Ad Chat - Brian Bronaugh , President at Mullen

A lot of people in the advertising and tech businesses are growing ever more concerned about the lack of women, or the still low representation of minorities, and soon everyone and their aunt have conferences and award shows set up to talk about these issues. Brian Bronaugh doesn't talk, he gives students a chance to enroll in an advertising class already in high-school, and simply gets on with it. "It" being changing the status quo. Nodding the head does not row the boat, people. We caught up with Brian Bronaugh, the President of Mullen, Pittsburgh to pick his brain.

db: You're part of a project called AD U, a 10-week program where high school students in Pittsburgh learn about advertising and practice creative problem solving, what prompted you to get involved in this and is it working the way you had hoped?

What prompted me was after 27+ years in the business I was tired of still seeing basically a reflection of myself - white, male, traditional college educated type.
I had been to countless diversity summits and seminars and while there were certainly worthwhile endeavors coming out of those I wasn't seeing the diversity (of race, culture, lifestyle or thought) manifest itself in my backyard.
I was doing some speaking at universities and noticed very little diversity at that level as well - then I had lunch with an industry colleague in town (gentleman by the name of Russell Bynum who owns his own small agency and is one of the only black-owned agencies in town) who let me know that by the time most kids get to college we - advertising - are not on their radar and never have been. They haven't seen people like themselves in this business so it's written off.
Start earlier was the message.
As to how it's working out - it's been a learning curve for both sides - the agency, the schools and the students. Overall I'm very encouraged - we learned that we need to engage them in tasks (idea sessions, presentations, assignments, etc..) very quickly as opposed to giving them an exhaustive overview of the business. It also should probably be in the 5-6 week range vs. 10 weeks. It was also readily apparent that the success of the program relies heavily on the teacher involved. If they are engaged - the students are as well.

db: We know the Madison Ave stereotype. We know all the post houses are in L.A. Now, Pittsburgh. When it comes to creative advertising, and working in the business there, what does it have that other cities might not?

Hunger. And potential - which is of course a double-edged sword - there is a burgeoning sense of potential here but we have to do it. The cities you mention have done it - and done it extremely well for a long time. We're on the cusp of a lot of really great creative initiatives as well as a creative energy explosion on a region-wide basis.
There's no sense of entitlement here either - we will work hard to get where we want both ourselves and our clients to be. What's been nice in the past 4-5 years has been in the ability to recruit talent to the region - Pittsburgh used to be an obstacle to overcome - now it's pivoted to an asset to utilize.

db: What piece of advice do you wish someone had told you when you were starting out?

Leadership Vs. Craftsmanship. It's really hard to do both at the same time really well. Most of us start out as craftsman and women and "rise" through the ranks to assume leadership roles based on our successes within our skill sets. It's not an easy transition and one that I wish someone would have outlined more of the pros and cons.
Both are vital and both can be creative and rewarding but doing both - at a large scale anyway - is difficult. Knowing this up front I may have mapped out a different kind of career path as a result - although I'm not sure I was mature enough to grasp that idea at that time.

db: What keeps you going? Advertising can be a rough business, it can be very dissatisfying and a lot of hard work. So, what keeps that creative fire burning?

Great work can occur - it's immensely gratifying to see it when it does - even if our agency had nothing to do with it - I'm just a fan of the business when that happens. The grind of showing up everyday though is rooted in a more practical drive. Helping to get other colleagues achieve their goals professionally, pay their mortgages, put their kids through school, the chance to travel, gain perspectives, etc. Helping the people you work with on a daily basis grow is a highly motivating force.

db: Who is your advertising hero and why?

I'm going to go agency vs individual on this one and there are three: Fallon Mcelligott Rice from the 80's - their work opened my eyes to what advertising could be, simple, great stories.
The other is BBDO - i just love the intelligence and humor of their work.
Third one is Mullen (I know, self-servng here...) - it's been incredible to have a front row seat and see how this agency from Wenham, MA pivoted to a Boston/LA powerhouse that has fostered ideas from all sectors and in all mediums.

db: What work that you've done are you the most proud of?

Not to come off as preachy here, but I've railed at the word pride for some time now, it has always possessed a vein of arrogance that I find disagreeable.
There is work that has been rewarding from a professional sense but it has never revolved around a specific campaign or ad we did. It was more around the good fortune I've had to be with colleagues who are some really great human beings and the "work" we've done together - which goes beyond the finished campaign.

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