Straight out of school and into a design studio, I loved it from day one. It was a complex, fascinating craft. Everything was done by hand and by eye with skill accumulated through experience, of which I had none, but I was an eager apprentice, surrounded by cool people who were willing to help me learn. It was very exciting. I can still clearly remember the first task I was given and even more rewarding my first piece of creative work that was accepted by a client; a package design for Fritza, a range of bottled sodas.
I was hired by Benton&Bowles in their Turin office, newly opened to manage a substantial piece of FIAT business they had just acquired. Shortly after I joined, Benton&Bowles merged with D’Arcy, Masius & MacManus and became DMB&B, one of the top 10 agencies in the world. The leap from small, informal design studio to the analytical and strategic discipline with military-like organization of the multinational agency was breathtaking. I worked on FIAT, one of the biggest budgets in the country, initially in role of Assistant Art Director. Over time, as my capability grew, I was increasingly involved in the creativity and production of projects, mostly catalogues and dealership ads. I created work the client liked and was promoted to Junior Art Director. This got me out of the office and I started spending months at a time organizing and art directing photographic shoots both indoor and on location for various car catalogues. After three years dedicated to FIAT and without immediate promotion prospects in DMB&B I was champing at the bit to do more concepting and campaigns, so I moved on.
When I entered DWA I planned to spend two or three years there, building my creative portfolio and then move on. I ended up staying 21 years. Everything changed constantly and radically. It was impossible to get bored as I was given many opportunities to explore and grow. When I arrived at DWA it was a fresh, dynamic, small agency. After three years of working for one client, who I rarely actually saw, I now found myself joyfully overwhelmed with client meetings, multiple new products and markets to comprehend and glorify. My portfolio rapidly started to bulge with national print campaigns, outdoor and TV commercials along with mountains of BTL. The agency was successful for many years and grew, rapidly becoming one of the top independent national creative shops. I grew with the agency and had some amazing experiences and good times.
The following are some of my more significant experiences in DWA:
In 1989 DWA bought two Mac IIci computers together with Adobe Illustrator 88, Quark XPress 2.1 and assorted other programmes. Nobody in the agency (including me) had ever used a computer and the manuals were in English, so my Italian colleagues decided it was my job to understand these new digital tools. Over the following years the agency would, like all others, become completely digital. It was a change that many resisted and resented. I was excited and invested heavily in learning how to get the most from the new and constantly improving tools. While we were all still digesting the arrival of computers in the creative department the World Wide Web arrived (my experiences regarding this revolution are covered in the section about Ottovolante). To this day I am stimulated by the transformational drive of technology: experimenting and exploring with the same enthusiasm and delight as when I first learnt to draw a circle in Illustrator 88.
One of the first clients I was assigned to when I joined DWA was a company called Fabra. They were the distributors for Italy of various sport brands, so with one client I got to work on; Converse, Snauwert, Tretorn, Mikasa and others. Each brand required print advertising, point of sale materials and a constant flood of sales force tools. I loved working for Fabra and on each of their brands but Converse was the most exciting one, an early example of a sports brand that was a street fashion icon. I was in target and in creative control, what a great buzz.
When I arrived in DWA and for many years after Invicta was the largest and most prestigious account in the agency. An outdoor activity and sportswear brand that became huge in Italy. I ran some exciting projects (a seven day street shoot in the centre of London and inside Battersea power station with eight models, two photographers, hundreds of clothing and accessory changes springs to mind) but I never owned the account that was creatively managed and constantly overseen by one of the agency partners.
Possibly the most significant thing I did for Invicta was something that only a handful of people ever saw. In 1995, when 0.5% of the population had access to internet, I created a web site for Invicta. I taught myself to code html by hand in a word processor and learnt to make images with only 256 colours. The result was the digital equivalent of a cave painting, but also a pioneering start to to the presence of Italian fashion online.
A historic Italian manufacturer of very fine chocolate and sweets. When I started working with Caffarel the company was owned and run by the the grandchildren of the two original founders. This premise may make you think of a very traditional offering, the reality was surprisingly different. Certainly there were some evergreen historic products but the bulk of the production changed radically and seasonally. The company had a fashion house mentality and the creativity was phenomenal regarding every aspect of the product; taste, format and packaging style. Some products embodied a recurring theme of eighteenth century genteel sophistication but most expressed a vibrant, fun, creative whimsy. I created and produced all the Caffarel mass media campaigns for more than six years together with a lot of point of sale materials. I also created their first web site and kept it constantly updated with every new season of products. This is one of my all time favourite clients, I was sad when the collaboration ended following the acquisition of Caffarel by Lindt.
The little toys inside the Kinder Surprise eggs traditionally were standalone objects or they were part of a series of “collectables” based on franchised characters from the likes of Disney or Warner Brothers. In the 90s Ferrero decided to develop their own characters with stories and I was involved in this from the start. It was a creative tour de force. Inventing worlds and the characters that inhabited them. Designing and prototyping the little toys and the dedicated packaging. Creating dedicated web sites for each world with video games based on the characters. Even producing feature length animated films. Very creative but with a very robust strategic and technical side to the work, I learnt so much observing focus group market research. One of the most comprehensive creative experiences of my career and some of the longest working days.
