5 Minutes With… Jim Hord

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Havas Worldwide NY ECD on Dos Equis, fire pits and mixing it up
5 Minutes With… Jim Hord

Everyone loves a makeover story, and since Havas Worldwide changed its name in 2012 the network has been undergoing a wholesale transformation. New name, new digs, new faces. One of those new faces is New York-based ECD Jim Hord, who joined in January this year. An artist-turned-copywriter who started his career writing underwear ads, he’s been everywhere from Y&R to R/GA during its Nike Fuel Band glory days. It’s a ‘schizophrenic’ skill set that has secured his place in the very modern, forward-looking Havas leadership. LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Jim in 200 Hudson Street, home of New York’s Havas Village to find out more. 

LBB> You started here in January, what attracted you to the ‘Havas Village’?

JH> I think Havas – at least Havas New York  - feels like a brand new agency; it feels almost like a start-up. They physically moved their location, they changed their name, Darren [Moran, CCO for Havas Worldwide and co-CCO of Havas New York] is new, Andrew [Bennett, CEO Havas Worldwide] is new, so it feels like there’s the possibility here to start something fresh and make it your own. Plus if I could work with an all-star roster of all my favourite people from all the places I have worked and gather them together… well that’s pretty much what this is. 

I think everyone has brought a little bit of their best parts of the different backgrounds. So Vin [Farrell, Global Chief Content Officer] comes from a content background from R/GA, where a lot of things were done in house and Sean Lyons had a digital background, also from R/GA but he brings a different kind of side of that agency, a kind of maker culture. And there is this great conceptual advertising element from Darren.  It is a perfect storm of great talented people, bringing the best from their own collective backgrounds. 

LBB> What do you want to bring to the mix? 

JH> The kind of work I love to do is stuff that either brings some sort of value to people. In advertising so much of what we do is just disrupting and interruptive. You are watching ‘Dancing with the Stars’ and suddenly an ad comes on that isn’t ‘Dancing with the Stars’ and has nothing to do with ‘Dancing with the Stars. You didn’t want to see that in the first place and now they have got to convince you to buy something. I would much rather provide people with things that they actually like, enjoy, value or that they can use, like utilities. 

I think Dos Equis’ ‘Most Interesting Man in the World’ is a great example of a campaign that is part of popular culture and people actually look forward to seeing and want to get involved in. People love to write those legend lines for the Most Interesting Man. They love to participate in it. We have to sell beer and our sales are going up so it’s directly related to the campaign, but at the end of the day I feel like I am actually providing people with something of value. A lot of us came from R/GA – the digital agency where we worked on Nike,  on Nike Plus and Fuel Band. It was providing utility.  I suppose we are selling something, but I feel like we are not interrupting so much as we are like being part of the fabric of people’s lives. I think the days of talking at people are over. 

LBB> The ‘Havas Village’ set up is interesting, pooling all the network’s agencies under one roof. How does it work? Have you found it’s different from other places you’ve been?

JH> I’ve had limited exposure to it, but the exposure I’ve had has been positive. We were recently in a pitch which was part Havas and part Havas Luxe. There was a seamless integration, they provided credentials and expertise in the luxury space that we didn’t have; it worked out great. There was another pitch where we drew from Arnold because they had the account before, so it was great to have some institutional knowledge. It just seems like anytime you need those resources you can just draw upon them which is nice. 

LBB> Since you’ve been here, which projects have really resonated or excited you?

JH> The one that has really excited me the most is the partnership with Four Square and The Most Interesting Man in the World.  I think there will always be great TV but I think one of the reasons I am here, or I certainly hope so, is to push into different channels. 

It’s the first time that Four Square has allowed a fictional character to provide any tips, which is kind of cool. We had to write 300 tips for the Most Interesting Man in the World, so first we had to convince our client that the Most Interesting Man should be able to speak in the first person. In the TV spots the only thing he says is, ‘I don’t always drink beer but when I do I prefer Dos Equis’. We had to convince them that if you’re going to provide a tip, you have to be authentic to the channel. He sprinkled wisdom across the Southwestern United States.

