5 minutes with... in association withAdobe Firefly

5 Minutes with… Scott Clark

Advertising Agency
Durham, United States
Group CD at McKinney LA speaks to LBB’s Addison Capper about launching Samsung’s latest flip phone, competitive rock climbing, and designing diamond drill tools for the oil industry prior to working in advertising

Scott Clark is currently group creative director at McKinney Los Angeles, but he hasn’t always worked in advertising. In his former life, Scott designed futuristic drilling tools for the oil industry, which is most definitely one of the most notable “what I did before advertising” stories that we’ve heard. He also used to rock climb competitively and, to quote his LinkedIn bio, is these days “a sucker for spandex”, which we think alludes to his love of road biking. 

Recently, Scott and the team at McKinney helped launch the new Samsung flip phone with a boisterous music video style spot with Todrick Hall. It was an all-out celebration of what made the brand’s original flip phone great: the unrivalled pleasure and sass involved in flipping it shut. 

LBB’s Addison Capper spoke with Scott about all of that and more. 

LBB> Where did you grow up and what sort of kid were you? How did you feel about advertising? 

Scott> I grew up in Provo, Utah, a small town surrounded by mountains. My childhood was mostly spent outside building skate ramps, making homemade James Bond films, or getting into some other kind of trouble with the other kids in the neighbourhood.

I don’t think I had a strong opinion one way or another about advertising growing up. It was just part of the TV experience. My friends did have an old advertising game that we used to always play. It came with a VHS tape (ageing myself here) full of old ads like the ‘Where’s the beef?’ Wendy’s ads, the ‘Speed Talker’ FedEx ads with John Moschitta and loads of others. Man, advertising was a different beast back then. So fun. The point of the game was to watch an ad and then answer some questions about what you saw, like how many times did the old woman say ‘Where’s the beef?’ or how many words did the FedEx speed talker say in 30 seconds. It would be a good exercise these days to see what people actually recall from the ads they see. 

LBB> You designed drills for the oil industry before you worked in advertising. Firstly, please tell me more about that and how you ended up doing that. But also, how on earth did you wind up in advertising from there?

Scott> I grew up next to a family of serial inventor/entrepreneur types. They were a little crazy, but mostly genius. Their grandfather had invented the synthetic black diamond which is used in basically every oil drilling bit in use. They had a company that made these synthetic diamonds and they would get grants from the Department of Energy to design futuristic drilling solutions. 

In high school, I had taken some architecture classes and learned the CAD programs that they used for designing various projects. My neighbour hired me and I started with some more basic roles before quickly becoming one of the lead designers on the drilling project. I had absolutely zero oil drilling or engineering experience, so I would come up with all sorts of crazy designs and then hand them to an engineer to tell me if they were plausible or not. We ended up designing and prototyping a drill that could sense where oil pockets in the earth were, steer itself to those pockets and spin its own casing as it drilled. As far as I know, most of it actually got made.

I was making great money but was feeling creatively limited to what I could do in a 7 inch diameter drilling hole. I had a climbing friend who had gone to the Creative Circus and would give me downloads every time he came back to see his family. Needless to say, advertising seemed way more sexy and creatively free than designing oil drills. 

LBB> You've been at McKinney for just over a year. How do you view the agency now? What do you think you do really well compared to others?

Scott> Before joining Mckinney, I spent a good amount of time freelancing at a number of the agencies here in LA which gives you a great sense of the types of environments you do and don’t like. Mckinney, for me, is a great mix between a boutique and a bigger agency. In LA we are only about 25 people, but we have all the needed production and structural backing of our bigger Durham office. We also have all the creative autonomy we need to make our office our own. It’s also one of the only multi office agencies that I’ve worked with where we genuinely work together as one. I work with account people from New York and creatives from Durham and even though we’re remote it’s as if we all work out of the same office.

What do I think I do really well compared to others? I find the creative opportunities that others overlook. My best work has not always been served up with a nice tidy brief. It usually comes from seeing a crack in the door then strategically and creatively kicking it open. I’m a firm believer in creating your own opportunities.

