Who Gets To Determine What’s The Best?

Lewis Lazare reports on an internal email sent out by DDB/Chicago creative chief Paul Tilley:

At the top of the memo, Tilley invoked his mentor and former DDB/Chicago chief creative officer Bob Scarpelli, who jokingly called it “the question to which there is no answer.” That question, as Tilley quickly indicated, is: “Is this your best work?”
Tilley then implored his creatives to “look at the work you’ve done this year, the work you’re about to present this week, the work that’s running on our lobby monitors and ask yourself: ‘Is this your best work?'”
DDB’s top creative also made it clear he isn’t convinced everyone on his creative roster is working at the top of his or her game: “Some of you are doing truly great work — work that makes DDB/Chicago one of the top 10 most awarded creative agencies in the world,” Tilley wrote. “But too many of you are only doing good work. And some of you are doing work that simply isn’t good enough.”

I’d like to pose a bunch of questions here, ’cause I’ve never worked at a place where the creative chief would send out an email like that:

What does it mean to do great work at DDB?
How does an agency like DDB hire people who don’t try to do their best work?
Why would someone not do their best work there? Is it low expectations? Inability to deal with big agency layers? Fear of clients killing ‘edgy’ work’?
Is Paul Tilley the one who determines what is up to DDB standards, and what does he personally consider great work?
If you worked at DDB, how would you respond to an email like that?
I’m serious. I just don’t understand why the big creative kahuna has to tell people to do better work. Because if I worked at DDB/Chicago, they’d be getting my best work every day. Whether it gets sold and produced in that environment, now that’s a different matter altogether.

About Dan Goldgeier

Blogging on AdPulp since 2005, Dan Goldgeier is a Seattle-based freelance copywriter with experience at advertising agencies across the U.S. He is a graduate of the Creative Circus ad school, and currently teaches at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. In addition, he is a regular columnist for TalentZoo.com. Dan published the best of his TalentZoo.com columns in a book entitled View From The Cheap Seats: A Broader Look at Advertising, Marketing, Branding, Global Politics, Office Politics, Sexual Politics, and Getting Drunk During a Job Interview. Look for it on Amazon in paperback and e-book editions.


  1. Carl LaFong says:

    Those are all excellent questions, Danny G. Being the incorrigible cynic that I am, I would add one more: Just how great is Paul Tilley’s own work?
    I’m genuinely curious. I’ve never heard of the guy before, so I’m not in a position to pass judgement one way or another. If he’s the guy behind the Bud Light “Real Men of Genius” campaign or other, equally celebrated work, then he’s certainly well within his rights to push his people to deliver their absolute best.
    But I know from first-hand experience how dispiriting it can be to have your work picked apart by someone whose own efforts are sadly lacking.

  2. If you look on SourceEcreative, Tilley’s been involved in a heap of mediocre work in his time at DDB (and a few good things I might add), but the best spot of his is a 1995 Philly Cream Cheese tour de force out of JWT featuring George Hamilton. Guess Tilley parlayed this body of work into the top job in a formerly great agency — amazing!

  3. Read about this in Lazare’s Sun Times column this morning. Wow. It must really, really suck to be in the creative dept. at DDB Chicago right now. Especially if you’re one of those whose work over the last decade or so helped give the place the creative reputation it once deserved. Then came the Dana Anderson era (for lack of a better term). Not to lay it all at her feet. Others could definitely share blame. But the last few years at DDB Chicago have been marked by a slow, meandering decline in direction, leadership and, inevitably, the overall quality of creative. It’s no accident that in that kind of environment a political joker like Tilley should somehow ooze to the top. Pathetic. And now this: HE’S asking YOU if you’re doing your best work. A guy who couldn’t shine the shoes of most of the creatives in the place is now calling them out. A guy no one outside of the Chicago ad press has even heard of (for good reason) wants to know if you’re up to the challenge of doing great work. Attention all DDB Chicago Creatives: The Problem wants to know how you’re going to provide The Solution.
    Wanna know why the best/brightest/most enthusiastic aren’t going into advertising anymore? Here’s exhibit A. Tilley and his sterotypical bad office politics-practicing ilk are ad biz stupidity circa 2007 personified.
    It would be funny if you saw it on The Office. Or Office Space. Or The Simpsons. But it’s real. And it’s very, very sad. The best anyone can hope for is that Rick Carpenter sees through Tilley’s lame e-posturing and ships him off to DDB Siberia asap.
    Installing a true creative leader at the top—someone creatives actually look up to (as opposed to one they make fun of behind his back)—well, that will make the work coming out of DDB Chicago better overnight.

