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Q&A: Tripp Westbrook, ECD, Firehouse

Tripp Westbrook, executive creative director at Firehouse, on the dynamics of the agency/client relationship, and what he’d ask Winston Churchill.

Q: What can agencies and clients do to make sure they’re really communicating?

A: The first thing to do is actually start communicating. For being in the communication business, agencies aren’t very good at it a lot of the time. What works for us is to engage in very frank conversations. We’re forthright and [we] tell clients what they need to hear versus what they want to hear. Beyond that, it’s important to align your goals. Both parties need to know where the finish line is.

Q: How can you subtly nudge your clients to push the creative envelope?

A: How to get clients to do that? Build a level of trust. Pushing the creative envelope shouldn’t be scary to clients or anybody. Creating work that’s off-brand—now that’s what’s scary. At the end of the day, outthinking rather than outspending will get our clients the attention they deserve. Playing it safe is quite frankly the riskier option. If a client spends millions of dollars to simply be category wallpaper, it’s a pretty big risk.

Q: What is the marketing buzzword that most makes your skin crawl?

A: ‘Game-changing,’ because probably 99 times out of 100 [of] whatever’s attached to that word actually isn’t. Few things out there really are gamechanging. It’s one of those buzzwords that both clients and agencies attach to whatever they’re trying to sell.

Q: What should drive a campaign: the big idea or Big Data?

A: It isn’t about the data. Clients don’t have a lack of data—in fact, they have far too much data. What they lack are insights. It’s the interpretation and analysis of data that starts to open doors. We pride ourselves on our big ideas, but also how we get there from insights garnered from the data collected. An idea doesn’t become big unless it’s attached to human truth.

Q: Your blog at trippwestbrook.com is a mix of personal observations and interesting industry-related insights. What advice would you give people thinking of starting their own blog?

A: I’m not going to profess that my blog is great by any means, but I started it not too long ago with the idea of using it as a forum for expression of both industry opinions and things I find interesting or motivating. The advice I’d give is to blog about what you’re interested in.

Q: You’ve previously stated that the two brains you’d most like to pick are those of Ridley Scott and Winston Churchill. What would you ask?

A: I would love to ask Ridley Scott where he gets his inspiration from, what feeds that for him, and if he has a process for digesting and translating those inspirations. It’s fascinating to me to think about what probably goes on in his head. And for Churchill, he was such the right person at the right time—and then for many years he was the wrong person at the wrong time—so, how did he capture his moment? How was he able to provide such leadership and strategy in the midst of adversity in a way that kept some humor about it?

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