Editor’s note: This is the first installment of what is planned to be a recurring Q&A with members of the local advertising and marketing scene in an effort to zero in on the creative process that fuels this industry in Richmond.
Moses Foster is a man who doesn’t believe in writer’s block. At least, he says, he hasn’t experienced it yet.
The founder of West Cary Group, named this year’s Ad Person of the Year by the Richmond Ad Club, Foster says creativity isn’t difficult to find; you just need to look for it, he says, when the creative well runs dry.
“If you ever get to that point, I just feel like you have to stimulate yourself,” Foster said. “Go for a run. Go ride your bike. Go watch a movie. Go to the beach. Pick up your guitar. And very quickly, ideas will be created.”
Eight years after starting the agency on West Cary Street, Foster has landed accounts with Richmond heavyweights like MeadWestvaco, Union Bank and Capital One, as well as out-of-town Internet phone service provider Vonage.
Foster, 45, says his firm is “just scratching the surface” of its capabilities. And he foresees new things for marketing and advertising, which he touched on in an interview with Richmond BizSense this week.
The following is an edited transcript:
Richmond BizSense: What drew you to a career in advertising and marketing?
Moses Foster: I’ve always been fascinated with the creative process. I love creativity across the board, so I play music, I’m a writer, I like filmmaking and video and those types of things. Advertising is a place where you can actually be creative but also actually make a living, and it allows you to combine a lot of different disciplines. So there are times where I can use my sound production and musical capability; there are times where I can use my writing capability – all of it comes together in marketing and advertising.
And the other side of my brain, the more analytical side – advertising actually satisfies that side, as well. When you’re working on strategy, when you’re thinking about analysis of campaigns and initiatives, you get that side satisfied as well. So both sides of the brain, lots of different disciplines – it all converges in advertising and marketing.
RBS: Describe your brainstorming or creative process when working a new campaign or account.
MF: It varies. The creative inspiration comes from so many different places. Sometimes the creativity comes from a consumer insight: the customer feels like there aren’t options for this kind of thing or that kind of thing, or the available products in market just aren’t solving for a particular need. And that’s where I think you start to go, ‘Well, there’s a hole in the marketplace, and we need to convince people that there’s a solution for that hole, how are we going to do it?’ and that’s how the creative actually begins.
In other cases, you hear a song, you watch a television show. I’m a big Michael Mann fan, the director (Fun fact: his favorite Mann film is ‘Heat’), and you just see something that he does with a camera – sometimes a catalyst like that can create a stream of creative ideas and take you in a variety of places. So there’s no one set process.
RBS: Do you or your firm have a ritual for getting into that mindset?
MF: We had a standing meeting, which is all about what’s new, what’s out there and where should we be looking, what does the future hold. We’re bringing that meeting back. It got supplanted by a crazily busy Q4 and Q1, but we’re bringing it back to stay, in large part because we’re going to have dedicated people now with their ear to the ground and their eyes fixed forward on where the market is going. And the whole agency is going to benefit from that conversation and that view.
RBS: If you could pose one question to anyone you want, either in the marketing world or outside it, who and what would you ask?
I would really love to understand the inspiration and the journey that led Alice Walker to write “The Temple of My Familiar.” Just a really interesting book, and I just don’t know what she was accessing to write that book, and I’ve always just kind of thought, ‘How did you get here?’ She’s an interesting woman.
I really would like to be in (CEO) Tim Cook’s laboratory at Apple and just understand the process and the lead that he has on the market with his pipeline. I’d like to be a fly on the wall in their research process and their engineering process and that type of thing. I’m very intrigued by the reinvention of the television landscape, so I’d love to talk to (Netflix CEO) Reed Hastings, the CEO of Comcast and network heads and just understand what their reaction is to what is clearly this inexorable trend, which is: programming, content, is going to be completely disrupted. I want to be a part of that, and I think that’s a place where West Cary Group will actually play – as not just the wrapper to content, the advertising, but also creators of content. We do that now, and I see original programming in our future at some point. So I’m very, very interested in that landscape.
And whoever’s heading up HoloLens at Microsoft, and whoever’s heading up Oculus VR at Facebook. Those would be very interesting people to talk to. Because augmented reality and virtual reality is a place that I’m extremely passionate about and I feel is a whole new world.
RBS: Why do you think Richmond’s ad and marketing community has developed the way it has? What’s happening in Richmond that you’re not seeing in other advertising markets?
MF: That’s a good question. Some of the reasons are you’ve got some real anchors here in the community. The Martin Agency is world-renown, right here in town. They attract great talent. You’ve got the (VCU) Brandcenter, which is best in class, one of the best in the country. They’re right here. So those two entities alone create a creative kind of pull, so you aggregate a lot of creative people when you’ve got things like that.
And then you’ve got a lot of Fortune 500 companies for a city our size, so there’s a lot of marketing and advertising work to be done. And then, you’ve got Richmond, itself. RVA is a just a great city for the creative class. You’ve got lots of cool things to do; we’re growing in the restaurant scene, you’ve got agencies. The city’s just on fire, and that always helps in terms of attracting talent.