New Sponge president J. T. Mapel to elevate agency


J. T. Mapel (left) and Paul Brourman

Paul Brourman added a new top executive to the Sponge/Chicago staff roster on Monday.  J.T. Mapel, Brourman’s former coworker at DDB/Chicago, will become Sponge’s new president.

Brourman, who founded Sponge in 2006 after he left DDB, now assumes the role of CEO at Sponge. Both top execs at the 11-person shop will share the responsibilities of day-to-day management and, just as important, the job of new business development.

Brourman told us he chose Mapel to help move Sponge to the next level as a boutique ad agency because they complement each other — Mapel is a business guy who’s passionate about creative, and Brourman is a creative who likes the business side.

We wanted to know more about Mapel, where he’s coming from and what he sees ahead at Sponge.  So we asked him to answer six questions:

1.You spent nearly 20 years working at DDB/Chicago. What was the best thing about working for a big agency?  And why?  The worst?  And why?

The best thing about working for a big agency, more specifically DDB Chicago, was the great group of talented people that I had the opportunity to work with and from whom I learned.

I worked with some of the best creatives, planners, account people and senior leaders in the business. Collectively, that exposure to such a group of talent helped give me a wide range of experience and true appreciation for great creative business solutions.

The downside – in a big agency, there were great people you never got to know. You knew the people you worked with but not others who worked on businesses you did not touch.

2.You had a long relationship with the Anheuser-Busch brewery. Many view it as one of the dream accounts in the advertising industry.  Did it seem that way to you while you were so involved with it?

Working with Anheuser-Busch was a great experience. We did great work together; we had a great relationship based on mutual trust and respect, and they had the best brands to bring to market. The clients from the very top valued their agency partners and knew that they had hired the top creative talent to create their communications. I still have many close relationships with many A-B clients.

3.  What made you decide to go into the advertising industry, and what is the most important piece of advice you would give to someone just contemplating a career in the business?

I went into advertising because I’ve always been fascinated with brands and how they communicate with consumers. I’ve always been a student of how brands made a connection that had the ability to be current with consumers and to endure over time. In my experience, listening and having an open mind is key to being successful in account management. Being humble and having a lot of common sense doesn’t hurt either.

4.  What appeals most to you about the Sponge boutique agency template?

Sponge attracted me because I saw the great rigor and attention to detail in this small but prolific agency’s approach. The agile business model, combined with fantastic creative output for clients, just made it feel like the right place for me to apply my experience in new ways. The depth of thinking, creative end product, understanding and strategic insight that backs that product at Sponge are unsurpassed. 

5.  Looking back over the vast amount of advertising produced over, say, the past 10 years, what one single TV campaign (we know, how retro. . .) did you find to be especially outstanding?  And why?

I think the FedEx work over the past years has been some of the best work out there. It has done a great job of taking a seemingly uninteresting product benefit and making it the heart of memorable, broadly-appealing communications. The humor sets a tone and personality for the FedEx brand that makes it stand out above competition in the shipping category. They’re just simple, smart and make you laugh.

6.  What do you look forward to the most about working with Paul Brourman again?  What do you think will be most difficult about reuniting with him as a business partner?

I have always known Paul to be a driven, hardworking and passionate creative. He doesn’t accept the easy creative answer to a business challenge, but works until he reaches something inspired. We work very well together because even though Paul is a great creative, he has such an ability to understand and grasp the business issue at hand. 

At the same time, as a business leader I have a great passion and understanding for the creative solution. We just share a lot of common ground, so our work together feels seamless.

Contact Lewis Lazare at