Creative Q&A: Barber Martin’s Deb Hagan

Deb Hagan at Barber Martin's office in the Boulders office park. Photos by Jonathan Spiers.

Deb Hagan at Barber Martin’s office in the Boulders office park. Photos by Jonathan Spiers.

Deb Hagan has traded one Martin for another.

After three years at The Martin Agency, the former senior vice president and group creative director for that agency’s largest account, Walmart, has joined retail-focused Barber Martin Agency as chief creative officer.

Barber Martin announced the move at the start of this month, lauding Hagan’s experience with Walmart and other retail brands at agencies such as TBWA/Chiat/Day, Fallon McElligott, BBDO and Ammirati & Puris. Prior to joining The Martin Agency, Hagan worked directly for Walmart for two years as a senior director of advertising and creative.

The mother of three is also a filmmaker, directing national TV spots and a short film, “Pee Shy,” that was selected for dozens of film festivals and ultimately picked up by HBO and iTunes. Her advertising work has won numerous awards, including two Cannes Gold Lions and Silver and Bronze Lions

On her sixth day on the job, Hagan spoke with Richmond BizSense about her creative process, her reasons for joining Barber Martin and how Richmond compares to other creative communities. The following is an edited transcript:

Richmond BizSense: What made you want to switch from The Martin Agency to Barber Martin?
Hagan: I have watched the agency from afar and watched Robyn (Deyo Zacharias, president and CEO), and I think she’s incredibly tenacious and successful and has done a really nice job in her career of building herself and building this agency. I thought that was somebody I wanted to partner with. I think the agency is a really well-run, successful agency that is in a position where it can become even bigger – it has a pretty big growth trajectory – and a good place for me to come in as a creative director and be able to help shape and mold and build that and help elevate the level of the creative.

RBS: Was it difficult to leave The Martin Agency, and the Walmart account specifically, having worked on it for so long?
Hagan: It was tough, for sure, but I felt the opportunity here was so great. I’ve gotten to the point in my career where I feel like I want to be a part of an agency or a business where I can make an impact, and I felt like this was a good opportunity for that.”

RBS: Do you have a favorite campaign you’ve worked on?
Hagan: There’s a campaign that we did called ‘Every Cart Tells a Story.’ The Martin Agency did it, and I was the client (with Walmart), and one component of it was a television campaign that we called ‘Conveyer Belt.’ It stemmed from this insight: if you ever look at somebody’s shopping cart, it tells so much; there’s such a story in somebody’s shopping cart.

It was really well-crafted, funny commercials. We did dozens of them. They had the whole organization talking and laughing. They wanted to see them when they were at the bar with their buddies.

Hagan came to Richmond a year and half ago from Martin Agency's West Coast office.

Hagan came to Richmond a year and half ago after working with The Martin Agency from the West Coast.

RBS: What’s your creative process? How do you go about getting into that headspace that’s conducive to creativity?
Hagan: I call it ‘putting it all in the crockpot.’ By that, what I mean is I like to get all of the information, all the research we can get – really be looking for the insights, the human truths that are going to connect with a customer; any historical work and the competitive landscape – and I put it all in the crockpot and let it simmer a little bit. Then I can start to piece things together and see what bubbles up to end up being an idea that feels like it will drive business and connect with people on a real, emotional level.

I could be running, or driving to work, or whatever it is – those kinds of spaces where you can really get into your head. Just have things ping-pong around and start to gel them together into a compelling idea.

RBS: Do you have a ritual for starting your creative session with a team?
Hagan: I’m a little bit new here to give that answer with regards to this place, but in general, I like to have everybody together in one room talking about what the business problem is, talking about what the consumer mindset is, scouring social (media) to see what kinds of conversations are out there. Rarely are we starting a new conversation. We’re jumping into one that’s already out there. And I think the more informed everybody can be, the better the ideas will be.

My philosophy is a good idea can come from anywhere, so I prefer to have a pod of people working together. One, the business problems are too big for my brain, and two, that spit-balling of ideas can really get you to a place you weren’t expecting.

RBS: Is there a person in the advertising world that you admire or who you wish you could ask one question? Who would that person be and what question would you ask them?
Hagan: Maybe slightly tangential to advertising, but it would be (Alfred) Hitchcock. He’s just genius; a genius storyteller. I would ask him about his process. His stories are so complex but told so simply. If you look at (this year’s) Super Bowl spots, some of them were just so overdone. And he had some way of containing the information – coming up with a way he was going to tell the story and contain that information – so you could turn the sound off and watch his movies and you know exactly what’s happening, exactly what the emotion of the character is, where that story is going. I think that there’s such a craft, but also a sort of control, that comes with being able to do that.

RBS: You’ve worked at a lot of different agencies in different cities. How does Richmond’s creative community compare with others?
Hagan: I think it’s the most real. People are not so full of themselves. If you’re in New York, you’re a little bit full of yourself, and L.A. can be kind of the same. I think the people here are much more humble and real.

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