S.04: E.02

Conscious Creativity

with David Angelo

October 15, 2019 • 21:57 min


  | Conscious Creativity (w. David Angelo )


David Angelo, founder and chairman of David&Goliath, has always been guided by his inner voice of intuition—whether he chooses to listen or not is where things get interesting. A true comeback story, he divulges the shake ups and shake downs that have defined his successful, decades-long career. With a north star anchored to authenticity, we talk about David's view on the impact of purpose, founding the Conscious Creative Movement, and an industry revolution.

To hear more from David, find him on:
Twitter: @DEFYyourGOLIATH
Instagram: @davidandgoliath
Facebook: David&Goliath
Linkedin: David&Goliath

Written, produced, and hosted by Kenzie Haynes.

Kenzie: Welcome back to It's Worth Doing Right, a collection of conversations about the creative side of strategy. I'm your host Kenzie Haynes. Today on the show we're talking to David Angelo, founder and chairman of purpose driven creative agency, David&Goliath, and founder of the Conscious Creative Movement. David has received more than 500 of the industry's most prestigious awards and is an American Advertising Federation Hall of Achievement inductee. He's been at this for decades, and we talked about the potential when creativity is backed by purpose and what it'll take to see a seismic change in the industry. Let's dive in.

David: Oh my God. Yeah. I just celebrated my 30th year in advertising in June, and our agency is celebrating their 20th anniversary in November. So I do have a bit of a track record in the business and been very fortunate to be part of an industry that is helped me live my truth and inspire others to do the same.

Kenzie: I wonder if you can kind of give us a sense of your life and career, specifically this notion of purpose. How did that come into focus for you and how have you managed to weave it into your career and be so successful at it?

David: Well, everything I believe starts from a core of who you are and what you stand for. When I think about my life and where I'm from, I grew up in a a small city called San Leandro, which is right outside of Oakland, California. I'm from a big family of nine. My father was a teamster truck driver, as well as a Marine who fought in the Korean war and also suffered from PTSD. So as far as challenges, I definitely know what it feels like to be up against challenges. As a kid, he instilled these values in all of us that regardless of those challenges, to never forget where you're from, and which I believe at the end of the day is all about being authentic, and to always give 100% of your heart and soul, no matter what those challenges may be.

David: So those two values have been front and center for me since day one. I've had my lion's share of mistakes and challenges that I've made along the way, but throughout that, there's always been this voice inside me that gave me permission to fearlessly take on those challenges. That voice, depending on whatever situation was happening, that voice would either be turned up loud, or in some cases not as loud. I'd say the first time that it went quiet was the day that I got kicked out of high school, which was a month before graduating. It really just sent me down a rabbit hole of despair. As we all know, those rabbit holes, there's a lot of people down those rabbit holes that are happy to see you. I just kind of found myself in a situation where I was lost.

David: From there my dad then got me a job as a teamster, I was loading trucks for local liquor barns and working for this distillery. It was at night that that voice really came back to me and said, "This is not you. You're better than this. If you want to realize your creative dreams, you're going to have to go back to school, get your degree and go all in with it." It was at that point that I decided to turn that voice up high. As I like to say around the agency, go all in all the time with it. Once I turned that voice up, every single time a challenge presented itself, I would just look at it, and knowing that there was an opportunity for growth or knowing that there was a lesson inside each one of those challenges.

David: And I went all in with it and ended up getting a job on Madison Avenue at DDB. Working at DDB, I had some really awesome mentors. Just being there was an amazing experience. At the time there were a lot of people who were part of this amazing history that were still there, like Phyllis Robinson and [inaudible 00:00:04:34], and all of the people that had worked with Bill Bernbach. So I looked at them as being my mentors. I'm from the world where I immerse myself deep into learning and try to garner as much experience and knowledge from people who have done it well.

David: So we created a campaign in my first year, me and my partner, for the New York Lottery that was the "Hey, you never know," campaign. I've been told that it's still alive today, that they're still using the tagline in some way, shape, or form. That was such a very important campaign for me because it really kind of highlighted my life and believing impossibilities. That if a kid could get kicked out of high school and end up going to college and move to New York and get a job on Madison Avenue and become successful, well then anyone can. I continued to build on that belief while the voice kept getting louder and kept telling me that no challenge was too big or too small.

David: So from there I worked on the Clinton Gore campaign. So all of this success was happening to me early on in my career after having that huge sort of lull, where I got kicked out of high school and became a teamster. But I immediately started to experience all the success and I asked myself, how is this happening? How am I going from being at the bottom of this dark hole to all of a sudden meeting all these amazing people and experiencing all these amazing things? The voice would simply tell me, "Keep going."

David: So it's about listening to that voice, which I believe at the end of the day, you can call it whatever you want, your gut, your instincts, your higher self. Whatever that is, that voice has never let me down. I've only experienced great things from that. And when I didn't listen to it, not so great. So having that sort of front and center in everything that I do and everything that I create is what I believe has been the secret to my success.

