Why We Hired the Kid With a Potato in His Book

Hunting for the abnormal at MullenLowe

The potato maker was an art director and writer fresh out of VCU. He had the requisite smart headlines and crafted looks and case-study film that were in everyone else's book. But there on the edges, under the tab marked "Some Stuff"—potatoes. 

He combined all his fucked-up interests to create these amazingly weird little art pieces that were, of all things, deeply original. When we saw it all, we thought, we could use someone like this. Even though we knew we really couldn't. 

We have never been about filling open reqs. Instead, we focus on hiring for the agency. The needs you have today will not be the needs you have tomorrow. Did Kennedy say that? 

It's always made sense to bring in talent that takes us in new directions. People who bring us something unexpected every day. People who inspire us, so we can put that into our work. More often than not, we find that in the thing we didn't need. We find it in the abnormality. 

Yes, we've made the mistake of hiring for a specific role. Haven't we all? Inevitably, that role changes and you're left with someone who's not able to slide to the next white space. They become negative, resentful and toxic, and they're making about $238,000 a year with unlimited PTO. 

So if the lanes are going to change, why act as if they're not? It's that magical alchemy of creative minds smart enough to approach each day with a certain naiveté that makes all the difference. Why not prepare for that? 

The net result gives us a more agile and diverse talent pool. People are able to move freely according to the needs of the project. There's continuity on the account, usually through the creative leadership, but there's always diversity of thought. 

We've worked in those places where everything felt like it came out of one person's book. There was a house style, and part of your role was to adapt to it. And while that can be interesting because you find yourself doing work that's unlike you, and there's a certain discovery in that process, the whole thing is unsustainable for an agency. As a collective, you end up in a warm, cozy, beautifully designed rut. 

Instead, we want people to put their fingerprints on the work. We want to change and morph with the energy that's coming from within. The up-and-comers should thrive in a meritocracy, and the veterans should be able to express themselves in new ways. 

That's more interesting to us. Making that unpredictable leap from strategy to art. But as Laurie Anderson once said, "Talking about art is like dancing about architecture." So we'll shut up and leave you with this: 

We realize we are not the first to have a hiring philosophy. Ours came out of necessity. In the beginning, we couldn't always get the superstars. But then we realized every good result came out of an entrepreneurial spirit and a diverse team. So we added rigor and kept hiring this way across the board, and now our superstars are the unexpected ones. Maybe even the ones with potatoes in their books. 

Searching for the abnormal has become the new normal.

Profile picture for user Dave Weist and Tim Vaccarino
Dave Weist and Tim Vaccarino
Dave Weist and Tim Vaccarino are executive creative directors at MullenLowe in Boston.