Shelley Lewis and Wade Hesson

Creative talent. ...

Creative talent.

Difficult to find, difficult to nurture, even more difficult to hang on to. But a quick poll of Canadian agencies shows that it’s out there, all right. It didn’t take long for Strategy to track down five up-and-coming art director/copywriter teams that, while still fairly new to the business, are already getting noticed for their fresh and ingenious work.

So we thought we’d take this opportunity to introduce them to you.

In doing so, we found that while the secret to birthing breakthrough creative concepts may remain shrouded in mystery, these winning teams do share some key attributes.

For starters, they all work as cohesive units: Throw your job descriptions out the window, because the best teams already have.

They put almost all of their energies into coming up with the ‘big idea’ – the actual execution is almost an afterthought.

And then there’s that rare magic you find between two people who seem to communicate on a ‘deeper level.’

Some of these killer combos may have come together yesterday, but each and every one demonstrates that when you combine the right personalities and the right creative strengths, one plus one definitely adds up to more than two.

The People

Strength through adversity.

That’s the lesson art director Shelley Lewis and copywriter Wade Hesson learned while working together on their first project, way back in 1997. As the pair recall, they were under a tight deadline. It was 3 a.m., and the printer had broken down. They were forced to keep taking cabs to Kinko’s. ‘We were bickering,’ Hesson recalls.

But rather than turn against each other, the pair discovered two valuable things: Namely, how to deal with stress and how to reach decisions when they’re butting heads.

‘We try to keep everything at arm’s length, which can be tough if you love your idea and your partner is shooting holes in it,’ says Hesson. ‘When we do disagree strongly, we tend to leave it in the hands of the expert.’

Now at Toronto based Zig, Lewis and Hesson met during school, when both were involved with the Advertising & Design Club of Canada. (She holds a philosophy degree, and a diploma from the Ontario College of Art & Design; he has an English degree and completed Humber College’s media copywriting program).

It was at the club that Lewis became acquainted with Doug Robinson, chair and creative director at Toronto-based agency Ammirati Puris, who eventually offered her an art direction job.

‘I fell in love with Shelley’s spirit,’ says Robinson, who describes her as extremely outgoing. When he first met Hesson though, Robinson says he had reservations about pairing him up with Lewis. While Lewis is bubbly and dresses flamboyantly, Hesson is quiet and wears army jackets, his hair pulled back in a nondescript ponytail. ‘I’ve told him he looks like a squeegee kid,’ jokes Robinson.

Fortunately for Hesson, Robinson’s first choice for copywriter didn’t pan out and he eventually offered Hesson the job instead. In the end, Lewis and Hesson proved a perfect fit.

‘You rarely see two people who support each other as much in a junior team,’ says Robinson. ‘Usually both people want to do it all, because they’re trying to prove themselves.’

Lewis and Hesson joined Ammirati Puris in 1997 and have been a duo ever since. In November 1999 they moved over to MacLaren McCann, but it was only a matter of time before they outgrew that agency, too. ‘It’s hard for an agency to have the work needed by every team in every stage of their career, and changing jobs is a good way to get opportunities,’ explains Hesson.

Shortly before last Christmas, they jumped to Zig, the Toronto shop founded by Andy Macaulay, former senior vice-president and director of strategic planning with Roche Macaulay & Partners Advertising, and co-creative directors Lorraine Tao and Elspeth Lynn, who made the move from Ammirati Puris.

‘Zig was a unique opportunity – it was a startup and it isn’t a traditional agency,’ says Lewis. ‘We would have been crazy not to take the opportunity.’ (Zig seeks project rather than retainer work and doesn’t normally take part in conventional agency pitches.) The decision to hire them was again based largely on personality.

‘They don’t have egos,’ says Tao. ‘They work for the client, and don’t just do things for their book.’

Some creative teams divide and conquer, but these two are so close it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. At Ammirati Puris, they were collectively referred to as ‘Shade,’ a combination of their first names, because they were always together. ‘At the end of the day, we don’t know who came up with the original idea, because there has been so much dialogue,’ says Lewis.

That said, the two admit to having different attributes: Lewis is straightforward and passionate, while Hesson is calm.

‘He’s detail-oriented while I’m task-oriented,’ adds Lewis. Once, while speaking to Tao, Hesson noticed Lewis’ skirt was unzipping as she walked down the hall. ‘In the midst of conversation, he tried to get my attention,’ she says. ‘He takes care of things. He’s like the mom.’

While they admit some teams need to break apart to stay fresh, the pair doesn’t envision that happening any time soon. ‘When it works, you don’t let a good thing go,’ says Lewis.

The work

Who knew you could prove the virtues of a tampon with a bottle of Beaujolais?

Hesson and Lewis are particularly proud of a TV spot they created for O.B. Tampons in January 1999, while still at Ammirati Puris. It depicts a bottle of red wine and a glass on a table, covered with a white cloth. A woman’s arm comes into the picture and pours wine into the glass, then leaves. She comes back with a tampon and sticks it in the neck of the bottle, then turns it over and shakes. Nothing happens. The voiceover: ‘No tampon prevents leaks better.’

Research indicated that for women, the most important purchasing influence is how well a tampon functions. Faced with tough competition from Tampax, O.B. wanted something that would break through the clutter.

Hesson and Lewis answered with their simple idea, which Lewis calls ‘almost too easy.’ It came to the duo early on, sort of as a joke.

‘The more work we did, the more it kept cropping up,’ she says. ‘Demos can be very powerful.’

It was an easy sell to Robinson too, because all they had to do was act out the spot in his office. ‘He had these beautiful rugs and panicked for a second when we did it,’ laughs Lewis. ‘But nothing dripped, so it worked.’

The client eventually came onside, but it was a ‘rigorous production process,’ recalls Hesson. The spot made viewers uneasy, both because of the deep red hue of the wine and the image of the tampon going in the bottle. In the end, the commercial, which ran in Vancouver, was pulled within a couple of weeks.

But had it been given a chance, the spot would have been a hit, believes Lewis, who thinks it may run again. ‘During research, people were at first uncomfortable, but the second time they viewed the commercial, they laughed,’ she says. ‘It offers a compelling reason to buy, and would have made a huge difference in market share if it ran.’

Also in this report:

- Terry Drummond and Alan Madill: TAXI team feels they have the right mix p.B8

- Felix Legare and Jean-Francois Bernier: Bos team raises ire with SuperClub Videotron spot p.B9

- David Chiavegato and Rich Pryce-Jones: PJDDB team mixes creative anarchy with sound business strategy p.B10

- Pam Fraser and Darren Bennett: Bryant, Fulton & Shee creatives not afraid to sound stupid p.B12