  4. Sounds like sosad is a bitter DDB Chicago employee but i can definitely see how he would feel or anyone in that situation. I have worked at two very large agencies and in both places, the politics are in full force. There is usually a top creative brought in that has connections with the agency president and they immediately start to secretly tear apart the creative department. Groups form and people either get laid off, quit or are keep their pissed off feelings inside and start to do crappy work.
    It is really up to the creative chief to have the character and leadership to run a successful creative shop. Writing a memo to the entire staff questioning work is not something that a good leader would do.

  5. I worked at DDB Chicago a few years ago, It was like most big agencies, but with a few great oppertunites to shine if you took them. Paul was just one of the dozens of CDs then grinding out pap on some of the less glamorous accounts. How he made it to where he is now I have know idea. When I was there he was best know for punching guys.

  6. jed clampett says:

    I work for DDB Chicago now. Lots of good comments above. Hard for me to refute any of them. Here’s what I’ve observed over the last few years…
    Tilley is not the right person for the job. He was basically a default selection after the Michael Folino disaster. Who knows why Anderson chose him. I’m sure she was scrambling to save face. Bottom line is that the guy has zero people skills, despite whatever creative “talent” he may have. At agency wide meetings when Tilley speaks, my skin crawls. I’m sure I’m not alone. He’s the typical guy at the party who thinks he’s the funniest guy in the room. But he’s not funny. At all.
    It is a very confusing place to work. I’ve worked at a couple of the other big agencies in Chicago and I’ve NEVER seen such a lack of accountability. At all levels. Probably a hangover from the supposed glory years of all the Bud work, McD’s, etc. The emperor has no clothes. And no clue.
    Communication from the top down is ridiculous. And basically non-existent. Thus, the rumor mill is like none I’ve never experienced.
    New business? What’s that?
    I’ll post more later.

  7. officeboy says:

    Paul got drunk at a company dinner a couple years back and punched me in the back of the head.
    It didn’t really hurt, it just kind of sucked. Which, coming from Tilley, is apt. It’s no fun getting blindsided by a guy who looks like the world’s largest 5-year-old. Somebody give him a lollipop and tell him to go play on his Sit ‘n Spin.

  8. Perhaps it was a mistake to bring up the fact that Mr. T is rumoured to have punched guys….the issue is: Why is he in charge of DDB Chicago? Where does he come from, and what are his qualifications? Someone must know…share please.

  9. A simple search on Linked In reveals all:

  10. Danny: I’ve long believed that if you have to ask…
    I mean there are enough people who want to do great work that you shouldn’t need to keep the ones who don’t.
    Internally, the fix for that is often as simple as moving someone off an account they’ve been on for too many years.

  11. Real Ham Of Genius says:

    I thought Tilley’s rather shocking missive was just a formalized warning, so he has an excuse to do the necessary slash-and-burn layoffs of all the fossilized layers at that shop.
    (I worked there until a couple of years ago. And can vouch for Officeboy’s sad–but true–story.)
    Heard they were going to lay off even more people last year, but drained the entire severance-pay pot before they could finish.
    The reason so few people can ever get good work produced there is simple: for every young, energetic creative team who “gets it,” there are 2-3 layers of old farts who, despite garnering an award or two back in the Reagan Years, get paid six figures for doing nothing but killing or at least watering down the work, all in the name of protecting their fat mortgages up on the North Shore, yet ensuring nothing but client defections to agencies with better ideas, better results, and much lower overhead.
    For someone who had spent a previous life in smaller, hotter East Coast agencies, I couldn’t believe that a shop could still operate with layer after layer of hacks and their politics.
    Judging from the way things are going, they can’t.
    Folino was a great guy, but like I also found out, there are only Northsiders and Southsiders and Westsiders there–no Outsiders are allowed to play.
    Tilley didn’t seem like a bad guy either, or without talent–at least of the political kind–but good luck trying to turn around such a large, badly-listing ship. Bring Bob back from NYC.

