Diving into Highdive and their Emmy nomination

(Mark Gross and Chad Broude take us into their thinking)

Daring to break the traditional agency mold, Highdive is producing exciting work that pushes the envelope in new ways. Most recently, the Ad Age Small Agency of the Year partnered with Jeep to create a Super Bowl spot celebrating the 90’s classic Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray.

The commercial resonated with audiences as it was the most popular spot on the Big Game. Now, Highdive’s effort has the chance to be rewarded with Emmy Award for Outstanding Commercial.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Emmy’s decided to stream over four nights beginning Monday, Sept. 14, through Thursday, September 17, at 5:00 p.m. PDT. The fifth night will be a live broadcast ceremony on Saturday, September 19, at 8:00 p.m. EDT/5:00 p.m. PDT on FXX.

And the main event will air on ABC Sunday, September 20 (8:00-11:00 p.m. EDT/5:00-8:00 p.m. PDT) on ABC.The Creative Arts Awards will be produced by Bob Bain Productions.

The agency’s formula seems to be working, with the key to success coming their team of top-performers and healthy client/agency relationships.

We spoke with Highdive co-founders and Creative Directors Mark Gross and Chad Broude to discuss their Emmy nom and more:

The commercial is inspired by Bill Murray’s 1993 movie Groundhog Day and was featured during Superbowl Sunday this year which happened to be on Groundhog Day. It’s clear that this was very intentional and had to ensue much planning. How long did it take to create this commercial from ideation to production?
We pitched the concept in October. The client loved the idea… if we could get Bill Murray. He’s known for being a unicorn [and] for not being able to track down. We didn’t hear back from Bill really at all for a few months. Olivier, who is the CMO sent him a note and Bill finally got back to us like January 10 or 12th.

Mark Gross

We wrote off this idea thinking that Bill wasn’t going to be interested, and when he finally reached out on the 10th we’re like OK this thing might be happening. We started having creative conversations and then eventually it wasn’t greenlit until two weeks before the game. It was shot only seven days before the game.

The entire creation process was no more than 2 1/2 weeks which is kind of hard to believe with how authentic we were with shooting using the same location the movie was, finding the characters, building the side of the bedroom. It was a fast and furious team effort. It usually takes months and months but we were able to do it in just a few weeks.

We actually shot Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The last day of shooting was seven days before the game so we were doing a little bit of editing in the hotel room between shoot days.

Then on Sunday when we were done shooting we drove back to the city. Cut all night, cut the next day, because you only have a few days to edit before you have to do all the other finishing [touches].

What sets the Jeep brand apart from other automotive companies and what was your initial vision for highlighting this?
It’s probably the most iconic car brand on the planet. It has such a long-standing reputation for authenticity, adventure, and freedom so that’s the pieces we put together. Bill Murray as a person embodies freedom more than any other person on the planet.

He does what he wants to do when he wants to do it at all times. He’s kind of an icon for freedom which is a nice parallel, because they both really stand for that free spirit way of living. In terms of the storytelling, Jeep is also known for adventures and there’s really not any other car brand you can insert in that spot that would work.

Jeep is the only vehicle that if you were stuck living the same day over and over again it wouldn’t get old because you can do something different every same day that you haven’t done the day before.

How does Highdive continue to push the needle in the ever evolving and fast-paced advertising industry?
It really comes down to employees and who we hire. Our business model is based on hiring top performers only. We started the agency by hand picking people we worked with in the past that were the Swiss Army knives.

Ultra talented people that bring a lot of diverse thinking and speed to the process. A lot of it has to do with us hiring top performers and helping us keep up.

What does being Emmy nominated for “Outstanding Commercial” mean for Highdive?
The beautiful thing about the Emmy is that you’re recognized outside of the advertising industry. When you can win in that space, it means so much because you’re appealing to a broader audience and it proves that we’re doing something right.

[That] our advertising is affecting everyone and everyone outside of the industry. – It’s one of the highest awards in the industry so it’s special. It proves that we’re doing something right. It validated our hard work.

What is the key to building a small but mighty successful ad team? What roles need to be fulfilled for the best outcome?
We want people who are multifaceted. They wear many hats. Because we are nimble, we need people to jump in on different projects at different times. We have spots on our reel that were written by some of our Account people.

I think what we call our people Swiss Army knives in that they need to want to jump in on a bunch of different things and if they [are] to say where can I help? What else can I do?

Chad Broude

Jorge, one of our lead creative directors is born in South America. [He] lived in Milan for a little while. He’s a musician, he’s part writer, he’s a part designer etc. Those are the type of people we need to bring into the agency. It’s what makes us multifaceted. Talented people That can do everything who bring a lot to the culture.

We [also] really pride ourselves on the team relationship we have with our clients. Think about Groundhog Day. To do that spot in two weeks, you got to have more than just a great agency. You have to be locked [in] with the client and have a trust like no other.

