Nov 18, 2020
Adam spent his childhood in Vermont, where he was raised on maple syrup and snow. Following graduation from high school, he attended the University of Wisconsin, where he studied psychology, journalism, and cheese curds. He also captained Wisconsin’s Big 10 Champion track and field team.
Adam started his advertising career as a copywriter at Cramer Krasselt working on iconic brands including Reddi-Wip, Ski-Doo, GNC, Snap-On, Briggs and Stratton, and Case IH. His next stop was at Engauge where he ascended to the role of Chief Creative Officer, winning work with such well-known brands as Nike, Coca-Cola, Nationwide Insurance, Wells Fargo, UPS, and Chick-fil-a. Publicis Groupe acquired Engauge in 2013 and folded the agency into Atlanta-based Moxie, forming a 625 person marketing powerhouse. Adam remained at Moxie until 2016 when he left to launch The Weaponry.
In your life story one of your stops was at Engauge where you ascended to the role of Chief Creative Officer, tell us about that.
I landed there as a Creative Director overseeing the Columbus office and there are offices in Columbus, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Orlando, and Austin. Two years later, I was promoted to Executive Creative Director, two years after that they made me the Chief Creative Officer overseeing all the offices, and we had 275 people. We started to crush, that was a really fun time. But over the course of the next couple of years after I became Chief Creative Officer, we won business with Nationwide Insurance, Wells Fargo, Cisco Systems, we won business with, UPS, with Bob Evans, Walgreens, and it wasn't all me. But by the time we were, we were really rolling, we did a bunch of work with Kraft and Nike. So it was a hot time and the private equity firm that owned us after winning all this said "Let's sell." So I was involved as part of the four-person leadership team that did all the singing and dancing for all of our potential suitors. So in the first half of 2013, I was on Wall Street every single week, presenting, singing and dancing, and being with people who were interested in buying the agency. That was my advanced degree in business, and it set me up for the rest of my career.
What was that experience like?
The really interesting thing that happened to me here was that I spent my career in advertising as a creative. When I got into that sale process, and I got to sit down with, you know, the chief financial officers, chief executive officers and Chief Operating officers from these international holding companies, I quickly recognize going through the conversations with their banks, and such, that the people who are really making money in advertising are not the writers and the art directors, the media lady and the Account Exec who are up until two in the morning, trying to get the presentation ready for the next day. It's the bankers is the people who say, "Hey, I want to pay for that," or the investors who say, "I'll buy this business!" Those are the people who are really making bank. That was that that was all I needed to know. So I felt like, "Let's go change this in my next chapter."
So let's get into the next chapter where you start a business!
So after the sale went through I was incentivized to stick around with the next company for a couple of years. The company is called Moxie, based in Atlanta with offices in New York, LA, Columbus, and Pittsburgh. I was incentivized to stick around and I was trying to make the best of it, but I had an earn-out, which meant that a incentivize me to stick around for three years and every year on the anniversary they're like, "You did it, you stuck around another year!" By the end of my earn-out period, I was ready to go do something else. As I was thinking about what I might be doing next, one day, while sitting in my office at work in Atlanta, I get a phone call from a former client of mine named Chris Dawson who I had worked with him at Skidoo. He calls and says, "Hey, I'm I'm in a new situation, I'm now the chief operating officer of iKON Aircraft, we're launching this amazing new sport aircraft is like basically like a watercraft that flies and so I'd love to work with you again." He said, "I'd love to work with you, but I don't want to work with your current agency, would you think about starting your own business?" And I said, "Yes, absolutely I will do that." Well, so then two hours later, I get another call from another former client of mine who I worked with a Nationwide Insurance. He was a lawyer, and he was the Chief Marketing Officer of another good business. He said, "Adam, this new situation, I'm not a chief marketing officer, this new place, I love to work with you again, but I don't want to work with your current agency." I said, "Well as it just so happens, I started my business!" So then, two things happened. I looked around my office, I thought wow, this seems way too good to be true. Then I thought, "This is what I've been waiting for." When you think about going through life and waiting for those doors to open opportunities come your way, and this one just came my way. So now you got to run and figure out what to do next. I knew that I couldn't count on either of them to come through for sure, so let me see what else got what other kinds of interest there may be. So I quickly hit up a few other former clients and within about a week, I had five clients who said, "If you do this, we have work for you." So then I was like, Alright, here we go, but then I had a dilemma because I basically had a huge opportunity to go and start my own agency, which had been my goal from the beginning of my career. But I had been on the salary track all my career. I had a significant mortgage at the time, I had three kids and I have a wife that I really wanted to keep. So I'm trying to lock this how do you go from this, quote-unquote, sure thing of a salary position to entrepreneurship. One day, I was reading a blog post from a friend of mine, who's an entrepreneur, and it was 10 things you don't need to do to start your own business. I gotta tell you, it changed my life. I'm throwing that out there and making it seem dramatic, but it really unlocked the door for me, because I read this and there are things like you don't need a lawyer until you have money nobody's steal anything from you. You don't need a business plan, that's if you're looking for, you know, if you're looking for financing, you should have a plan, but you don't need any official business plan. But number seven was the one that really unlocked it for me. It said, "You don't need to quit your job, in fact, he says, I encourage you not to quit your job. Let your day job fund your entrepreneurial project, and hold on to that day job as long as you can." For me, that was the key in the lock, the door opens and I walk through because that's what I'm gonna do. I'm going to start this on the side and I'm hoping it will be my future. I started taking on clients nights and weekends, right? So a little bit of night work and some weekend work and it suddenly starts snowballing and then my nights are full, weekends are full, I'm not sleeping at all. So that’s how I got started.
