Story by Eric Schucht
In 2015, UO School of Journalism and Communication alum Brock Kirby, BS '08, debuted on Business Insider's 30 most creative people under 30 list at #3. A year later, he moved up to spot #2. He might have hit #1 in 2017 if he hadn’t aged out.
That’s not to say that Kirby had a slow year. He was busy working on the team that won the 2017 Adcolor Ad of the Year. The winning Wieden + Kennedy spot for The Atlantic, “Typecast,” features actor Michael K. Williams getting interrogated by different versions of himself about whether his most famous roles have been determined for him by race or circumstance.
Kirby has won plenty of other awards during his short career, from such prestigious organizations as Cannes, The One Show, Design & Art Direction, the American Institute of Certified Planners and the Clios. But the Adcolor win is one of his proudest accomplishments so far.
“The Adcolor Conference is all about championing diversity in an industry that greatly lacks it,” Kirby said. “So doing something that spoke to that award committee and that audience was huge.”
Kirby launched his mercurial rise before he even graduated from the SOJC, on the advertising program’s annual trip to New York City. He and his fellow SOJC students networked at dozens of advertising agencies in the city, including J. Walter Thompson (JWT), which hired him on the spot.
After two years at JWT, Kirby went on to work at Wieden + Kennedy in Portland. At W+K — founded by fellow SOJC alum Dan Wieden, BS ’67 — he sharpened his sports creative portfolio on the global Nike account and worked for Dodge, Verizon and Sony.
Today, the contacts he’s made in the industry have allowed him to go out on his own as a freelance copywriter for his former employers and such clients as Squarespace, Google, Mother, Fallon, Hustle and BBDO.
We talked to Kirby about his experiences in the world of advertising and advice for students who are thinking of following in his footsteps. Here’s what he had to say.
What drew you to advertising?
I was at the journalism school for magazine writing. A couple of guys in my fraternity, Sigma Chi, convinced me to meet with Deb Morrison, head of the SOJC’s advertising area. They told me, "You gotta meet Deb. You’re not a journalist, you're an ad writer," because I was doing these little videos and stuff for the fraternity.
Then we went on the annual New York trip. I got a ragtag portfolio in front of a few creative directors and was hired on at JWT New York. In 2008 the economy was absolutely and utterly tanking when I turned my internship into a job. So I was pretty thankful that I snuck in the door.
What was your experience with the SOJC’s Media in Ghana program?
The Media in Ghana program was one of the biggest influences not just in my career, but in my life. I'm so grateful for that experience. I grew up in small-town Oregon and had traveled very little before that trip. Without the experience of working and living in Accra, I think my transition to New York out of college would have been much harder. I don't know how to describe it, except that it shook my brain loose and opened my little Sherwood, Oregon, worldview more than any other single experience during college. I couldn't recommend the program more.
Tell us about “Typeast,” your ad that won the Adcolor Ad of the Year.
W+K New York reached out and said, “We have Michael K. Williams for this really interesting project for The Atlantic.” And I said, “Sign me up.” I’ve always been a big fan.
The concept itself wasn’t necessarily meant to be about typecasting or race. But as we discussed possible questions with Michael, everyone sort of circled the typecasting one. As we started script development, we realized how powerful the script could be, considering the cultural conversation around race.
It was a great opportunity to work for such a fantastic journalistic entity as The Atlantic. Being able to use the advertising abilities I learned in the School of Journalism and Communication to promote great journalism felt like a perfect circle.
What has helped you succeed in the industry?
I had incredibly supportive people at every stage. My father was a language arts teacher and a coach. He was instrumental in developing my writing at a young age and giving me a sports background. He coached five sports and made me play everything. That's been extraordinarily helpful in the creative field, because not that many people know sports well. It really helped when I got onto the Nike account to have that writing and sports background.
I had a writing teacher in high school, Bob Balmer. When I got to college, I lacked that mentorship, like most do, for the first couple of years. But then I had guys in the fraternity who took me under their wings and then Deb. She has been the main spark in my career and helped me get my foot in the door at JWT.
What is your creative process? Where do your ideas come from?
I read anything and everything I can get my hands on. What I read probably feels random, even to me. But when I sit down to write, ideas will start to bounce off each other from things I've read. They’ll start to mingle and make sense.
I stole this method of working from Eugene Schwartz, an old ad guy who had a timer on his desk: He would set six 30-minute sessions a day and write that way, under the gun. I aim for six sessions — sometimes more, sometimes less — but every single day I try to sit down and grind it out. Sometimes the best ideas are really useful, and sometimes it feels like I'm not doing anything at all. But you got to sit and crank it out. It’s also easy to get carried away in the process. With advertising, especially, you can't go too long with stuff or make it too complex. Eventually you have to reduce it down to its core and simplify.
What advice do you have for students interested in advertising?
My advice is to take the strangest classes and meet the weirdest people you can on campus. Two of the more important classes I took — Folklore in Pop Culture and The Apocalypse in Pop Culture — were from a folklore teacher, Daniel Wojcik. He's amazing. I found with those classes, as with reading, that the more you can get different perspectives and different thoughts in your head, the better you'll be at writing.
Eric Schucht is a senior pursuing a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the SOJC as well as a minor in multimedia and a certificate in film studies. He has worked for the Daily Emerald as a news reporter and has freelanced for The Cottage Grove Sentinel.