The co-CCOs of FCB New York speak to LBB’s Addison Capper about the benefits of being ‘co’-CCOs, becoming the next Siegfried & Roy, and how a random text to a client led to a ‘can we even do this?’ level campaign
Michael Aimette and Gabriel Schmitt have been the co-CCOs of FCB’s New York office since June of 2020. The 12 months following saw the pair lead FCB New York to win seven out of eight new business pitches, including Axe, Spotify, Mike’s Hard global, Centrum, and Florida Blue, contributing to a 44% growth in revenue. The agency also added 68 new employees last year, half of whom were creatives under their leadership. And to round out that year, FCB was recognised at Network of the Year at Cannes Lions back in June.
Michael and Gabriel had never met prior to becoming partners last year although, as is often the case in advertising, they knew of each other pretty well. Gabriel has been part of the FCB family since he immigrated to the US at age 27 to join FCB Chicago, eventually heading to FCB New York as an ECD and playing a key role in Burger King's Whopper Detour campaign. Michael is born and bred in Brooklyn and spent 10 years at BBDO New York as global ECD on GE before joining up with FCB and Gabriel.
LBB's Addison Capper chatted with them both about the benefits of being co-CCOs instead of lone rangers, how a random text to a client led to a standout piece of work, and Michael's lovely hair.
LBB> FCB just won Network of the Year at Cannes, which is a huge achievement! It really feels like the whole network has been on such a positive journey in the past few years. From your perspective in NYC, what has that journey been like for you both? You’ve both been with FCB for differing periods of time...
Gabriel> Like every good comeback story, it’s been full of ups and downs. I started at FCB Chicago almost 10 years ago and then moved to FCB New York five years ago with the goal of helping to take the agency, and the network, to the next level. At that time, FCB NY had solid clients and relationships, but the work needed to be bolder, louder and more culturally impactful. It’s taken a lot of work from a big group of talented people to turn things around - but it’s working.
Michael> For me, it’s very different, as I only officially joined 14 months ago, and the agency was already on the upswing, with [president] Emma Armstrong , [CSO] Todd Sussman, [EVP, group managing director] Suzanne Santiago, and Gabriel leading the crew. So, to put it in sports terms, it felt more like a mid-season acquisition than a draft pick. The continued success of the agency wasn’t at all surprising to me - I had already worked for years with Emma and with Susan, both at BBDO at different points during my time there, so I knew the type of talent that was assembling at FCB NY.
LBB> You've been the co-CCOs since June of 2020. Stepping into the role, what were your big goals and ambitions? And why was it a tempting role for you both to take on?
Gabriel> We had two very clear goals. The first was to spread the creative wealth throughout every pocket of the agency. It was important to us, coming off the success of Whopper Detour, that FCB NY wasn’t seen as a one-hit wonder. The second goal, which is, of course, closely tied to the first, was business growth. We knew we had the momentum and the people to scale the agency, and we jumped all over that opportunity.
Michael> From an agency-building perspective, it was all about growth. We pitched heavily in the first year-plus and won seven out of eight pitches. But to Gab’s point, we also wanted to prove that the success of Whopper Detour could not only be replicated, but could become the norm across more and more brands. From a culture point of view, we want to be sure to create a diverse, empathetic, kick-ass place of like-minded people - a place we all wanted to work for.
LBB> What was your relationship prior to becoming co-CCOs? Had you worked together before? And how did you know that you'd be good partners at the helm of FCB New York?
Michael> We hadn’t met, although we knew each other’s past work pretty well. This industry is like a tiny village in Ireland - everyone knows the colour of everybody’s underwear on the clothesline. And we have a lot of mutual friends, too. I freelanced at the agency for a short while so that we could see if it was a good fit, and I guess I passed the test! We come from very different backgrounds, but we share the same philosophies about what makes work, and an agency, great. More importantly, we have a real respect for one another and share the same core values. That sounds corny as hell, but damn if it isn’t true.
Gabriel> I’ve always admired Michael’s hair.
LBB> I actually wanted to ask you about being co-CCOs. Most agencies only have one, so what’s that experience like? And is it beneficial? How?
Michael> To quote Gabriel, “It’s kinda amaaaazing…” The agency is growing exponentially, and we’re very hands-on, both from a creative and management perspective. If there was only one of us, we simply couldn’t have as much impact on the work or the agency culture. We major/minor in virtually everything internally and externally, including pitches, so if one of us is pulled one way, we can count on the other to be there. It’s fun. And it works.
Gabriel> On an emotional level it’s great to know we have each other. And that goes for the rest of the leadership team as well. In the end, we all really influence each other’s disciplines. We trust their guts on creative 1000%. And they trust our strategic acumen as well… or so they say.
LBB> As co-CCOs, I imagine a chunk of your responsibilities involve nurturing talent and listening to your teams to ensure they're able to work to the best of their abilities. What is your approach to this side of the job, especially considering the lack of opportunity for in-person meetings and the stressful environments that the past year have offered up?