I want to read what you put on that front page of The Weaponry that in my opinion is like a mindset. You guys put on your website, "The weaponry is an advertising and idea agency that believes business is war and to win the war of business, you have to outrank your competition." You go on to say, "Sound aggressive? Oh, we are aggressive."
I tell you what, I start off every company meeting, we say here's our philosophy, here's our belief, and if this is how you feel, then this is the place for you and if it isn't, then there's a better place for you. I absolutely believe this. I have a little bit of athletic background and one of the things that I have found is that a lot of athletes when they were college or professional, not so much if you're a high school athlete, but a lot of college athletes because it becomes such a big part of your routine in college, such a huge part of your time and such a such an important part of your identity. But when you are done with your athletics, a lot of athletes say, "I was lost, I felt like it wasn't me without sports." I would say I never felt that at all. As soon as I graduated, I just turned my attention to my career and took the exact same focus and drive, and willing to put in the energy to be great that I did for my athletics, and as a student. I put that into my career and it surprises me how few athletes do the exact same thing because it is the exact same blueprint for athletic success that drives the rest of the success in your career. The structure, the discipline, the focus, the background work that you have to do as an athlete you know, all those the little stupid things that we would do the little drills that you do over and over to perfect a piece of what you do. You do that in your career and it becomes highly specialized and you become world-class at the smallest thing. You add extreme value to organizations that make money off of that kind of work. So I remember early in my career, getting hyper-focused on concepts for a campaign or ideas for a new business pitch. It felt the same as those times where I was in the weight room, I'm focusing hard on getting those last few reps. It's the same thing, it's the exact same feeling.
Do you think college athletes in particular are given the room and space from what's expected of them? Do you think they're able to meet their expectations as a college athlete, and then also still have time to engage in these other facets of life?
No, that's a great, great point. The demands of the average college athlete are so great that it is hard to be well rounded, and that's and that's by design, right? I think that there's some truth to that with college athletics is that they give you time for academics, time for athletics, all you can eat, and then you have very little time to get in trouble. Then little by little and, and just enough time to get in trouble to blow off steam and almost no room to get involved with, you know, the jazz appreciation club, or to go and join the Outing Club and take sailing lessons on Sunday afternoon, and just to do all those other things that make you a really well-rounded human.
So it sounds to me if you if there was one maybe thing in particular that you would like to see changed in this world of sports, specifically at a high level, it's the freedom to have other interests.
I think that your point is good, yes, that would be great for people in the long run. But I also believe if you really want to be great things, go all in. There's such importance to being able to focus, focus your energy, focus your time, focus it on a goal if you really want to nail that. So I wouldn't necessarily change that because it leads to high performance and I think that there's a lot of athletes who go to college and say, "I don't have the same focus, I don't, I don't want to have this tunnel vision, just to be a track athlete or a wrestler or a volleyball player." Then they stop and they say, "Hey, I found a big exciting life outside of athletics," and then good for them because that would have broken my heart if that's how my store would have ended. I really cared about the challenge of track and field. Track and field is a little different than a traditional team sport because it is all you and it's so cut and dry right there. I put a tape measure out or a stopwatch to figure out if I was improving and if I was better than a bunch of other people who have tried this as well. So and so from that standpoint, I just found the challenge of self-improvement to be intoxicating.
And so much more...