David: And then I decided to take some time off in 1999. I felt burnt out, and I was very comfortable, could have just stayed there and freelanced for the rest of my life. But then I got a call from a good friend of mine here in Los Angeles who told me about this car brand that was interested in talking to me. At first I thought... He said it was a small car brand and I thought, "Oh my God, a small car brand. Who could it be? Is it Maserati? Is it BMW? Porsche?" When I found out it was Kia, I thought about it long and hard. I said, "Well, first of all, I never heard of Kia." But then when I found out where they were from, where the vehicles were made, that they come from Korea, that's when it kind of clicked, where I suddenly realized my father's experience in Korea and what he had taught me all about it from his war experience, to this really great opportunity to help position a Korean brand here in the United States.

David: So I looked at that as being a continuation of my father's journey. I moved out here with my wife and our newborn 20 years ago. To say it's been a tough journey or a challenging one would be a serious understatement. It has been a challenge every single day, every single week, every single minute to stay true to who we are. We call ourselves David&Goliath because I believe at the end of the day that in order for me to create an agency that I can stay true to, I have to create something that comes from my truth. When I think of David&Goliath and the fact that there's a challenger in all of us, and there's definitely been a challenger in me from day one, that there is no greater name that I could sort of live up to than a name that means something, stands for something. Just all about taking on the biggest challenges and stepping into your greatness.

Kenzie: Okay, so there's so much to unpack there. One thing that's kind of a common thread that I was hearing is this of kind of an inner voice, or intuition for some people, it's a higher self for some people. I think that for you that's been critical in what you've pursued in your career. But I wonder, for an agency or for a company or for a group of people, what is that inner voice?

David: It all starts with leadership. That if a leader is trying to instill an authentic movement within their organization, well, they have to be authentic right off the bat. You can't have a leader who doesn't understand what authenticity means if they're not authentic themselves. You can't instill a movement if that person doesn't believe in it. Because today's consumer will just see that. They'll see it, they'll sniff it out, and they'll call bullshit on it.

David: In order for a brand to be taken seriously in today's very advertising wary world, is they have to live their truth from the inside out. You can't just create great advertising or great marketing out there, and then when you go look at the inside of the organization, it looks the exact opposite. You've got to start from the core of who you are, which is the brand, which is the sort of point zero from the inside of the company. There's a really great quote, "Tell the truth, it's the easiest thing to remember." So the first thing is to go to the core of who you are and what you stand for. And that's undeniable.

Kenzie: I'm really passionate about this because, like you're saying, I've worked with those clients who really understand what they're here to do and what their brand mission is, and they're easy to work with. There's challenges in the work always, but getting decisions made and understanding the direction to go isn't hard because everyone has their North Star defined. Whereas, like you're saying, brands who maybe don't have that as clearly defined or not defined at all, it's kind of a constant scramble of what direction do we go, how could we possibly make this decision? I really feel that purpose and mission is intrinsic to good creative work.

Kenzie: But I wonder from your perspective or experience, for brands that maybe don't have that defined or don't have that strong leadership you're talking about, is there hope for them? Is there a way for a strong voice and vision like David&Goliath to come in and give that to them, or do they really have to bring that to the table for it all to work?

David: Yeah. There's pressure on everyone because, ultimately at the end of the day, you can have the greatest purpose, but if you don't have the balance of finance and resources to help support that, then it doesn't matter. If it's just doing purpose without impact, if it's just doing purpose without results, then it's not really effective.

Kenzie: That's an interesting way to put it. I never really put it in that context of if you have a purpose but you're not having impact, kind of what's the point?

David: What's the point? I feel that in my 30 years of experience, and I've been so blessed to work with some amazing people and in some amazing places, but what I've seen is I've seen 30 years of things just repeating itself. It's just like that great Einstein quote, "The true meaning of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results." I see the same thing just repeating over and over and over again. And no one has really busted out, busted through the industry or category and said, "This is a new way of thinking." I know that there's been some great work done throughout the industry, but I haven't seen a seismic change. I've seen little tiny bits and pieces here, but not seismic change. Not in a way that I believe that we're capable of doing.

David: That's why we created, I'm on the board of directors with the [4A's] and they asked me if there's a way to create some type of creative halo for the 4A's. I thought about the existing organizations out there that represent creativity, like One Club and CAN, and they do such an amazing job in talking about creativity and pushing creative creativity forward. They're it at the end of the day. But when I think about where the real opportunity is and how the power of creativity, how it can change the world and how it can inspire people to be true and inspire people to do things that they've never done before and use that in a way to help shape culture or for the greater good as opposed to our own pockets, when I think about the opportunity there, I'm so hopeful for our industry. I think that what we need to do is, rather than complain about that it's not going anywhere, be part of that change and hopefully set an example so that people aren't looking at us from the outside as the same old advertising industry. The industry that is just there trying to sell something to you.

Kenzie: Yeah. I wonder, because if you look at any brand or marketing listicle on the internet these days, one of the top things that brands need to adopt is they need to take a stance. That's kind of a big buzz phrase, if you will these days. That consumers expect brands to take a stance. Do you think that's a result of a shifting consumer mindset?

