This we know for sure. Todd Tilford isn’t in Kansas anymore.
On Monday afternoon, DraftFCB/Chicago tapped Tilford, 47, as its new chief creative officer, starting in early August.
Tilford grew up in Kansas, attended the University of Kansas in Lawrence, and got his first job in advertising at Valentine Radford in Kansas City.
But that was all a while ago.
Tilford most recently was executive creative director at Grey/New York for two and a half-years. In his first exclusive interview on Monday after DraftFCB announced the appointment, Tilford said he was instrumental in helping Grey management resuscitate the shop via a series of new business wins that included Ketel One vodka, the NFL and DirecTV.
Prior to joining Grey, Tilford ran his own creative consultancy and worked with high-profile shops such as Crispin Porter + Bogusky. Even earlier, he led all design work in-house for BBDO/New York.
And during the 1990s, Tilford was a founder and creative director at Pyro/Dallas, where he launched the Hummer brand globally and created the “Blank Canvas” campaign for Converse sneakers, among other projects.
Now Tilford is hoping his magic touch in the creative arena may be helpful to DraftFCB, as it prepares to grapple with what could be a defining piece of news in the agency’s history — namely whether the agency will hang on to the nearly $1 billion S.C. Johnson account or watch it leave after nearly 60 years.
Most observers believe the huge account is destined to exit DraftFCB, But on that subject, Tilford was, perhaps understandably, mum Monday, though we sensed he is fully aware of where things stand with the lucrative S.C. Johnson business.
Tilford will replace Rob Sherlock, who indicated several months ago he wished to take on a new international position with the agency after a stint in the top creative job at DraftFCB/Chicago that, from our vantage point, didn’t produce any stunningly breakthrough campaigns.
Late Monday afternoon, we caught Tilford at home in Connecticut, in a seemingly semi-relaxed frame of mind as news of his appointment at DraftFCB began to filter out into the big wide world. Even though he has worked in recent years in the crowded concrete canyons of New York City, Tilford said he prefers living in the suburbs where he has more space around him.
That great love of space, he told us, probably came from growing up in Kansas, where wide open space abounds. That sense of space also has informed his creative sensibility. “I see open space, and I think of open possibilities as if I were floating in space,” explained Tilford.
Perhaps it is mere coincidence, but we were struck hard by the fact that DraftFCB North American executive creative director Tom O’Keefe, a man known to have a wicked sense of humor, pointedly referred to Tilford as a “creative visionary” in a statement Monday tied to Tilford’s pending arrival in Chicago.
Only last week, one of Chicago’s finest creative minds, Vinny Warren, was lamenting to us in this column about what he believed to be the lack of vision at many of the Chicago ad agencies that have languished in recent years. We asked Tilford what it felt like to be pegged a visionary. He sort of laughed it off. “There are worse things to be called, I suppose,” he said.
But it was clear Tilford didn’t want to oversell himself to us before he even starts his new job. “I never go around calling myself a visionary,” explained Tilford. “I’m all about searching for the next idea and the next way to connect with consumers,” he added.
Interestingly, Tilford said he does view his new role at DraftFCB as something of a “change agent,” a term that agency staffers may welcome or worry about, depending on their perceived status.
If the worst case scenario materializes with the S.C. Johnson business, Tilford certainly will have plenty of change with which to deal, possibly including paring a large chunk of creatives from the staff roster. Unless, of course, his new business skills kick into high gear, and Tilford is able to bring in big new accounts on a fast track.
We asked Tilford to tell us what one thing about the current state of the advertising industry most concerns him. “It’s searching for its identity,” he said, a reference to the fast-changing nature of the business that has left many veterans scrambling to catch up.
Still, Tilford said he is looking forward to his first foray into the Chicago advertising community as he prepares to leave behind the verdant lawns of Connecticut and move west to take on his new job at DraftFCB.
“I want to take the work to the next level at DraftFCB,” said Tilford. “I’m excited about the possibilities,” he added. That excitement must have something to do with those wide open spaces in Kansas that he loved so much as a child.
Contact Lewis Lazare at LewisL3@aol.com