Is there more to Washington than lobbyists, lawyers, politicians and scandals? Bill Puckett, the new vice president and executive creative director at Herndon-based E. James White Co., thinks so, and his goal is to make the rest of the country's advertising executives believe it.
Washington "is not known as a hotbed of creativity," said Puckett, who came on board at E. James White a few weeks ago after working mostly in New York City and North Carolina with large ad agencies.
"I think that mainly when you say `D.C.,' it's synonymous with political bull. . . . So it gets clouded with the political name tag. But we hope to change that and I think it's going to happen."
Puckett hopes to attract top talent from New York, and to eventually reach out to business connections there and elsewhere. He already has his pitch in mind: The quality of life around the District and Northern Virginia is very attractive, he said, especially to folks who have been living in the Big Apple and want more open space. "I've gotten some people to come down here from New York and they want to get hired" immediately after they see the area, Puckett said.
"Great creative people want to do great creative work," said Hal Shoup, executive vice president of the American Association of Advertising Agencies. "But they also more and more are finding that can be done in communities where the lifestyle provides something you can't get in New York, and the Washington area is a very attractive place to live and the quality of life is very good."
Heretofore, Washington has never been known as a major advertising town, because the Federal City lacked an array of big private-sector clients. E. James White President Matt White noted that "most of our clients when the company started [in 1964] were government agencies."
But today, the agency has found a new niche in the technology industry. "What's transformed here is technology and its business," said White. So the company has been taking that transformation to the bank. Among its larger clients now are such high-tech names as Litton PRC Inc., Compaq Computer Corp. and Beyond.Com Corp., an online software supplier.
It's an exciting niche, White said, because "some of the hottest creativity comes from the tech companies."
"The creative advertising side [of Washington] has been rather small and not particularly significant," said Shoup. "But there is no question that is changing. It's changing because of the explosive growth, particularly in the high-tech industry. It provides a whole new opportunity for agencies that have capabilities in this market."
That was one of the things that attracted Puckett to this area. "I came here [in part] because I like the tech aspect of it," he said. "Technology relates to every company in this country as it moves into the future."
E. James White -- with 75 employees, the largest independent advertising agency in this region -- "has the experience and can leverage that to get all kinds of accounts," Puckett said.
With these ideas and the people to bring them to fruition, White thinks his company can compete with Richmond area ad agencies that in recent years have surprised the Madison Avenue giants by luring big-league clients to the Virginia city.
"What's so special about Richmond?" asked White. "Nothing. But they have great creative people. And great creative leaders bring great creative talent."
That's where Puckett comes in. Puckett has a national reputation as "one of the real outstanding creative directors in the country," Shoup said. "The very fact that he was willing to come to Washington I think speaks volumes for what is happening. [Creative people] wouldn't come here if they didn't think there was a great opportunity for them to do work. And there are undoubtedly others that are coming as well."
Puckett came to E. James White from Long Haymes Carr Advertising in North Carolina, where he was executive creative director. He also spent time at Ally & Gargano, Geer Dubois Inc. and Puckett & Associates, all in New York.
His clients include American Express, Saab, Jaguar, IBM, CBS News and the David Letterman show. His campaigns have included the Partnership for a Drug Free America, the Haynes "dancing in the moonlight" television ad, Winston Cup Racing and the BellSouth Wireless "Ralph the Dog" ads.
To gain a strong reputation in an area that is not immediately thought of as a creative center, White knew he had to attract talent to compete with the big companies. So part of his business plan in the last couple of years has been to fill out a management team with some of the high-end talent in the country, both on the business and the creative side.
"You can provide great strategy and great service, but in the end it is the creative product," White said.