You can’t move that fast without that. We really try to build healthy relationships where it’s built for speed. There’s a trust and you have to be on the same page with the brands you’re working for.

Where do you see Highdive in the next five years? What are your goals for the agency?
Growth is always so important for every agency. We want to do that while still maintaining our underdog, hard fighting spirit. We are very much like a family now.

At Highdive we are very satisfied employees and we’re all a team. I think we want growth and to maintain that team culture. – We want to keep growing a roster of clients who like to do exciting and during work. That’s very important to us.

How do you find inspiration for creating new and refreshing advertising campaigns?
The people we hire are so diverse and multi faceted in their thinking, so they’re able to bring that creativity in life experience. [We’re] avid movie watchers, from books, to life, we’re just constantly consuming media and reading a lot. I think that’s where we get a lot of our inspiration.

There’s a line we’ve been ticking around a lot lately is “Ignoring common sense.” I think a lot of people [think] you’re never gonna get Bill Murray. You’ll never do it. I think if you throw that aside for a second, and you really just go for what you think is the most powerful idea. It’s amazing how that can just open up the creative floodgates.

What makes Highdive stand out from other agencies? What do you offer that others don’t?
The very important part of our core belief is our healthy client and agency relationship.

We were so entrenched with the client from the moment we presented the idea, to the moment we had to do the storyboards, to being on the shoot together, from client calls at two in the morning the week before the Super Bowl. That really brought us over the finish line. It was how well we were able to work with our clients together in those situations.

How did your team celebrate the Emmy nomination?
The morning it came out on the Emmys website we were texting each other. I think we did a champagne toast, but we’ve kicked around the idea of getting together for the Emmys. [Possibly] in someone’s backyard if we can manage to do it at a safe distance and watching it together to just take a moment. These things are rare. I think being nominated for an Emmy has got to be one of the rarest things you can be recognized for, because there’s four a year. There’s one category, that’s it. We’re going to try to take a moment and just enjoy it for a night.

In addition to the Emmy nomination, you’ve been awarded by AdAge and recognized by many other high-level platforms. Has winning these awards taught you anything new? If so, what?
Winning more than anything is a reminder to stop and live in the moment. We are so busy. We are so fast and furious winning. It’s a sign to stop, breathe, and reflect on success.

That’s the best thing about it. From your peers, from judges, it allows you to say ‘hey we did something great!’ Let’s acknowledge it for an hour, for an evening, for a weekend and it’s a constant reminder of that.

I [also] think it’s taught us a little bit how some of our hard work has paid off. As much fun as this industry is, it’s a tough industry. It’s very competitive. I don’t know how many thousands of agencies there are in the United States, but to be recognized it really validates that we’re doing something right.

That’s part of the stopping and saying ‘woah! we finally got recognized.’ Most of the time we’re just in the trenches. – Trying to do our jobs well to satisfy our client’s needs. It’s nice to know the hard work is paying off and that we rose to the top. It certainly doesn’t mean we’re going to rest on our laurels. We sort of acknowledge it and we keep running.

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What has the journey been like building up Highdive from 2016 to present day?
I think it’s been the most challenging and the most rewarding experience of our professional life. It’s very difficult, especially in the beginning when you’re trying to create your own brand.

The successes along the way are so rewarding because of that. I think it was the best decision we could’ve ever made. We did it our way with a custom new model that we’ve been finding delivers better creative, better return, [and] better business results than anywhere we’ve ever worked before.

I always use the metaphor, you know how when they teach little babies how to swim and they toss them into the pool – and they miraculously do? I think that ties to our name Highdive. We named it that because, I think it’s the exhilaration of climbing up that ladder and looking over the diving board and just jumping in.

Taking calculated risks and being daring, being adventurous with your work. We really had to learn so many new things along the way going into the pool and gave it 110% in everything we did. If we did know something we figured it out and that’s really how we’ve grown. We’ve said yes and figured it out.

Your company’s philosophy has been inspired by the writings of Patrick Lencioni and Brené Brown. What is it about these authors that speak to the values of Highdive?
There’s this one quote we love from Brené Brown. ‘There is no innovation in creativity without failure’. We love that. She said so many beautiful things. – Now that we’ve succeeded, it’s tough things we had to figure out.

They say calm waters don’t make for good sailors, so to be really innovative and creative you’re going to fail. Sometimes things aren’t going to work and we just keep pushing.

If you could have the best 2020 possible for your agency, what would it look like? (i.e. dream client, award, publication etc.)
We want to return to the office so we can be together (safely). We have a really tight team. There’s not that that traditional line blurred between creative and account. It is a very one team mindset.

We have fun together, we goof off together, and we work hard together. This is probably wishful thinking, but in context of a dream situation we just want to return and be together.

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Whether it’s from behind the lens or through cyberspace, Tyronita Bell is passionate about helping others tell their story.