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Influx interview- deacon webster-walrus

August 19, 2007

Ad agencies are always on the hunt to do more for their clients.  Often, the goal is to provide creative thinking that permeates the brand well beyond advertising.

Walrus is one agency that’s doing that with it’s new client, Radar magazine and creating quite a stir doing it. I fired some questions across to the agency’s founder and creative director, Deacon Webster, to find out more.

1. How did the relationship with Radar develop?

We actually sought them out. There was a lot of press around Radar when it launched and we were really taken with the mission of the magazine. In an interview Maer Roshan (the Editor-in-chief) was explaining how, in his estimation, the line between high and low brow in conversation had become completely blurred. People today segue between the war in Iraq and Britney Spears without missing a beat. He wanted Radar to fuel both halves of that conversation. It seemed like something completely fresh, so we contacted them. One thing that we really thought we could help with was house ads – those “Subscribe Now” messages you see in the back of the magazine that look like they were done by an Art Department intern two hours before it went to press. We felt there was a real opportunity to turn them into serial content that people looked forward to rather than throw-away filler. We presented a whole bunch of ideas and Maer basically said, “Great! We love these. Any chance you could help us with the cover?” Since then we’ve moved on to helping with other editorial content as well. For instance, we created a series of fake campaign buttons for an election piece they were running. People actually wrote in and wanted to buy them, which was pretty great.
2. Where you inspired by George Lois and the way he worked with Esquire?

He was an ad man, so he knew that a magazine cover is like a big billboard. It sits on a newsstand amidst a sea of other covers, and it essentially needs to talk you into buying it over everything around it, right then and there. He did an amazing job of creating big iconic images that stood out and pulled you in. The funny thing is, as famous as the work he did with Esquire became, very few publications are doing “conceptual” covers today, which is great for Radar.

3. What’s your favorite magazine of any era and why?

That’s a hard question, because I’m kind of a magazine junkie. Looking back, those that stand out over time are usually the ones that are pushing the envelope design-wise, so things like David Carson’s RayGun, Tibor Kalman-era Colors, some of the early Wireds and �migr� are some pretty obvious contenders. Certainly I loved Spy. Today, from a design perspective, it’s hard to deny New York magazine, Janet Froelich did some amazing things with the New York Times Magazine and Good is also really well designed by the guys at Open. Content, to me, is kind of a different thing because you’ve got your New Yorkers, Harper’s and Economists out there that have really amazing content, but from a layout perspective, they’re somewhat intimidating (and downright boring in the case of Harper’s). I know this is weird, but I’d actually include Cook’s Illustrated on my list. If you like to cook, it’s freaking impossible to put down.

4. A few other agencies have attempted to work with magazines, most recently Modernista with Business Week, any thoughts on these collaborations?

There are a lot of people in advertising that have been on the publishing side at one time or another and Gary Koepke, one of the founding partners at Modernista is one of them, I believe, so it makes sense. I think agencies can bring a lot to the table for magazines in terms of rethinking the way they communicate information, but it has to be the right type of collaboration. You  have to be really careful not to step on any toes. Magazines have floors full of editors, designers and art directors who, understandably, aren’t always excited to have another set of writers, designers and art directors come in and start changing things. In our case, we work with Radar largely as creative “advisors” – sometimes we’ll design an entire piece, sometimes we give them a concept for something and they make it their own. Since we have similar sensibilities, it works really well for us, but I wouldn’t say that this is the next big trend in publishing. There are too many egos. Somehow I can’t imagine Alex Bogusky sitting across the table from Anna Wintour pitching cover ideas. It’d be great, but I can’t see it.

5. Where did the Prince Harry inspiration come from?

Of course we always start with the story – in this instance they had a pretty juicy piece on Harry. We knew that we wanted something that contrasted the conservative, traditional notion of British Royalty with the frat boy behavior we were seeing from the prince. This was one of probably 20 that we presented and was inspired by the opening scene of The Queen, where Helen Mirren is having her portrait painted. It just as easily could’ve been Elizabeth I sitting there in that same chair, wearing the same jewels. It doesn’t get much more traditional than that.

6. What kind of coverage has the cover gotten?

It’s been causing a real stink over in England. We first caught wind of it via the Drudge Report (the man knows all) and realized that the British newswires were all picking it up and saying it was blasphemous etc. USA Today wrote about it online as did Huffington Post and New York Magazine. E! did a big piece on air. If you Google ‘Radar Prince Harry cover’, it’s amazing how much has been written about it. I got through the first 100 or so links and had to stop.

7. Any thoughts on other potential future covers

Sadly, I can’t talk about upcoming covers, but I will throw this out there: isn’t it about time somebody explored the obvious sexual tension between Michael Moore and Ann Coulter…


Posted by Ed Cotton

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