Michael> Great question. Whatever I’m about to say, nothing can truly replace the five-minute “how ya doing?” conversation on the way to the coffeemaker. The formality of Zoom just doesn’t replicate that. On top of that, we had a hugely successful year even with almost half of the creative department being hired during the pandemic and having never set foot in the office. It’s crazy. That said, we’ve tried to over-communicate as much as possible - we have weekly all-agency meetings, we have weekly meetings with our ECDs, and as we move into the fall, we’re planning to host weekly in-person one-on-ones with creatives at all levels to talk about work, their careers, their lives, whatever’s on their mind.
LBB> FCB is a Chicago born and bred agency. With that in mind, how does the New York agency sit within the wider North American network? What sets it apart from other offices in the region?
Gabriel> Let’s start with what the North American offices have in common, which is, we all work very hard to prove that creativity is an economic multiplier. With every client, we make sure that our ideas are solving tangible business problems and are truly bringing value to brands. In New York, more often than not, this leads to ideas that sit at the intersection of tech and ‘WTF’. We are constantly working on ideas that we honestly have no clue how to make happen. That’s the fun part! And that’s been happening for both North American and global clients. We’ve seen big growth in brands and companies where we work as a global hub.
Michael> It’s interesting, I’ve never before worked at an agency that wasn’t the big mama. But you wouldn’t know it, because our North America CEO, Tyler Turnbull, has created a really tight-knit group of agencies that lean on each other and share the philosophy of making the things that haven’t yet been made. A good way to think about it is that we constantly push each other and are always pulling for each other. My apologies for all the ‘kumbaya’ talk.
LBB> Given that FCB just won Network of the Year, how do you work with the wider network? Is it quite a collaborative relationship?
Michael> To the previous question, yes. We work together often, especially the North American agencies. Globally, we have a biyearly meeting with all the CCOs around the world called the Global Creative Council, where we share our work and improve upon it. It’s pretty damn inspiring. And a great way to hone our jealousy skills.
Gabriel> I know it sounds like BS, but the CCOs around the world truly like each other. I know I can call Owen [Lee], in London, and he will pick up the phone and help. Our Global Creative Council sessions are truly collaborative, and although very hard on the work, are very nice on the people. Susan Credle, our global CCO, has fostered this unique environment of camaraderie that reminds us constantly that we all win together.
LBB> Which piece of work from your time as co-CCOs are you particularly proud of and why?
Michael> We’d be crazy if we didn’t mention Michelob Ultra Courtside [recent big winner at the AICP Awards], which is a great representation of the kind of work we aim to do across all our clients’ brands, blending big platform thinking with tech and a healthy dose of ‘can we even do this?’ It’s just such an out-of-the-box idea - it started with a random thought that Gabriel texted to our client, and the concept was born as quickly as that. It really speaks to the relationship and the trust of a great brand partner. We also love that we’re raising the bar across the agency on multiple accounts. That’s a big goal.
LBB> How did you both wind up in this industry in the first place? Was it a planned thing or more a happy accident?
Michael> Ha! Somewhere in between. I fell into a job as a media planner while going to SVA (School of Visual Arts) at night to put my book together. Simultaneously, I got into a journalism graduate program and was about to accept when I got a call from BBDO offering me a job as a junior copywriter.
Gabriel> My dad worked in marketing. He approved a campaign once that won a Silver Lion in Cannes. I remember seeing him receiving flowers from the agency every day for a week and thinking, ‘that looks fun’.
LBB> What was your first role in the industry? What are your fondest (or most horrifying) memories from that time?
Michael> Media planner. Right after college, I followed a girl into the industry - isn’t that always the way? - and quickly learned that media was not for me. To be fair, it wasn’t nearly as interesting as it’s become today. I told myself if I had to make one more media plan for next year’s Butterfinger campaign, I’m quitting. And then I got a call.
Gabriel> I started earlier than usual and got my first internship when I was 19. Then I worked my ass off - so much so, that I have a back problem for life, which is not cool - and here we are. My fondest moment was when I won my first Lion and gifted the trophy to my parents, so it would sit next to the other Lion I mentioned above.
LBB> We've spoken about your leadership responsibilities and need to nurture talent, but is there someone in the industry that you look up to or someone that has been a great mentor?
Michael> [BBDO global CCO] David Lubars. He taught me more than anyone else how to be a leader, how not to panic, and how to always maintain your sense of humour. And Susan [Credle], because we come from the same training ground, and she teaches me something new every time we speak. And Gerry Graf, who at BBDO reminded me to not give too much of a rat’s ass about what other people think.
Gabriel> I literally wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Susan Credle. She embraced me and encouraged me to come help New York be the best it could be. She taught me that generosity is a powerful weapon and gave me all the tools to make stuff happen, against all odds. She’ll forever be my biggest mentor.
LBB> What do you both like to get up to outside of work? Any quirks or hobbies to tell us about?
Michael> If this advertising thing doesn’t work out, Gabriel and I see a clear opportunity to become the next Siegfried & Roy.
Gabriel> Only with better hair. Thanks, Michael.