Warsteiner is Germany's largest privately owned brewery and is the single account that more than any other changed my skill set and subsequently my career. The origin of the collaboration was an unsolicited fax sent to DWA from the Warsteiner HQ in Germany that contained a complex RFP, written in English it landed on my desk. I convinced my boss to let me pitch it, put together a presentation and travelled to Germany to meet the Warsteiner marketing management. A week later I got the news that the account was ours and that I was the Account Director, a new role for me. The contract included media planning and buying for national TV, radio, print and outdoor media, sponsorships, consumer promotions and special live events in clubs and bars. For five years I ran a busy and exciting account directly with the German HQ and gained a truly holistic view of the agency business and client management. Hard work that reaped big results.
Not a client but a partnership. I met Gavin Stewart, the founder of Touchdown London, through a mutual friend. His idea of brands being media resources that could offer reciprocal value to other brands with a compatible image and similar client bases was ahead of it’s time. It was an interesting experience and influenced the way I view brands. Until then my career had taught me that each brand was a monolithic and unique entity. Touchdown opened my mind to the idea of a “language of brands”. Through DWA I brought the Touchdown concept to Italy. Our main client was MasterCard and we had many others. The business worked decently but not spectacularly, calculating the value of what we did proved problematic, so after three years the division was wound down. I think the idea is even more valid today in an increasingly liquid and digital world than it was then.
When I got involved in pharma advertising my experience in financial services had prepared me for working in a highly regulated industry. The seven years I worked on the Sanpaolo bank group account (now Intesa Sanpaolo) required deft conceptual and executional tightrope walking to keep the work effective and on the right side of the law. It was worth the effort, the work I produced for them was innovative and highly effective compared with previous advertising in the banking sector that had traditionally been very understated and conservative in it’s style and messaging. In particular the work I created for their investment funds was, for the time, an early exercise in real-time marketing showing up-to-date financial performance of the funds in daily newspaper ads.
Since 1995 I’d been “the internet guy” in DWA, so after six years of experience in the creation and production of digital projects for agency clients I proposed to my employer to spin off a web agency and Ottovolante began. The name, meaning “roller coaster” in Italian, was chosen because the company was founded exactly as the internet bubble burst and the stock markets crashed. An apt name for a venture that was exciting, sometimes harrowing, emotionally and physically exhausting. This was my first business venture and I learnt about business administration, organisation and management but also due to the interactive nature of the majority of our projects I gained valuable experience in creating effective user experiences. Based on my experience in managing creative development and using qualitative research I began mashing them together in workshops with clients or end users and refined an efficient method for aligning expectations and establishing a co-created conceptual platform prior to developing new projects. This ability would be an asset and also a passion in the continuation of my career. I’m proud of my experience in the early development of the internet, it was a very open and vibrant time. Over the years Ottovolante was blessed with many great clients and worked on various international accounts including; American Airlines, Ferrero Kinder Surprise and Versace. When my focus shifted to healthcare Ottovolante merged with another digital agency.
Following a chance encounter in 2003, I initiated a collaboration between DWA and GSW, a US based company that at the time was the largest independent pharmaceutical advertising agency in the world. They had great clients, exciting creativity and needed representation in Italy. The informal start went well, despite some naive but thankfully small mistakes that derived from DWA’s lack of experience in the very complexly regulated pharma environment, so in 2005 a new venture began with myself, DWA and the GSW as partners. I was in charge of the startup, which forced me to delegate operations in Ottovolante. Having identified Alessandra Toscano, an experienced and energetic professional in healthcare advertising, for the role of Managing Director together we rapidly put together a strong team, winning many clients, awards and industry respect with our combination of creativity and science. We acquired a solid roster of clients that included: Novartis, Boiron, Eli Lilly, Johnson&Johnson and Sanofi. During this time I was also personally involved in creative assignments and business for GSW international clients and pitches where a European sensibility was required.
A complex chain of events that included the demise of DWA, GSW deciding to acquire outright it’s partner agencies in Europe and a change in ownership, led to the rebranding of DWA Health as inVentiv Health Communications Europe, Milan. I ceased to be a partner in the Milan office and became a member of the inVentiv European management team with direct responsibility for strategic planning and the creative department, across Europe. I organized and aligned the way the (until recently independent) offices worked and introduced innovative creative collaboration tools. My involvement in international business and business development meant I worked around the world, around the clock, across the wealth of healthcare service brands in the inVentiv offering and had the honor of collaborating with some of the most talented and innovative strategy and creativity experts in the world. As well as devising and moderating strategic and creative workshops that involved clients and colleagues I also took part in workshops organized by partners, adding to my understanding of the dynamics and possibilities of the format. Clients with whom I had outstanding experiences included: GSK, Daiichi Sankyo, Lilly, Merck Serono, Gilead and Ipsen.
When I left inVentiv I planned to take a sabbatical. After thirty intense years I deserved a break and wanted to concentrate on writing a novel based on an idea I had been developing for a while. My ex-colleagues and clients had a different idea and kept asking me to work on projects. Unwilling to say no, I used the opportunity to further develop my co-creation methodology to provide communication strategies, team workshops and communication concepts to companies, agencies and NGOs predominantly active in healthcare worldwide. A non-comprehensive list of clients included; Merck, Gilead, inVentiv, Fondazione FARO, Sigma Tau, FESCA, ThePatientExperienceProject, IBSA.
My latest venture is a company that has at it’s core the power of Collaborative Creativity, applied to strategic consulting and patient support programmes. My partner in this business is Alessandra Toscano with whom I have happily and successfully worked for over a decade. Everything I have done in my career, all the experience and learning, is expressed in the ability of Atstrat to provide exceptional value to our clients through collective, co-creative, aspirational thinking.
Visit the Atstrat web site to learn more.