people. Meeting people. Just sort of, pulling out of them, what it is that they want to do, and in a way, connecting them to it, make them realize what it is, make them realize they can achieve it. And then help them a little bit, too, connect them with other people and help them make that a reality.

What is something you had to learn the hard way?
I think it’s funny, because I know things and then I forget things. When you are creative, you have a kind of intelligence that is more of an emotional intelligence than IQ. Less analytical. I was very comfortable with that for a long time. The most significant decision I have made, I have made with, what I would call my gut.

So I would feel the decision, and then I would think about how I could support that feeling. Some people have the opposite process, where they have a feeling, then they try and see if their intellect can overcome that feeling. I did the reverse, I thought, “OK, I got this feeling, why is this feeling right?” Then I would support it. With my rational side.

There are times when I made much more rational decisions and although those, a lot people would think those were successful decisions, and most of them, if your measure is money, were successful decisions, but I always use happiness as the measurement. And if you used happiness to measure those decisions, they were not successful.

My father-in-law teaches Leadership, and he is a former Harvard professor, a Stanford professor. He has written about leadership and studied leadership. I was telling him about my process, and he asking about my decisions and I only made a few decisions that I feel that were a mistake, and those were decisions I made with my head instead of my heart.

He asked, “Tell me how they turned out?” I said, “From your point of view, I think you would consider them a success, because they made me a lot of money. But from my point of view, they led me the wrong direction and they made me less happy.” If that is the measurement, then I think I learned the hard way to continue to trust, to support my gut and my heart.

What is one thing most people would be surprised to learn about you?
Most people are surprised that I’m shorter than they thought. I’m 5’9”. (laughs) People are going to think I’m tiny now.

What personality trait is most important in success?
Set your definition before you get started, I already knew what I wanted it to be. I didn’t get it from somewhere else, the American Dream was out there. A lot of people defined it in different ways, and I just at some point said, what do I think it would be. I probably asked people, what do you like about what you do? I grew up around a lot of artists and stuff, I think it’s just a matter of, it shouldn’t be the same. That’s the worst thing about the American Dream. Is the Generican Dream. That it’s the same. How can that possibly be? That we all share the same dream? I think the original version of the American dream, was the promise- whatever dream you have, you can achieve it here.

We live in a pretty complicated time, politically, environmentally, socially…how do you think we can make the world a better place?
I guess I think about this a lot and it bothers me. I’m troubled by it personally. Sometimes I just lie in bed all day and I think that nothing I do matters. And other times I’m so excited, and feel that there is so much potential for anybody, including me, to make a difference.

The more time I’ve spent sort of looking at it and thinking about it, the only element is to believe you can, and then do something. You don’t need grand plans. You can wonder about it, you can critique it, but I wanted to communicate to people- just make sure you go. It’s amazing that just by standing up and saying, “OK. I’m just going to be here and witness this,” has its own power.

Maybe a lot of us have been convinced that we don’t have that much power. Is it school, is it life, is it culture? I don’t know. But it seems like a lot of people are left with the feeling that this situation is helpless and that situation is helpless. It’s too big for me. And a lot of the problems do seem enormous. And yet, when enough people, starting with one, say, “I’m going to do a little bit of something,” then time after time these seemingly insurmountable problems or obstacles or groups or governments, standing in the way, just buckle under the pressure.

Let’s talk about the Fearless Cottage, how did it come to be?
It’s all a work in progress, because of a lot of what has happened to me has happened by accident. Or at least partly by accident. It’s not like I had this grand plan that was the Fearless Cottage. What happened was, I wasn’t really happy doing what I was doing. I started to recognize that, started to work on some different version of it. One of the things I was not happy with was that I felt like there were a lot of issues and in my position, as the co-chairman of a major agency, I wasn’t really in the position to talk about these things. I had a lot of conflicts, little by little I had more and more. So I thought, I’d love to agitate this industry from within, so that it could move a little faster in the direction that I think it probably needs to go. And in the direction a lot of people I know would like to see it go. I could probably help if I was halfway removed. So I tried that through the holding company.

When I actually started saying some of the things I thought I wanted to say, it created problems. The connection was too tight. It still created a lot of problems for the agency, and all the people I loved that were working there, whose values are not the same as mine. So, then at that point it’s like OK, this is a little bit different than I had planned, but now I have to step completely out. In the meantime, I’ve moved into the cottage, and I’ve got a certain amount of stuff going on. Do I keep that going? Or do I let go of the people that came with me? What’s the plan?

I thought I’d like to keep it going, I’d like to keep working with people that wanted to stick with this. When I looked at my energy, and sort of the first steps of that path, I thought I was sort of moving from being a brand advocate, speaking on behalf of the brand, and potentially moving into this consumer advocacy stage- but not like a Ralph Nader point of view, more from the point of view of “what is the expectations for relationships between consumer and brand?” and do we as consumers, when we buy something do we expect in return as much as we should? I think we expect much less than we should, from the companies that we do business with.

Part of the reason why that matters now, is because business has inserted itself into democracy. The money from corporations has moved into our democracy, so unless we consume and vote almost in a sensitized way, we are not operating within the realities of the current system. I don’t think it’s a perfect system – I’d like to see the money move out, but since the money is there, if we are going to leverage our potential to vote for and buy a world that matches our values, we have to work both simultaneously. So a consumer/citizen is more powerful today than someone that plays just in the political realm. Or vice versa. And that’s what we want to spend time talking about.

Alex Bogusky:

Twitter: @bogusky
Fearless Revolution: www.fearlessrevolution.com
Made Movement: www.mademovement.com
COMMON: www.common.is

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  • Sarah Neal

    Great interview! I loved what he said about making the world a better place. I was sad to see him leave CP+B a few years ago, but I’m proud to see what he’s doing now–pushing ideas to protect the environment, promoting U.S. businesses, etc. Amazing drive.

  • Joel Hornburg

    Great Questions, Great Answers. Asking questions that open up a persons character and personality allow us to really appreciate that person. Appreciation is a wonderful thing. Thanks Duane.

  • duanefernandez

    Thanks Joel, highlighting ones character and personality is almost more important to me than highlighting one’s successes. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  • duanefernandez

    Thank you Sarah! I too was sad to see Alex leave CP+B, but after this interview I was excited and inspired by what he’s doing now.