David: It's a combination of a few things. One, when you think about the exponential growth of technology and the fact that consumers have such a big megaphone now to call bullshit on brands to either help build them or destroy them, and that's growing exponentially. It's not like that's going to slow down anytime soon. If that's the case, if they have more power than ever, what they're doing now is they're looking for authenticity. They're tired of fake news, fake people, fake organizations, fake messaging. They're tired of being sold to. They're tired of being told what they should wear, what they should do and what they should buy. They want relationships, they want honesty, they want authenticity. They want the real deal. They don't want to be judged. They want to be free to express themselves, free to try whatever they want to try. Once brands understand that, that the shift has happened, then you have no other choice but to be real. You have no other choice but to be authentic.

David: A wake up call for me was my daughter came up to me one day with her phone, instead of showing me a commercial or a piece of content, she said, "Look what this brand is doing." I thought that was amazing what she said. Not, "Look with this brand created," but, "Look what this brand is doing." Which means that the action of the brand is just as important as the messaging that they're putting out. That's why I meant living your brand on the inside is just as important as what you put out there, because today's consumers have access to that more than ever. Being in the business for 30 years, where I've just become so accustomed to what we produce as opposed to our actions, or what we're showing as opposed to what we're sharing.

David: It just really reminded me that ultimately at the end of the day, consumers aren't really buying what you make. They're buying what you stand for. That's not something new. Bill Bernbach said that 60 years ago. The whole notion of buying a mindset as opposed to just buying a product. I really believe, at the end of the day, that it takes a lot of courage to do that. You have to create, you have to manifest from that truth without letting the fear of making your numbers, or any of that other stuff. So I believe there's a great opportunity for other brands, but it all starts with that person at the top who realizes the importance of purpose and how impact is, it can create even greater impact than what you're used to doing.

David: And that takes a huge shift, too. You bring in somebody who understands that, understands purpose and the power of purpose. But to be able to shift the whole company to believe in that as well, especially a company that's so used to doing something for so long, to get them to shift and live their truth requires a visionary, an outlier. Somebody who believes in helping the greater whole than their own individual interest.

Kenzie: You mentioned that in partnership with the 4A's, that you founded this Conscious Creative Movement. I wonder, practically speaking, A, what is a conscious creative, and B, practically speaking, how is this kind of moving the needle for the creative industry?

David: I believe there's never been a better time for creativity in the world. The Conscious Creative Movement is this initiative, it's a collective of thoughtful, heart driven creators who are using their immense talents to make a positive difference, while also driving revenue and effectively growing business.

David: Let me talk about what conscious creativity isn't first. It isn't pro bono advertising. It isn't free. There will always be a place for that, and I encourage everyone to create as much of that as possible. Conscious creativity is about business and purpose and how the two can mutually benefit each other. This is the future and it makes a profound impact on consumers lives, as well as our client's bottom line. I believe it's a paradigm for creative impact that's sustainable, measurable, and contributes to the greater good. And it starts by recognizing the people in our industry who are doing it. There are people that, when you look at it, you go, you look at... There's so many great people within our industry that are capable of creating even greater change in the world. And when you just look at the little pieces that they're doing right now, you start to think, what would happen if we get everybody on board with this? So everybody felt like, oh my God, if all of these people are doing it, maybe I should get on board and help be part of this.

David: I think that's the seed that we're trying to plant out there. We're not trying to change the industry all at once. We're just trying to take what they're doing already and recognize the power of that as a collective. And I believe, at the end of the day, if we can create enough of that, a big enough collective and movement to show that there are so many people out there doing it, then hopefully that'll shift the attention from all of the fear that's going on out there to all of the good that we're doing. If we could be the ones that started that shift, well then that will help shift the industry as well. And how cool would that be to be part of that?

David: So my goal is to be part of that movement. Not to be the leader of it, but to be part of it. And as a legacy, I don't think so much about the legacy after I'm gone. I think about the legacy I'm living right now. So to be in that moment and be part of that wave, to me, there's no greater feeling. And how do I know that? Well, that's what the voice tells me, is to keep going and be part of that and try to inspire as many people to join.

Kenzie: Wow. What a perfect loop closure right there, coming back to the voice. David, I want to thank you so much for being on the show. It's been so interesting learning about your paradigm shift. Trying to shift the industry and how we think about the work that we do and how brands think about what they share with their audiences.

David: Can I say one more thing? I just wanted to leave on this note. This is not about society's idea of perfection and a brand or people being holier than thou. It really isn't. It's about humanizing brands and people to recognize their strengths or weaknesses, their mistakes, their missteps, and grow stronger from it. As we all know, behind every setback is a greater comeback. And that's the essence of authenticity. Knowing that we all have it in us to turn our greatest challenges into our greatest opportunities. As people and brands, we just need to embrace our authentic truth. And that's the voice that I talked about earlier, and I believe everybody has it in them. They just need to let go of the fear and go all in with the brave. I'll leave it at that.

Kenzie: That's our show. If you'd like to learn more from the Accomplice Team, visit us at itsworthdoingright.com. Or drop us a line at podcast at itsworthdoingright.com. See you next time.