Egotist Brief: David Haan

By Egotist / /

Dave Haan has spent three decades in and around the advertising industry. He now brings experience from stints in Chicaco, Toronto, New York, San Francisco, Detroit and LA to the future creatives of the world as Executive Director of Atlanta’s Creative Circus.

Q: Atlanta’s ad community was recently called “Apathy City” by Patrick Scullin in his editorial on our site. Agree or disagree?

A: Well, I am too new here in Atlanta to have the same intensity of feeling as Patrick, but I have seen some of what he is talking about. On the other hand, you will hear the same complaint in Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. All once had thriving and very active ad communities. They still all have some very good agencies, but the sense of community spirit is missing. People attach themselves to an agency nowadays and the city in which it is located is somewhat incidental. When I started my career in Chicago back in the early 80’s you bought the town almost as much as the agency you worked for. I don’t get that same sense any more from the major ad towns other than New York. I know that in Chicago, it is a major initiative of the local 4A’s and others to try to rebuild the sprit that that town had back in the 80’s when it really meant something to be a Chicago adman or woman. I hope it works there and I hope something similar could re-kindle spirit here in Atlanta.

Q: Now that people are generally agreeing that the recession is over and shops are hiring again, what is the biggest challenge facing recent grads?

A: The recession didn’t hit our grads as hard as you might think. The time it took to find a job was extended in some cases, but placement levels were still good. A lot of shops continued to look for bright young talent. The challenge then as now was to differentiate themselves. Many have great skills; they just need to show their unique personalities in a way that appeals to a particular shop.

Q: What makes Creative Circus different from, say, Portfolio Center (or other similar programs)?

A: Portfolio Center is a good school as are a number of portfolio schools around the country that students consider along with the Circus. Our particular mission is to graduate the best-prepared, most sought-after creatives for the Marketing Communications industry. We are focused entirely on that industry, which differentiates us from some schools. We are also very close to that industry and in constant contact regarding our curriculum, our program development and the strengths and weaknesses of our grads. Other schools do that to varying degrees, but I don’t think that anyone does it better.

Q: Do you have to go to ad school to be considered a creative?

A: No. Great creativity is all around us. The challenge for the modern agency is to find it. They can’t talk to everyone. And the problem is that many of the most talented creatives don’t know that they have the kind of talent that can be very productive in a marketing communications environment. Because they lack any semblance of a portfolio, it is hard to judge what they might be capable of. Portfolio schools like ours help recruit and then hone the next generation of talent that agencies need. But if talent finds its way to the agencies without our help, that’s great.

Q: What trend should ad students be ahead of? What trend should ad students ignore?

A: Trends can be dangerous if over-analyzed. It can lead to a lot of very similar-looking stuff. We have our students stay aware of and current with trends, but to not get too absorbed with them for their own sake.

Q: Atlanta pumps out great creatives every quarter from programs all over the city, why should they stay in Atlanta? Why do they leave?

A: Atlanta is a great place to live and work and quite a few of our students see it that way and want to work here. For some it’s a matter of liking the lifestyle, for others family keeps them here and finally some connect well with one of the great Atlanta shops and want to work for them. On the other hand we are viewed as a national school and nearly 70% of our students come from outside of Georgia. Some grow to love it here and want to stay, but most come with the intent of eventually working in New York or San Francisco or elsewhere. It’s not a matter of Atlanta losing them so much as the fact that they came here for a great education and then they moved on to what they felt was the best agency for their needs. Our primary focus in our placement efforts is less about geography and mostly about our grads finding a great fit.

Q: Creative Circus recently added an Interactive program to the curriculum, tell us about it.

