Todd Rone Parker believes in taking time for yourself to gain clarity on life – and during the past year it seems he did just that. After growing up in Mississippi and working in New York, the creative and his wife packed up their lives in the States to travel the world. They originally bought a one-way ticket to Bangkok with the aim of working their way around 20 countries - that is until the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
Todd and his wife then found themselves in Bali for the next seven months, an experience that he believes taught him “the art of just being” before making their way to Bangkok where he now heads up Ford IMG and ASEAN Creative at BBDO.
Now settled into his role, LBB’s Natasha Patel caught up with Todd to hear about his experiences travelling, what prompted him to enter the creative industry and how he’s tackling Thai briefs.
LBB> Firstly you have to tell us more about your decision to pack up for life and travel around the world. Although you didn't manage to do all you wished to, what inspired this and why was the start of 2020 the right time?
Todd> It began with a glass of wine after a particularly challenging week of work. Jokingly, my wife and I said to each other, “what if we just quit our jobs and travel around the world for a year?” At first we didn’t take it all that seriously, but little by little we began thinking of it as a real thing and started pumping as much of our paychecks into our savings for the trip.
Three years later we decided it was time and booked a one-way ticket to Bangkok leaving January 31st, 2020. Two weeks before the trip this “little” thing called the coronavirus started hitting the news, but at the time we never even considered cancelling our trip. We had already quit our jobs, found new tenants for our apartment and started moving our lives into a storage unit — we were committed.
By March, we had travelled through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and parts of Vietnam; four of the 20+ countries we had planned to visit. On March 12, we woke in Sapa, Vietnam to headlines that the WHO had officially classified the outbreak as a global pandemic, which was a bit terrifying to say the least. Borders around the world began closing and here we were in a foreign country with no clue what to do. Our parents were begging us to come home, but at that particular time the outbreak was far worse in America than it was in Southeast Asia and we would have put ourselves and others at a greater risk by traveling through multiple airports for 25+ hours.
Three days later we finally made it back to the capital city, Hanoi, and found out it would be going into lockdown in the coming days. We asked ourselves, “Do we roll the dice and try to make it to another country or do we stay put knowing that we could be locked in our hotel room indefinitely?” Well, we took our chances and landed in Bali two days before their borders closed.
LBB> Wow that’s quite a story - what did you learn during that period and in Bali?
Todd> Honestly, after some time, I feel like I learned the art of just being. I know that sounds like some sort of hippie nonsense, but I finally realised when you stop constantly moving, you can find true happiness and perspective in not doing much of anything at all. Like most people, my wife and I have had jobs as far back as we can remember, and for me the past 16 years, while amazing and fruitful, were not spent taking advantage of vacation days other than the occasional long weekend or Christmas break. Our unexpected time in Bali forced us to hit pause on three years of meticulous planning and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Looking back we realised that this was the real reason we took this time off. It was always meant to be a time to just be, and to just be, together.
LBB> Let's go back to the beginning. Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like?
Todd> I was born in St. Louis, Missouri, but at a very young age my family moved to a small southern town in northern Mississippi. It’s the same town my mom was raised and to this day most of my family still resides in the area. I had a wonderful childhood and when not in school or playing sports, you could find me outside building forts and bringing home all the critters I had caught in the nearby pond. I can assure you, my parents have plenty of stories about opening the bathroom door only to find a bathtub filled with turtles.
LBB> Was there any idea that you would end up in the creative industry in your early days?
Todd> To be honest I never really thought about it growing up, but I did have a love for art, drawing and writing my own ridiculous medieval fantasy stories, but let’s not get into that. When I was 15 my aunt gave me her old Canon film camera which completely changed the way I see the world and started my love affair with photography. I’ll admit, many hours (and a few brain cells) were lost in the school darkroom, but I wouldn’t change a thing. There’s a beautiful sort of magic that happens when an image that you plucked from the real world appears before you on a piece of paper that was blank only moments before. No matter how good or bad the photo, I always loved that moment and it ultimately gave me a grand appreciation for the creative process. Something that I value dearly to this day.
LBB> After your degree in Graphic Design how did you get into the advertising industry?
Todd> I took a real interest in graphic design when I was a senior in high school and decided to make it my major in college. I figured with my photography background and love for the arts, it would give me the skills to pursue different aspects of the industry down the road. In 2004 a friend of mine told me about an advertising portfolio school called The Creative Circus located in Atlanta, Georgia. I remember looking at the work the students were doing and thinking, “Wait, this is a real thing? I can actually get paid to come up with crazy ideas? Sign me up.”
The conversation with my parents was interesting to say the least. “Mom and Dad, I’ve found the perfect grad school. It’s called The Creative Circus…” Thankfully they’re the most supportive people in the world and didn’t bat an eye. Turns out it would be the best decision of my life. From there I moved to LA where I worked at David&Goliath, then on to New York to work for BBDO and Droga5.
LBB> Going from America to Thailand must’ve been quite a change, how has it been for you?
Todd> I’m still getting settled in, but so far it’s been wonderful. The New York side of me somewhat missed the bustle of the city and my time in Indonesia really helped me acclimate to a non-American mindset. Returning to Thailand a year later has felt fairly natural, oddly enough, and BBDO has been incredibly supportive every step of the way.
LBB> How do you find the shift from a cultural perspective? Is it easy to adapt your creativity to a new scene?
Todd> From a cultural perspective, I’d have to say I’m learning something new every day and leaning a lot from my team here to help guide me on things I might not know or understand. It’s an exciting challenge and honestly one of the reasons I really wanted the job. As a creative there comes a point where you need to challenge what you think you know, how you see the world and be willing to push yourself to see the world through a different lens. While I wouldn’t say that it’s going to be easy, I will say it’s something I very much look forward to exploring. At the end of the day I’m most excited about uncovering new ideas and stories that I otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to discover.
LBB> Thailand is so known for its creative humour and drama, how has your experience thus far prepared you for this? Or if it hasn't - how have you tackled the briefs?
Todd> Comedy has always been what I enjoy doing from an advertising and storytelling perspective so I have a huge appreciation and love for how over the top and dramatic some the Thai work can be. Most of our creative briefs for Ford, however, stretch far beyond Thailand into other ASEAN countries, Australia, South Africa and the Middle East. All amazing and diverse cultures with their own flavour of comedy, drama and storytelling. I don’t really see Ford as a “funny” brand, but I will always look for opportunities to inject a certain something into the work that will humanise it and make the consumer smile. It’s a fun challenge and I’m constantly learning what the right approach is for each market.
LBB> As far as travelling is concerned have you decided to stay put in Thailand for now? Or is it something you'd like to explore in the future?
Todd> I think we’ll always have a hunger for traveling and we’ll most certainly continue doing it when time allows. For the time being, however, we’ll be staying put. The wonderful thing about Thailand is, it’s Thailand! As far as I’m concerned we’re still on our adventure, the biggest differences being I have an awesome job and an apartment with my own pots and pans.