  12. Jimmy CrackCorn says:

    Sosad is right and I can vouch for Officeboy as well. Tilley hit him. And it wasn’t Tilley’s first violent encounter with an employee either. Scarpelli and the so called leadership know all about it.
    I worked in this clown’s group and it was the most depressing stint in my ad career. Tilley not only lacks creative skill, he despises it.
    What has he done? Very little. Men of Genius campaing? Are you kidding me??? Try the Dell interns campaign. And recycling his George Hamilton spot. I saw him ruin many good spots from many different people.
    And for everyone tooting Bob’s horn, he knew of Tilley’s past violent encounters and his lack of creative talent yet still put his stamp on the guy? Scarpelli’s a nice guy but perhaps he should stick to working the floor at awards shows.
    I could go on and on about these blowhards but it literally pains me to write about ’em.
    Thank God I got out.

  13. It has come to my attention that this Danny boy is making fun of my Memo. I am sorry for him, because it was not a memo, it was a Mission Statement. Yes, that is what it was. After many years in advertising of fighting and kicking my way to the top of the mountain I happened to catch Jerry Mcguire on the late late night movie. Maybe I was tired or just to stinking drunk to know it, but Tom Cruise talked to me. He said what DDB needed was a Mission Statement. So I layed down that night and thought about it, and 6 weeks later it came to me what this agency of mine needed a good ass kicking. If they can’t do better work than me they shouldn’t be here, hell they shouldn’t be in advertising. So dear Danny boy it’s a Mission Satement and not a Memo and you can tell that Toy Boy Lewis Lazare I said so!

  14. @Paul T. (and I can’t verify your real identity):
    If by “making fun of my Memo” you mean “really, honestly wondering what motivated you to write an email like that, and asking serious, pointed questions to put it in better context and understand your assessment of DDB’s creative expectations,” then yes, I was making fun of your Memo.

  15. Unless Paul now works at Upshot, it’s not him.

  16. Carl LaFong says:

    I could be wrong — I have a history of missing the point — but I don’t think Paul T.’s post was meant to be taken literally (or internally). At least I hope not.

  17. You’re not wrong Carl.
    To engage or ignore, that is the question. Despite advice from 2.0 consultants that begs for engagement, most execs at Tilley’s level know better than to enter the bloatospheric chamber of pain.
    A better move for Tilley (just in case he Google’s himself and ends up here) would be to take Lazare to lunch at a hideously expensive martini bar.

  18. For those of you who have conveniently forgotten the hundreds of millions of dollars and the tons of jobs that Paul Tilly brought into DDB and the Chicago market (gee, let me think, USWEST, Qwest, Alltel, Dell among many others), I just want to ask you ARE YOU SATISFIED NOW?
    I was at DDB Chicago when it was a lovely company, filled with people who valued each other and enjoyed contributing to its success. What has happened to you people and this industry that you take pleasure in tormenting each other? Why don’t you skip the backstabbing and step up to help fix the problems instead of bitching?
    You should all be ashamed. Because you contributed to this.

  19. I did not know Paul Tilley.
    But I knew people that did.
    I also read—many times—what people thought of him, found in blogs like this one. What strikes me, is that it seems many of the people here and elsewhere did not know the man either, yet felt free to say and imply things about his character and abilities that now seem less than fair. Comments now, that will live here forever so that one day his children can Google their Dad’s name and read every word.
    Seemingly to blogs like this, in our business there seems no greater crime than to be a talentless hack that freely comments on other people’s work. And yes, that sucks. But I submit that the bigger crime is hiding in the shadows of a blog and freely commenting on people and circumstances without regard for the consequences. Certainly no one here is to blame for what happened to Paul Tilley, a man I did not know.
    And even though this is the first post I have ever made on a blog related to advertising, I am to blame for reading these thoughts over the months and forming an ill-formed, negative opinion of Paul Tilley that had nothing to do with reality.
    I did not know Paul Tilley, but I wish I had so I could apologize.

  20. Hello, all
    Once upon a time, I worked at DDB. I knew Paul on a “Hello” basis and I’m completely blown away by this recent news. I can’t imagine what his family and close friends are going through.
    It’s obvious that the earlier comments (before Friday) were made on a professional level–no matter the “personal” level it may’ve sunk to–however, I just hope that from here on out, folks will respect this age of Internet and its ease into everyone’s home. Not to say that everyone should say “Oh, he was such a good man,” when they don’t feel that way, but a certain level of respect for the deceased should be a given. (as it appears to be)