Special Report : Brian Harrod: ‘His worlds and ideas carry considerable weight with everyone who knows him well’

.B11When first asked by Strategy to contribute an anecdote about Brian Harrod, I was honored and nonplussed by the task.After all, I had known Brian personally and professionally for almost 20 years; and, I view him as one of the most...

.B11

When first asked by Strategy to contribute an anecdote about Brian Harrod, I was honored and nonplussed by the task.

After all, I had known Brian personally and professionally for almost 20 years; and, I view him as one of the most talented people I have ever met.

Because we have been through so much together, any raconteur worth his weight should be able to spin a yarn about Brian Harrod in a snap.

Well, apparently, snaps don’t come as easily as they used to.

The problem is that in all the time I have known Brian, he has never been ‘the story.’

Instead, he has humbly, and, often mischievously, orchestrated events that surrounded him, but, somehow, always managed to avoid starring in them.

In the advertising world, it is said that few people do anything creative after the age of 35. The reason, of course, is that few people do anything creative before the age of 35.

Brian Harrod is a notable exception.

When I was a junior group marketing manager some years ago, Brian and Allan Kazmer were, arguably, the most creative team in Toronto.

In the grand scheme of things, young ‘suits’ like myself carried little weight, either with the companies they worked for, or with the creative types at their agencies.

When I came to Brian with a $20,000 budget for a tv commercial at a time when the average was more in the $200,000 range, he didn’t roll his eyes (at least, outwardly), or blast me out of the room.

Always the gentleman, Brian undoubtedly sighed quietly to himself, but then got to work and produced the ‘Hand Me Downs’ spot that has become a Levi’s Canada classic.

And, we became friends.

A creative sense is rare enough in our increasingly technocratic and dehumanized society. Rarer still is a creative sense that can flourish within the constraints of tight production budgets.

On occasions too numerous to mention, Brian Harrod has shown that limitations are not what his work is about, results are.

Brian has proven that true creativity is not pretentious: the truly skillful are without ‘side’ – they have the quiet confidence to produce award-winning work year after year without histrionics or attention-seeking, but their work stands apart.

Brian has become something of a legend in the advertising industry for rarely showing up at awards ceremonies – even when he was the frontrunner.

It always seemed to me that Brian believes his family and private life are more important than the applause of others.

As usual, he is right: the work that he has produced speaks for itself.

Our friendship notwithstanding, Brian is undoubtedly too humble to mention with much enthusiasm he was among an honored group of guests last year at the Cannes International Film Festival when Levi’s advertising – which he was instrumental in creating – was honored with the Advertiser of the Year award.

The sound of Brian’s self-congratulations was less than deafening.

Brian has never sought stardom. His quiet personality and dedication to more traditional values mean that I have no wild anecdotes to tell or confidences to divulge.

Instead, I can only describe to you a remarkable individual – a man who has been part of my life and the life of the Levi’s brand here in Canada.

The Monty Python crew, despite their considerable talents and inventiveness, could do little with this Life of Brian.

Steadiness and consistency have been his most basic character traits – not the stuff of absurdist comedies, perhaps, but nor is it the grist for the rumor mill.

If Allan Kazmer and Ian Mirlin were the creative conscience of Levi’s over the years, then Brian has been the soul.

His spirit and joy has transcended all of the external and self-imposed impediments to good creative and helped develop an irreverent character that helps to shape the brand and sell jeans.

What more could an account ask of its agency?

I consider Brian to be one of my closest friends – which is an accolade few clients can state with conviction about their agency partners.

(If I owe any of you an apology in this regard, please accept this in the spirit of humbleness in which it is intended.)

At every important stage in my career, Brian has been standing quietly at my side (or whispering sage advice in my ear where no one could see him); and providing guidance and support when it was needed most.

He is, by nature, a quiet man, but his words and ideas carry considerable weight with everyone who knows him well.

In addition to being a friend, Brian has also been a teacher.

It is from him that I have learned the value of irreverence, not only in marketing jeans, but in maintaining what sanity there is left in a business world that is getting tougher to understand and more difficult to navigate.

Brian taught me that sometimes it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission, and that we all shouldn’t take life too seriously when it doesn’t break the way we would like.

He taught me not to take myself too seriously – to stay smaller than the brand and less important than the work.

Brian always invited me into the creative process – into the very work. As a friend, he was equally open and engaging.

Brian’s sense of humor is founded in a strong sense of the ridiculous – which describes a great deal of what many of us do in our professional lives.

Although some people tend to give less weight to those who can be humorous at moments of crisis, I take just the opposite view: I believe that anyone can pretend to be serious, but, no one can pretend to be witty if they don’t really have it in them. Brian has the touch.

If a man is known not only by the company he keeps, but also by that which he avoids, then I feel privileged that Brian has chosen to spend as much time with me as he has over the past two decades.

For me, those many hours could not have been better spent.

To draw on the copy of my favorite Levi’s ad – Brian, we love you to bits.