LBB> Which piece of work from your time at McKinney are you most proud of and why?

Scott> Flip Fold Snap Clack, the Todrick Hall music video we did for the launch of Samsung’s new flip phone. This project was one of the first pieces I made with Samsung. There are multiple levels of pride attached to this one. It was a wall-to-wall product demo that felt nothing like an ad. We had clients that were brave enough to really put their necks on the line for something they believed in. And we got to work with some of the best talent in the biz from Todrick to our director Hannah Lux Davis to choreographer Brian Friedman and the amazing cast of dancers. It was literally a matter bringing the right people together and then getting the f*ck out of the way. The most fun I’ve ever had on a production. Oh, and we got the pleasure of witnessing Laganja Estranja do some infamous death drops.

LBB> Is there a particular piece of work from earlier in your career that feels really important? Why?

Scot> I would say the first piece of work that made me feel important was a banner campaign that I did for Mini, called Mini White Rabbit. It was basically a banner that took you on one of three mini adventures across the internet. We bought media across a range of obscure and slightly bizarre sites for things like silly sign collections, a handlebars moustache club and ugly footballers. It was the first banner campaign that would take you anywhere but the site that it was advertising. That was also the first project that got me some recognition in the big award shows. So don’t tell me you can’t make an award-winning banner.

LBB> When it comes to the hard bits of a project, when you’re stumped, do you have a process or something you like to do to help get past those tricky bits? 

Scott> Smash something!  Not really, don’t smash stuff. Just breathe… Every project comes with its challenges and the best way that I’ve found to deal with them is to keep a cool head. Stress has never solved anything for me. Give it some space. It’s so easy to get deep in the weeds and lose perspective. Just walk away for a few, take a bike ride, have a shower, make another cup of coffee, whatever allows you some space from what you’re trying to solve. 

LBB> When it comes to your own creativity, what external factors can really help you fly, and what do you find frustrates it?

Scott> Nowadays, like most people I spend a lot of time working from home, so creating a good clean environment to work in for me is a good starting point. Next is absorbing as much culture as possible. No matter how much I think I know, I try to approach things like I don't know anything. It’s impossible to stay on top of every trend that is happening, so I count on my kids and team to educate me as well. I do thrive in stressful situations. Stress can be a great motivator, but it doesn’t make me more creative. Exercise is always a good go-to for me as well to clear the brain or let ideas percolate.   

LBB> You're a former competitive climber. Tell me about that! Do you miss it? How do you flex that former pastime nowadays?

Scott> I started climbing seriously in Utah when I was 16, which would actually be considered old to start nowadays. I did a mixture of all sorts of climbing including sport, trad, aid, ice and competition climbing. Most competitive climbing is done in a climbing gym, but everything else took place at the cliffs or on ice. I climbed full time until I was 24, living out of my van travelling to different famous climbing areas and competitions. My plan was to be a climbing bum for life, but then I realised that I wasn’t one of the few climber’s elite enough to make a decent living from it and after eight years straight I started to burn out.

I do miss really climbing sometimes, it was a highly formative time of my life. What I miss more than the climbing itself was the climbing community. I met a lot of weird and wonderful people from around the world. I’ll take my boys to the local gyms here in LA, but the sport has evolved into a new beast. I can’t climb nearly as hard as I used to, but it’s still fun. 

LBB> What else do you get up to in your downtime to stay happy / sane / relaxed / energised?

Scott> Riding road bikes hits pretty much all of those points for me. It always makes me happier, even if I’m puking at the top of a big climb. It keeps me sane as for me it’s a form of meditation and will always level out my head. The act itself doesn’t relax me, but there’s no better feeling than sprawling and relaxing after a big ride, usually with a beverage in hand. And then if I want to scare the shit out of myself and feel energised, I’ll go hit the trails on my motorbike in the mountains with people that are much better than me. Other than that, I’ll go surfing and on spontaneous adventures with my boys.