Inside Jeff Cruz's Office at MRM//McCann Detroit

Come on in, the door's (usually) open

Around 192 square feet, give or take. One veneer, pressed-wood desk with credenza. One table and six chairs (well, four originally—I stole the other two from another office). All pretty standard-issue stuff for a CCO's office when I got to MRM//McCann Detroit back in April 2016.

From there, it was up to me to figure out how to make this space a place that I didn't mind spending most of my days, and maybe a few nights and weekends; was useful for meeting and talking about the work; and—this one was really important to me—was always letting me know I still had a life outside these walls. Yes, I'm talking about that elusive work-life balance, or better put: Don't let the former totally hose you on having at least a little of the latter. I truly believe a life well lived with family and friends will make you a better creative, a better boss, and hell, even a better human. 

Oh, yeah, and I needed to be able to keep plenty of Bell's Two Hearted IPAs always at the ready, nice and cold.

So, welcome to Work Casa de la Cruz. Come on in, and please, look around. If these walls—and the everything that's on and within them—could talk, they'd have some crazy-good stories to tell. But since they can't, I'll hit you with a few CliffsNotes-version highlights. 


The Wall

It's all about the work, right? So, of course the very first bit of HGTV-ing I did was a cool carryover from my previous run at VSA Partners, a Chicago-based design firm. There, almost all the walls are metal and loaded with a shit ton of magnets so you can hang up layouts and decks, inspiration and reference stuff, pretty much anything and everything we needed to turn pretty good ideas into really great work. It also allowed for greater collaboration—even the occasional random comments from colleagues who weren't even working on that particular project that made the work better, or helped us learn how to pitch and defend what was already gracing the wall. And what to do you know, it works just as well in my office at MRM//McCann. Oh, the big TV was a nice recent add to review videos cuts and such. 


The Fight

Nobody ever said coming up with a big idea is easy. Nor is defending it, pitching and selling it, and then keeping it sold so it can make its way out into the world—and that goes for agency and our client partners alike, working together to do so. The same can be said sometimes when it comes to doing the right thing, and even doing right by your people. Yes, you should always try to be nice, until it's time not to be nice (yeah, I just stole that sage advice from Dalton of Roadhouse fame). You've got to have a little fight in you. 

And fortunately, I do, literally down to my DNA. My dad's dad was a fighter, and damn good one at that. Hailing from Mexico, Jack Cruz Sr. was a mighty lightweight who went 29-0 as a pro boxer, and I feel pretty lucky to have this genuine artifact from his fighting days. It's a nice reminder to never shy away from lacing 'em up when I think it's time not to be nice. 


The Quest

Yes, I dig my gig and got a lot of love for a lot of the people I get to create with every day. But my wife, Emily, and my kids, Ben, Nate and Vivian, are awfully swell, too. So, when my boys got into baseball, I signed up to be a coach (I also ham and egged it through a season of coaching Viv's rec soccer, too), and I did it because it would "force" me to shut it down, get of out of the office, and spend time with my amazing family. Yes, that's almost as sad as it sounds. I found it was getting way too easy to stay for "just another hour (or four)" at the office, or lock my peepers onto my laptop or phone when I did get home. 

Because the boys and I were so into baseball (Ben still plays travel ball), we also started catching MLB games in cities outside of our beloved Detroit. Then I sort of threw it out there: What if we caught a game at every MLB stadium—30 in all—before Ben graduated high school? Well, we accepted that challenge, and now my extremely gracious wife and daughter even allow us to schedule our vacations for games in cities we may never have previously considered a summer hot spot. 

If you look closely at this well-designed poster, you'll see we're 22 stadiums in. We still have three years before Ben's rockin' his cap and gown, and have epic parks like Wrigley and Fenway left to hit. Leave it to the national pastime to remind us of something from all our parents' past: Work for your family, not before family. 


The Reminder

One of the truly best things about our crazy ad biz? The people, hands down. The partners, the mentors, the trusted colleagues and besties for life, the random call you take that leads to someone you'll never forget. 

Ryan Barkin is that last one for me. He cold-called me back in 2008, looking to pitch a music artist and brand partnership, and for some reason I picked up. His artist, Shwayze. My brand, Pontiac (CD at the time). We ending up doing a kinda cool integrated and branded entertainment campaign together, and we remained tight years after it, and they, played out. Each of us openly claiming that our partnership gave our careers a nice boost. 

Then, I got a call in 2017. Ryan was gone. And way, way, way too soon. His lovely wife Angela (who's also in the music biz and has helped me with some work stuff) and appropriately named daughter Sunny were the light of his life. I was so glad I made it out to his memorial in NYC and was able to grab this card and pin it on my wall. It's a good reminder of good times, great laughs, great people and perhaps something even greater: Love what you do, and who you do it with, and be very grateful and vocal about both. Because there will come a day when that phone rings again. 


The Letter

The D. That bad-ass, iconic, Old English D. And all it represents. Sure, Detroit has its detractors, even its haters, but if you live and work here—and the power of the Motor City extends well beyond its city lines and deep, deep into the surrounding cities and suburbs—you can only shake your head, let that wry smile take over your face and laugh. Those folks don't get it, and you know, that's OK. They don't have to—because we do. 

We know what we have, and what we bring. Detroit Hustle and Muscle. Knock us down, we'll get up. Think all we know is cars (which we do, better than anyone), then let's talk music, from Motown to electronic to Mr. Jack White. And style and craftsmanship that goes beyond sheet metal, from Shinola to John Varvatos. Plus, artists, coming from everywhere, filling our warehouses, lofts and galleries with mind-blowingly amazing stuff. And the food—holy shit, the food. 

Yes, creativity is certainly alive and well here in the D—including, if not especially, at our agencies—and that's why we display it like a badge of honor. 


The Invitation 

I've always tried to do my absolute best to be an approachable and accessible CCO. You know, the power of an open-door policy and all. And it's seemed to serve me, and more importantly, the work, very well. Folks—from any discipline, not just creative—knowing they can pop by and chat about the creative, our collective process, offering up what if's, how about that's and a few heads up's has made us all better, together. 

But I've also had my peers and my executive coach tell me, or better yet insist, it's also OK to just close the door and politely let my work friends know I need a few minutes of alone time. So, I had my daughter Viv design a couple of signs inviting folks to come in—or come back later. I appreciate being able to steal a few minutes for stuff I need to quietly focus on, but truth be told, more often than not my door is wide open. And no, nobody's ever brought me tacos, but I have shared some tasty cervezas. 


The Ally (x2)

Like I said, we're in the people business. And with any luck, you're surrounded by lots and lots of great ones. Like I am. Funny ones, inspiring ones, and of course, talented ones—some of whom use their different skills to create and do some cool stuff well beyond all their hours spent at our shop. 

As a leader, I believe it's not only part of the gig to acknowledge these talents and out-of-the-office pursuits, but support and encourage them as well. Especially when you're a big fan of their output. Which is why I've bought several awesome illustrations done by one of our content artists, Brent Mosser, and also asked him to create art for internal projects, too. (I dig his unique style, and if you're intrigued, check out his stuff here.) 

It's all about genuinely caring about all your people, and what's truly important to them. Do that, and there's a chance you'll be their ultimate ally when it comes to the work stuff, too.

That's my space. It's a good place where I get to hang with some quality peeps to do some good work, and be good humans to one another. Thanks for stopping by.

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Jeff Cruz
Jeff Cruz is chief creative officer at MRM//McCann Detroit.