Webby Connect, our spotlight series made in partnership with The Webbys is back! This year’s theme, "The Work That Made Me," profiles top creatives in the Internet industry, sharing the stories behind their career-defining campaigns.
The Work That Made Me
By Winston Binch, Chief Digital Officer, Deutsch North America
The work that made my career isn’t the most obvious. It’s wasn’t one of my greatest hits. In fact, it was a comedy of errors. But it helped me land my next job and highlights philosophies we value at Deutsch.
First, a little bit about me.
After college, I pursued a career as a musician in an indie rock band and worked as a production assistant in TV. In the early 2000s, I led production of SonyClassical.com at Sony Music in New York City. I got to do a little bit of everything from concepting to code, design, and copywriting. Then Napster came along and ruined it. The music industry was disrupted overnight, and I was on the street.
It was 2003, and the digital job market wasn’t great. The Internet bubble had burst. Fortunately, I had a connection at R/GA. They were one of a handful of shops that were thriving, particularly with Nike. I was intent on working both at R/GA and on the Nike account. It took me five interviews, but I finally found a spot on the team as a Sr. Producer.
While there, I worked on many Nike projects but also led creative and technical development on Nike Gridiron, its American Football sub-brand. It more than anything shaped me as a leader.
Nike Gridiron 2005: Position Camp
In early Summer, we launched an e-Commerce-enabled campaign site designed to get high school football players into product and inspire them through engaging training content. At the time, Nike was not an NFL sponsor. They had five marquis athletes in Tom Brady, Michael Vick, Brian Urlacher, Champ Bailey, and Ladainian Tomlinson, but we had limited access to them. So we came up with an extra credit idea.
We called it Position Camp, an interactive and video-based digital training tool that gave players in-depth position-by-position drills and tips from respected coaches and former pros. It was outside of our initial project scope, and we knew that we’d have a limited budget and little time to pull it off.
For context, YouTube was new, and Facebook wasn’t public yet. There was nothing like Position Camp on the web. We knew it would help make the site stronger, and ultimately increase engagement and sales.
Nike greenlit the idea, but the challenge was having only $60K to book a location, cast, shoot, design and build it. We probably needed double that, but we went for it. It had to get made.
Making it happen (with lots of duct tape).
The odds were stacked against us. We had to get creative. We had a small team including a copywriter, Tom Pettus, who still works with me to this day, and our film crew consisted of an in-house Nike DP, sound guy, and an intern. It was a lean set-up to say the least.
The first hurdle was assembling a coaching staff that would attract viewers. We ended up with a linebacker, running back, lineman, wide receiver, quarterback coach, a head coach (Nike SPARQ Trainer, Chris Gizzi) as well as five players to demonstrate the drills. Given our small budget, all we could offer them was Nike store credit, an opportunity to work with Nike to inspire high school athletes, and a promise that they’d be “Internet famous.” I had high hopes, but admittedly, that “famous” bit was a stretch. It did, however, succeed in convincing the talent to cover their own travel to Portland, where Nike had secured a field for a single-day shoot.
Once we arrived in Portland, Tom and I pulled an all-nighter writing scripts for the shoot. The next morning, we piled everyone into two vans and headed to the location. The issues began right away. We had bad directions and missed an exit, not to mention the weather was crap and when we got to the field, there were a bunch of 5th graders running around. I was shocked, considering that the location was supposed to be locked for the day. I made a few calls but ended up having to kick the kids and their track coach off the field. As I began that uncomfortable process, a group of senior citizens jumped on the track. It was just Tom, myself, and our small crew. So, I asked Tom to get the seniors off the field. The talent saw it all go down, huddled around our sad craft services table, their impatience visibly growing.
After an hour, we cleared the field and got production moving. Then all of a sudden, we heard a loud, grating sound. We turned to the road and saw an industrial woodchopper clearing trees. I shouted some expletives and ran over there as fast as I could. I told them that we were making a Nike commercial and paid them to stop. We got back to work. Later, lawn mowers started mowing behind us. Then, it was planes overhead. The shoot went on.
Just before dark, we finished, mentally and physically exhausted, and out of petty cash. Within days, our design and production teams were really able to make something special out of the content we shot. The overall experience came together beautifully, in spite of the myriad challenges.
Position Camp didn’t blow up the web, win Cannes, or break sales records, but our coaches, players, and clients were excited about it. Average time spent on the site increased to around 10 minutes, and we had positive sales. It also picked up a couple of industry awards. Beyond that, it was a meaningful first that blended brand and commerce in a seamless and useful way, and an exercise in agility. It was also one of the most challenging, fun, and memorable projects of my career.
What did I learn?
Create your own opportunities. Not all great creative achievements come from existing briefs — many of my favorites were ideas we proactively brought to a client. Position Camp, TacoBot, and Vail Resorts’ EpicMix are all examples of this. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t bring great ideas against every brief you get. It’s the job. But think more like an entrepreneur, treat your clients’ business like it’s your own, and constantly look for novel and useful ways to help them. No smart client will get mad at you for bringing them good ideas. Brief or no brief. Strike when creativity strikes.
Remarkable innovation doesn’t happen without a fight. Most bold ideas never get made. They’re often difficult and/or risky to produce. If you want to sell and make them, you have to fully commit. You need to put your professional reputation on the line. You have to make personal sacrifices and go the extra mile — educate your clients, develop business plans, use data, and build prototypes. There’s just no replacement for smart and hard work. It’s a lifestyle, not a job.
Do more with less and do it fast. We had to be scrappy as hell to get Position Camp produced. We drove the vans, did the craft service, handled casting, and directed the content. We “acted like a startup” before we knew what that meant. It was far from flawless, but we delivered. There’s still an important place for large-scale productions, but the new advertising expectation is fast, cheap, and awesome. Dollar Shave Club’s groundbreaking launch video cost $5,000. You don’t always need $1M to change culture. Push yourself to spend less and do it faster. Start by putting the budget in the brief.
Brand and commerce belong together. Brand e-Commerce platforms with personality, charm and emotion perform better. Shopping online shouldn’t just be easy. It should make you feel something. Throughout my career, I’ve worked hard to blend creativity and technology. Position Camp, along with a lot of the Nike work from that era, is a good example of how inspiring brand and shopping content can work together seamlessly. Every customer touchpoint should express the brand’s values and tell a story.
It’s a team sport. While we had defined roles, ideas came from everywhere. We approached the creative process like a rock band. Everyone contributed. Tech, UX, production, and even our clients. It wasn’t just about art and copy. It was flat and inclusive. It’s an approach that my partner Pete Favat and I try to model at Deutsch every day. Our industry has a lot of work to do in terms of diversity in the broader sense. We need more people who can empathize and relate to our actual customers. But we also need to broaden our definition of creativity. Diversity of all types makes the work smarter.