A: Actually, we have two Interactive programs that are new. One in Interactive Development and one in Interactive Design. There is tremendous demand within the industry for these skills and we are very excited about the prospects of the graduates of these programs. We worked closely with key players at a number of agencies here in Atlanta and around the country to develop these programs. For Interactive Development, year one is all about giving the student a broad array of coding skills to meet any situational need and year two puts them in a lot of team and collaborative situations to create great work. Interactive Design draws off of some of the great foundational strengths of our graphic design program and then adds the most up-to-date thinking about the design demands for the Interactive space with a number of specialty classes. Again, there is a strong collaborative component and a lot of work with teams. Interest for both programs is extremely high.

Q: You come from the account side, which we don’t talk a lot about on The Atlanta Egotist, what advice do you have for account services folks to help facilitate great creative?

Well, from my experience, you have to love the creative process and you have to take pride in the work that you help create. If you are in it just to keep clients happy, which is an easy trap to fall into, you will have difficult times with your creative partners and you ultimately won’t bring your clients work that will meet their needs. It is important to build great client relations, but mainly so that you can help lead them to the kind of ideas that will markedly advance their business. To get them there, you have to see your first priority as forging a strong relationship with great creative teams and always having those teams believe that your goal is the same as theirs.

Q: Although there are a plethora of options for training creatives, there aren’t any programs specifically targeted at Account Services. If you could start a program to train future Account Executives, what would you include in the curriculum?

A: I would immerse them in the creative process to give them an intimate understanding of the challenges that their creative partners face. I wouldn’t expect great creative ideas from them as much as I would be interested in seeing them struggle with deadlines and multiple good ideas. I also would immerse them in production, for every medium, so that they would have a very clear understanding of the costs and timing of everything. Finally, there would be considerable focus on strategic selling and negotiation theories which lie at the heart of the great account person’s world.

Q: You recently said on the DGMS podcast that Creative Circus’ client is “the marketing communications industry”, what are you doing to keep the client happy?

A: As I said earlier, we are in constant contact with the industry to be sure that we are evolving our curriculum and our teaching approach to meet their ever-changing needs. We graduate a class every quarter and in-between we have a steady stream of high-profile Creative Directors and Designers come to the Circus not only to pass along wisdom, but to evaluate portfolios. So we are constantly getting the most relevant feedback possible from our “clients”. In the past year, the feedback has been really positive, but you never relax.

Q: You also said on the podcast that over the years you have wanted to be a creative, why didn’t you?

A: Nobody offered. Seriously, I always knew where my best position was on the playing field and I was very happy with the role I played. I kept a “reel” of the best ads that I was associated with and I could point with pride to major contributions that I made on each of them.

Q: You have had a long and admirable career, what was the hardest lesson you have learned along the way?

A: There is never time to “rest on your laurels”. It is an incredibly fast-paced and demanding business, which is a big part of its attraction. But, wow, there is little time to celebrate the successes. The “hero” status passes quickly. As I said, there is little loyalty, so you are only as good as your next win. I can look back now and really savor the many high points I had, but I couldn’t do it for very long at the time they happened.

Q: What one piece of advice do you have for all new students? new grads? industry vets?

A: Cultivate indispensability. It is a world and an industry that does not show tremendous loyalty. The most successful individuals succeed by finding ways to be absolutely indispensible to employers. For new students, that means cultivating talents that you know to be in high demand. For new grads, that means to put yourself in a situation where you feel you have the best chance to thrive. For veterans, that means never get complacent. Cultivate new skills or move to situations where you are more highly valued.



  1. SpencerBroome May 5, 2011

    I like the comment about not
    I like the comment about not getting too absorbed in trends. It is a good philosophy for students and professionals alike.

  2. Patrick Scullin May 7, 2011

    Who is this Patrick
    Who is this Patrick “Sullivan” mentioned in the first question?

    Welcome, David, and here’s to keeping up the great work of The Creative Circus.

  3. Martha Gill May 23, 2011

    Kudos to Dave and to ALL of
    Kudos to Dave and to ALL of the dedicated Atlanta Creatives that teach at our portfolio schools!

    Somehow this “apathetic community” consistently prepares and trains some of the most creative and freshest talent seen by agencies and marketing communications firms nationwide.