Q&A with Steve Babcock, VaynerMedia Chief Creative Officer

Fishbowl hosted a Q&A with VaynerMedia Chief Creative Officer, Steve Babcock. He is the first person to hold the position in the agency’s history.

Before being Gary Vaynerchuk’s right-hand man, Steve got his start in the advertising industry at Havas — in the mailroom, and later landed himself a Copywriter position. Further along his career, he spent six years at Crispin Porter + Bogusky, where he eventually became Executive Creative Director.

During his Q&A, Steve took the time to recount his first experience meeting Gary V, revealed his favorite campaign, offered advice to new and junior professionals, and more.

I was wondering how you decided to take, or maybe reconciled taking, a job at an often notorious agency beyond pay raise & title?

I remember almost three years ago getting a call about this gig. I was in Colorado and had no interest in moving to NYC. I had never heard of GV nor his agency. I had no appetite to learn more. The recruiter was persistent. Eventually, I agreed to meet Gary in Vegas.

The night before, I decided I should look him up. I got served a random video of him at the construction site of what is now our Hudson Yards office. I remember my initial feeling. “Wait, I agreed to meet this guy? I’m going to hate him!” But it was too late. Commitments had already been made. Soon I found myself sitting next to him at the bar of some hotel. We only met for 30 or 40 minutes. And while I left that meeting still with no intention of taking the gig and moving to NYC, I remember experiencing a conflicted emotion.

To my surprise, the dude was really genuine. Outside of sharing similar beliefs on marketing, to my surprise, I really enjoyed the time. After about eight months of getting to know each other, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to give this a go. For myself. For my family. Lots of reasons.

Today, I’m very happy that I agreed to that short meeting in Vegas. It got me out of my comfort zone and introduced me to new environments. Today, I’m part of what I consider to be an outstanding leadership team of an agency with massive potential. Lot’s of work still to do. But surrounded by 800 people (one of whom is Gary) who are all in it together.”

What role does data play in your creative process?

“Data is a big word that means something different to everyone.

For me, it’s less about the definition of what data is and more about the stage at which different points of data can be useful. For example, when developing a brief, we use data (insights, trends, social listening, etc.) to inform our creative bets that we want to put into the world. We use data to help us decide where best to place our creative. And how best to create iterations for specific audiences. Once in market, we use the engagement data to inform how we optimize, pivot or go all in.

I like to say we co-create with the audience, they just don’t know it. I don’t subscribe to the debate between data and creative. Creative is the painter. Data can be the paint. You need both.”

Thoughts on: small shops vs. large holding companies vs. privately owned. Each must have strengths and weaknesses, what’s your take on those differences?

“For happiness levels, it depends on personal preference. I’ve enjoyed my time at both large and small shops. Large shops will typically have more resources but are also unable to be agile. Whereas smaller shops can be agile but with limited resources.

I don’t think size will be the differentiator moving forward. It will be mindset. The agencies who know how to make better, faster, and more economically will win. Business models based on revenues from outdated mediums won’t survive. Holding companies are battleships in swimming pools. Lots of resources. But can’t move. The demands of the market conflict with their business models of hitting margin.”

How does one stand out from a pool of prospective new hires in this industry?

“If skillsets are parity, then yes, it’s all about chemistry. People like to work with people they enjoy working with. If you’re hard working, dependable, empathetic, genuine and kind, suddenly your experience, even if it’s the same as another, seems much more valuable.”

What’s some practical advice you gained that’s stuck with you? Maybe something you learned along the way that you’d have loved to have passed on to your younger self earlier?

“Avoid negativity at all costs. From yourself, from others. In all things be optimistic. Accentuate the positive. Our job is filled with drama and challenges. It’s the nature of service industry combined with ample subjectivity. It’s a feeding ground for angst and ill will. If you can rise above that, you will find happiness in this business.”

What’s your favorite ad or campaign of all time?

“Oh man! This is a tough question. I don’t have a real answer. But the things that popped into my mind first were things like share a Coke personalized cans, Like a Girl, Domino’s pizza turnaround, VW Pink Moon, truth, Whopper freakout, and a million other things.”


We want to thank Steve Babcock for taking the time to answer some of our Advertising community’s most pressing questions and sharing his experiences. See what else Steve shared with the community by checking out the rest of his Q&A here.

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