Creativity Without Compartments: Meet Executive Creative Director Scott Smith

7 min read


Last year—when Well Done Marketing’s founder, Ken Honeywell, made the choice to take a step back—we began a long and rigorous quest to find his successor. And our quarry proved elusive. Thankfully, after a lengthy stalking-and-taming process, we have successfully lured that rarest of beasts: a new Executive Creative Director.

His name is Scott Smith. He’s worked with such storied Chicago agencies as Element 79 and Leo Burnett, as well as Fulton Market Films. His client list ranges from Allstate to Kellogg’s, Sony to Miller Lite. He’s created movies about record collections and badger impersonation. And we’ve barely scratched the surface. With decades of experience as a creative director, art director, filmmaker, novelist, and screenwriter, it’s little wonder that Scott’s been described as a creative unicorn.

Q. Scott, where were you born?

A. I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Q. Did you come from a creative family?

A. I felt it was. My dad taught me photography at a very young age, and we had a darkroom in our basement. Although my dad was a child psychiatrist, I always thought of him as a musician. He was an amazing pianist and grew up playing the accordion in barber shops—plus he was the first on the block to have a Moog synthesizer. While not professional, my mom was an artist. Always drawing, painting, etching, and throwing pots on a ceramic wheel in her “art” room.

Q. What’s one of the first advertisements you remember noticing and liking?

A. This will definitely date me, but I remember seeing an Alka-Seltzer commercial called “Spicy Meatball” that cracked me up. Then they had a follow-up called, “I Can’t Believe I Ate the Whole Thing,” which became part of the vernacular.

Q. Part of the vernacular, and still a daily post-lunch lament for some of us here at Well Done. When did you first realize that advertising was something you could pursue as a career?

A. After college, when I was working as an in-house designer in San Francisco, I was exposed to a hotbed of groundbreaking advertising and agencies—and I was like, “Oooh, that looks like fun!”

Q. Along with a whole lot of ads, you’ve made films that touch on record collecting and mascots. Let’s talk about records first. What’s the first one you bought?

A. I don’t remember what the first record I bought was—but the first record I was given (by my Aunt Sandy) was Steppenwolf Live. I still have that record.

Q. What was the first concert you remember seeing?

A. Oh my God. My first concert was with my family, and I can’t remember who we saw—probably something like Burt Bacharach.

Q. Okay, how about your most recent concert?

A. The last concert I saw was my daughter, Sydny August, at Shuba’s in Chicago. I remember thinking, “Where did all this talent come from?”

Q. Now it’s time to talk about mascots. Who’s got the best one?

A. Wow! College or professional? Super tough question. I’m not even sure if he’s around anymore, but there was one—who was probably the most influential mascot ever—called the San Diego Chicken.

Q. Oh, that rings a bell. What made the chicken influential?

A. He had one goal, which was to entertain. And to that end, he was fearless. Completely committed to his craft. He was like a mischievous 13-year-old boy. He’d antagonize players and umpires, he rode horses across the outfield at baseball games—he even crowd surfed. People would go to games just to see him. And if you look at mascots today, the best ones are personalities and not just cheerleaders.

Q. And conversely, what’s the worst sports mascot?

A. This is not going to be a popular answer in Indiana, but I think it’s The Leprechaun from Notre Dame. And I suppose all mascots who are nothing more than guys in costumes are kind of annoying. A mascot should be a human wearing an oversized head—not your buddy Larry dressed like a leprechaun.

Q. How would you describe your approach to work?

A. I live life through a lens of creativity and curiosity. Whether I like it or not, creativity follows me around like a shadow. Fortunately, I like it.

Q. How did that approach develop?

A. That’s a really good question. For most of my life, I had compartmentalized my creativity. In other words, I viewed my abilities in art, music, photography, and filmmaking as separate skills, so I often found myself struggling internally trying to decide “what I should be,” and often felt lost. It wasn’t until later when I realized that what I was, was an artist. And my creativity bleeds from one discipline to the other. I embraced the fact that my art informs my photography, which informs my filmmaking, which informs how I use music to express what it is I’m trying to say. Or in advertising terms, tools that inform each other to express an engaging brand story.

Q. What were some big influences on you, creatively?

A. I’d say growing up in a creative household, my parents planted the seed. And then a whole host of people who unapologetically express their creativity, despite what others may think. David Letterman had a big influence on me. Then of course there are Steve Jobs, Richard Pryor, Einstein (yes, I’d consider his work creative), film directors like Paul Thomas Anderson and Steven Soderbergh, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner—plus Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett.

Q. Can you tell us about a couple of pivotal creative projects, that were game changers for you?

A. There were some Miller Lite spots I did when I was younger that fueled my creative confidence. One where we sent two average guys into a dubbed kung fu movie, to compete with the kung fu master by playing paper football. With regards to a personal project, it’d have to be the feature film I did called, “Chasing the Blues.” There’s no hiding when you’re directing a movie. Every decision, whether it’s creative or not, is made by you. I grew tremendously through that project.

Q. So, what led you to Well Done’s door?

A. Recently, it was a bus from Chicago. But really, when I first checked into the opportunity, I was hit by the fun, authentic voice the website was written in. It made me smile, and I decided to pursue the job. And after the in-depth hiring process, I managed to get an offer.

Q. Thanks for sticking it out! Now that you’re here, how do you view your new role?

A. As a Sherpa, guiding my tribe to the creative promised land.

Q. What is it that excites you about working in an agency?

A. Loaded question. I don’t think all agencies are alike. But if you’re asking me about Well Done, what excites me about working here is the authenticity, the massive talent, and the potential to be competing with agencies 10 times the size.

Q. Speaking of 10 times the size, what’s one difference you’ve noticed between Leo Burnett and Well Done?

A. One thing I’ve realized is that you could probably fit the whole Well Done team in one of Leo Burnett’s conference rooms.

Q. Are there any Well Done clients or industries that you’re especially excited about?

A. I find every opportunity an exciting one. Is that too PC?

Q. Probably the safest answer. What do you do when you’re not at work?

A. I like making art and music, listening to music, reading, and hanging out with my daughters when they let me.

Q. What else should we know about you?

A. I have a huge vinyl collection, and have given in to my obsession with hats, hoodies, and high-tops.

We’re thrilled to have you on board, Scott. We’re inspired by your creative guidance, we’re thankful for your leadership—and, as an office filled with music aficionados, we’re hoping the U-Haul truck with your record crates pulls up ASAP. Grab a Well Done hat and hoodie, and make yourself at home.