But also that project in itself was quite an undertaking. There was a lot to write. We have a stable of writers on the Dos Equis team and they all are very familiar with the brand, they know the voice, they could write it in their sleep. But I had to expand beyond our stable of writers. I got 24 cases of Dos Equis and Darren and I put the call out to the entire creative department and we said, ‘we will give you one beer for every line that makes it up onto Four Square’. 

LBB> I really enjoyed the recent d-CON campaign too.


JH> Yeah those are great, such a simple idea, and the team on Reckitt is doing a fantastic job. That’s Jon [Wagner] and Dustin [Duke], great guys, super creative. They are pushing a traditional, packaged goods company into some interesting spaces and doing some good work.

They did a great Veet spot that unfortunately got pulled off the air, but look, once you’ve got something pulled off the air I think that’s a sign of success. People talk about it when maybe they weren’t talking about it before. Now they are. The client certainly is. 

LBB> So you’ve got this agency that’s not a start-up but feels like a start-up and you’ve been bringing lots of new people into the fold. What kind of people are you looking for and where are you looking for them?

JH> It’s tough. You say, ‘oh we just want big thinkers, but they can’t just be big thinkers because we actually make things so we need makers, but we don’t want just makers because they also have to think’. And we don’t want to say, ‘well we really need to bulk up on our digital people’ because there is no such thing as a digital person anymore. People need to know all sorts of channels from social, digital, traditional, events, experiential, everything – it’s getting kind of tough to find folks. I think in a lot of agencies you might silo these things into different departments but we are consciously trying not to do that so that one person or that one team can be the constant throughout the project and throughout the client experience. We preach to our clients all the time, ‘whether someone sees a TV spot or a Tweet or an Instagram picture it should all feel like it is coming from the same voice’, so the people who are creating that voice should probably be the same people. 

LBB> It is definitely an interesting time. A couple of years ago you couldn’t move for people saying that agencies were dying. It’s interesting to see people trying to figure out new ways to exist as an agency now. 

JH> I don’t know that ad agencies are going to die soon, maybe what we call an ad agency is going to change? It’s always changing though. It’s funny, for a while people were saying TV is dead. And maybe they had a point; maybe TV and the TV spot is dead. But that moving image format is still alive and well, even prospering. It’s just living in different places. Maybe not on your literal TV maybe on all the screens you have. 

They say print is dead. Yeah, maybe print as we used to know it is dead. But if you look at that social campaign that Oreo did last year that picked up so many awards, those are basically great print ads done on Facebook. So I think the names are changing but the work is still the same. 

I do find there is a lot more strategy behind everything these days. I mean when Facebook and Twitter first came out the attitude was ‘let’s just do a bunch of posts’, now it is just really strategic. It’s really important to figure out what are we saying, how often we are saying it, which posts to promote, what the pulse should be. We have data to show details, there is a wear-out factor – people see too much and they get turned off. A lot of thought is going into something as simple as a little Facebook post that seems so innocuous and innocent. 

LBB> Do creatives need to think more like strategists? 

JH> They do because I don’t think we can just do a shotgun blast of random things and call it a day. We have to be very smart about what we are saying, how we are saying it and when we are saying it. In social, each channel is different and on Dos Equis we are speaking in different ways from different perspectives on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Four Square, YouTube and on the site. All these channels have a different objective and a different tone of voice. Someone has put a lot of thought into that and, as creative, we have to be mindful of that. 

LBB> In terms of younger people getting into the industry, how do you nurture new talent? 

JH> I hear a lot of my peers describing this new generation as ‘entitled’; I don’t quite see that. Maybe I just had a good string of luck with the young talent I have seen. But I have seen some young hard working, earnest people who are passionate and dedicated to working their way up  - which is exactly what I want to see. In fact we just brought over a guy onto Dos Equis as a junior writer and he has been an account guy here for two years. He worked on his book in his spare time. 

