KMBA Interview: Stanley Yorker (aka Old School)

I've had the distinct honor of working with Mr. Yorker years ago at one of the most inventive shops I've ever worked for; nomenudum. The place was on fire. It was a dream job back in 2001 complete with funky loft, hip furnishing and brainy freaks who ate creative alive. Sitting next to Stanley daily at work is like sitting next to an advertising guru high on a mountain top. A place where you maybe came to seek knowledge with greedy ears and an unrequited heart. But your hungry little mind won't get the massive egotistical brain dumps you are normally burdened with from most people with more a few years in the business. No, this creative master is very economical with his words. Most often he's content to sit in complete silence as if the circus around him was less of a distraction and more of training ground for lesser gods. Oh, but when dude speaks... clarity follows. He has an encyclopedic recall of advertising and the discernment to wield it like a magician. Where most people with his knowledge would intimidate the newbies, this man can coddle with a word and edify with an idea. And like any true guru, his truth is still unfolding. As great as his work has been thus far, we have yet to see how his talent, skill and wisdom will help mold the future of advertising or whatever he bends it into next.

How did you discover advertising? 
I think advertising really discovered me more than vice-versa. From as far back as I can remember, I’ve always had a voracious appetite for pop-culture and media. I was my family’s TV Guide. When I went to college, I really didn’t know anything about the advertising industry and jobs within it beyond what I’d seen on “Bewitched”.

I was actually just a general mass communications major at Florida State University but when I transferred to the University of Florida, I chose advertising within the school of Journalism and Communications. At Florida, we would take trips to New York with professors who introduced us to the industry and then I began to study trade publications like Advertising Age and became a fan of it.

How is your ethnicity a source of inspiration or strength in your work?
Or is it just sort of a default setting that has little or no bearing.
We are products of our collective experiences and cultural inputs. It forms the prisms through which we view and process and I can’t think of any project in which my ethnicity has not had some significant impact on my work.

Tell us about the challenges of being in advertising. The biggest challenges were in observing the pretty much prevailing disparities between general market budgets and assignments versus African-American and/or multicultural assignments. Closely related to that was the constant pressure to justify African-American and multicultural spends to each successive regime of brand management with almost every client. For many clients, the hiring of a Black agency was as much about public relations as it was for any really real commitment to reaching these targets in any real or effective manner.

A great contemporary challenge is how to utilize the rapid changes and advances in technology in this new more egalitarian climate where the consumer now has, arguably, as much control over the conversation around a brand as the brand itself.

What aspect of advertising do you really love? The ideation and concept development phases. I love the inexact process of hashing out ideas and the sense of excitement when something new is stumbled upon. I don’t care if it comes from me or from someone else, but there is something magical in seeing the genesis of a great concept.

What's your dream job/project? I actually just had an opportunity to work on a dream project for Kodak. It involved taking an iconic brand that was fast losing relevancy because of technological innovations in its industry and find a way to quickly bring some heat back to it.

What made it really nice was that it was a general market assignment that intentionally targeted urban consumers as a way to reach and influence the broader market. Preliminary indications are that this strategic approach is working.

Can you discuss any specifics about the process of creating a few of the pieces you sent? The Kodak stuff was an unusual process in that I was working as a creative director directly for the client but had to work with their agency-of-record to conjointly develop and produce the creative. The agency’s chief creative officer and I were tied at the hip and I had approval/veto power in evaluating the work of multiple creative teams based on strength of concept and the work’s potential relevance to the target.

Any advice for neophytes? Be curious. Observe. Absorb everything. There’s no telling where what will spur a great idea, so just open your mind to learn about whatever catches your fancy. That’s one of the great things about this industry, you get to learn just enough to be dangerous about so many other industries.

The Kodak spots can be found at this link:
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