The AdPulp Interview: Tracy Wong, John Schofield and Mark Watson

SEATTLE–It’s a sunny, brisk day. I walk from the Westin toward the touristy Pike Place blocks and keep going down to Western where WONGDOODY keeps waterfront offices. I take the lift to the 9th floor and enter the agency lobby. Directly in front of me is a large conference room and I can see Puget Sound glimmering beyond.
I’ve been in over one hundred such offices all through this land. Some are welcoming, some are oblivious. WONGDOODY is welcoming. A nice woman brings me water while I investigate the childhood photos of staff displayed on the lobby wall. Then Mark Watson comes to meet me and we head toward a smaller conference room. John Schofield enters the room and wants to know what blog I write for and if I do it full time.
I explain myself to Schofield. While doing so, Tracy Wong comes in and hands me his card. He’s wearing a big watch on one wrist and black eyeglasses of the designer variety. His Nike high tops are some kind of special edition kicks. We start to talk and I instantly like Wong and his creative directors, and I’m pleased to share some of what we talked about here.
Q. Was the Goodby experience pivotal in what happened later? Could you see yourself in the position you’re in now, without having worked there?
Tracy Wong: Actually there are two pivotal experiences. I started at Ogilvy (in New York) and there were like 1200 people. I went from there to an agency of nine people. It was a startup in New York called Goldsmith Jeffrey. I got the whiff of entrepreneurial “oh yeah you can do this.” To go from 1200 people to nine, you scramble and you do all your own shit. And then I went to Goodby and it was a similar thing because it was 40 people, but they ended up doing a lot of their own videos and directing of your own commercials. That helped train me in the possibility of being able to scrape and do it yourself and that was transformative.
Here’s another transformative experience. I was new to Goodby. I’m standing near the kitchen. Goodby’s getting something out of the fridge, he’s a big bear of a guy, he kind of looks like a young Ben Franklin. So this mid-level account person walks by and they were working on some dog food commercial and Goodby goes, “Hey, what’d you think of that rough cut?” I turn around and go, “Did Goodby just ask that mid-level account person what her opinion was, and did Goodby mean it?” He actually meant it and he actually listened and I’d never seen that before. You’re trained not lo listen to account people. It’s still pervasive to this day. When creatives come here, they’re shocked at our system.
Q. So you’re account people are totally empowered here?
John Schofield: They’re certainly not muzzled.
Mark Watson: There are no internal meetings that don’t happen without an account person or production people. Everyone’s involved from step one.
Q. And I was reading on your site that the client is involved in ideation…
Tracy Wong: At some point sure. If you involve them in the process and you make them feel like they’re a creative partner, then they feel like they have ownership. To me, it’s about everybody having ownership.
John Schofield: That investment is critical, frankly.
Tracy Wong: Everybody wants respect and everybody wants to be heard. Everybody wants ownership of that creative product and if you have that, then there’s trust. Sometimes it’s a little bit tough, clients are prickly, they’re tough to deal with, but if they’re good people, over time you can get there.
Q. What’s the common element though, in a good client? What makes them good?
John Schofield: If they trust you, it’s a huge thing. And they’re excited about the process. The people who are excited about the craft are the people we do best with.
Tracy Wong: The first thing is you want nice people, because if they’re nice then you have some doorway even if they don’t necessarily have what we would call great creative standards. If they’re nice that means they’re willing to listen and have a conversation. They’re respectful.
Mark Watson: Those clients that want to be actively involved in the process, not on the basis of being afraid, but enjoying the process and liking marketing. That’s good. When they want to be part of the team that’s a good thing in a client, because you know they’re excited and engaged.
Q. How did you get Court Crandall on your team?
Tracy Wong: It was a group hire. Court came with Jim and a small number of account people and creatives, and they brought some accounts with them.
John Schofield: We’re WONGZERO now.
Q. What’s your take as an agency on content or advertainment?
Tracy Wong: It’s a conundrum, because I don’t think anyone’s successfully figured it out.
Q. What’s the deal with placing your agency name in ALL CAPS?
Tracy Wong: Doody and I wanted to make it a word. It wasn’t two guys, it was a thing. Of course, no publication buys that. I remember the first time we submitted something to Adweek and we said it has to be ALL CAPS. And they said we can’t do that, we’ll make it all one word and give you a capital “W” and a capital “D”. Publications don’t like to have ALL CAPS because it brings prominence to things that they want control over.
Mark Watson: And you could have just capped the “W” but Doody would never go for that.
Editor’s note: Our discussion continued for another half hour or so, but I want to show you some of WONGDOODY’s recent work for Seattle International Film Festival.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.