We typically throw our juniors into the ‘Fire Pit’ on Facebook. It’s tough because we post four times a week and we map out the entire month. Like I said there is no difference between a Facebook post and what used to be called a print ad. So you are basically doing a month’s worth of print ads and you have to do it in four days. So it’s a trial by fire, but if you can survive that you are doing pretty well and it’s a great ritual.

This one guy Andrew is just phenomenal, he has been wildly successful, and I love to see that. He didn’t come in the door of creative, he didn’t go to ad school. He just has a creative mind and wanted to stretch it in a different way. 

LBB> So when you first got into advertising was it something that you thought this is the place you want to be or was it an accident? 

JH> It wasn’t a complete accident. I was an artist and had good drawing skills my entire childhood. When I went to college I decided that I wasn’t going to make any money in fine art so graphic design seemed like a more commercialised version of art. I started the programme and realised it was really hard! I thought, ‘I have to know typography, photography, illustration, what makes a good composition. I have to know these computer programmes. What does a writer have to do? Oh he just comes up with the ideas – I want to be a writer.’  When I graduated I used my design skills to put together a copywriting book and I became a copywriter. 

Since I have been in the business I have been every art director’s worst nightmare looking over their shoulder, giving suggestions. But I didn’t go to ad school afterwards - I had a job writing sock and bra ads for a department store in Denver Colorado. It was good; I was making stuff that people were seeing.

Whenever students or juniors right out of school show me their work and ask for advice I am always reluctant to tell them to do what I did, I usually say ad school is a good bet because you are in advertising boot camp. You are forced together with a partner, there are lots of deadlines and once you’re done a lot of agencies come to your school. So it’s a little easier, of course it does cost tens of thousands of dollars but you may be ahead of the game. 

LBB> When did you first get to New York from Colorado?

JH> I got here in ’99. I’m from Texas, which is a different lifestyle, a little more laid back. I was at DDB Dallas, and there was a good class of us there.  We had a really tough boss, Jim Ferguson, but he moulded a lot of us into the thick-skinned yet congenial people that we are. A lot of us went off from there and did great things. Like Mark Koelfgen, who runs mcgarrybowen, Steve Gelblat now at VML. All of us have gone on to do great things and I feel we owe a lot of that to our humble beginnings in little Dallas, Texas.

LBB> It’s interesting  that you started on the art path, shifted to writing, given what you said about people doing more than one thing.

JH> Exactly. Now we have to know a lot of channels so I think that my career has always been back and forth between different things. I ran a little agency called Brand Buzz, part of Y&R, which was more guerrilla advertising, experiential. Then I went to R/GA which was pure digital and I’ve also been to more traditional agencies. But going back and forth like that, even though its schizophrenic, makes me feel like a better, well-rounded creative. I may not be a master of every channel but I feel like I have competency in all of them. I would encourage students and juniors to do that as well, to stretch themselves as far as they can go.

LBB> So in terms of your own creative heroes is there anyone you have been really inspired by or keep coming back to?

JH< Yeah, I always admired Lee Clow, and then Jeff Goodby, Rich Silverstein. I remember when digital was first taking off they were the only ones from a traditional agency who really had mastered it. There were plenty of digital agencies out there but they were the first to really integrate digital into what they did. As for Lee Clow, I’ve always admired all the Apple work and his whole persona. 

LBB> Going forward in the next year or so do you have any plans or things you want to put in place that you haven’t had time to yet?

JH> No plans other than to make this place an outrageous success. I think Havas has so many opportunities it’s really primed to do great things. I just want to be a part of that, it’s great to be part of some quasi start up that is going to be wildly successful. There is some great momentum and hopefully it just continues. 


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Havas, 6 years ago