My career in 5 executions: Vann Graves

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From Mr. T to driving on Mars, FL+G's CEO and CCO practices creative alchemy

Name: Vann Graves
Title: CEO and CCO, FL+G
Years in ad industry: 20+
First job in ad industry: Creative Intern at BBDO

Vann Graves began his career under the tutelage of Phil Dusenberry at BBDO. He moved up quickly through the ranks before heading to McCann, McCann Worldgroup and then Fancy Rhino in Chattanooga. Earlier this year, Graves — remaining in Chattanooga after leaving Fancy Rhino — helped found full-service shop FL+G. In an unprecedented move, he let the ad industry at large choose the name of his new agency.

He says being a creative was simpler a decade or two ago, when good work alone could carry a career. Today, though, "you must be an alchemist," he says, "finding the right mix of storytelling, content, technology and relevance."

"It’s not just about the content you make, but how you connect the elements of your work. Every client is different, and each project needs to be approached in a personal way."

Here are the executions Graves says mean the most to him and his career.

Brand: M&Ms
Client: Masterfoods
Agency: BBDO
Work: "Groovy Summer"
Year: 2003

This was the first CGI project Graves worked on. "I quickly learned that technique doesn’t garner immediate results," he says. The process took some getting used to.

"On the stool sat a big mirrored ball that, through the magic of post-production, would become the cool and laid-back Green M&M," he says. "It was amazing to watch it all come together and to hear for the first time the magical yet sometimes horrible words, ‘We can fix it in post!’"

Brand: Motorola ROKR
Client: Motorola
Agency: BBDO
Work: "Phonebooth"
Year: 2005

This spot featured a large roster of musical megastars and was shot in under a week on two different continents. It was a crucible that "taught me the importance of collaboration, timing, logistics and great production," Graves says. He lauds producer Paul Feldman (who made a cameo as Beethoven.) "Now, like then, I know to rely on my producer," Graves says, "because a great creative idea executed poorly is a missed opportunity."

Brand: Mastercard Prepaid Debit Card
Client: Mastercard
Agency: McCann
Work: "Bodyguard"
Year: 2010

This multicultural spot was a big hit in the general market, too. But it was tougher sell behind the scenes. "Sometimes it is easier for clients and agencies to want do work that is less creative and fun and default to familiar approaches to multicultural work," Graves says. Getting innovative work approved can be "an uphill battle."

But he learned how to defend the work he believed in — a lesson he uses on every project now.

Brand: Torch
Client: Torch
Agency: Fancy Rhino
Work: "Remember When?"
Year: 2015

During his time at Fancy Rhino, Graves worked with the tech startup Torch to launch its new brand. "Creating everything from the messaging, to the logo, to the content was amazing," he says. "With startups, you are not just building a brand but working with the founders and innovators to create the brand."

He also learned to stay flexible during the project. "Everything has the potential to change on a minute-by-minute basis," he says. When he started his new agency, FL+G, Torch followed him, becoming the agency’s only launch client. 

Brand: Lockheed Martin
Client: Lockheed Martin
Agency: McCann
Work: "Field Trip To Mars"
Year: 2016

Graves had long since left McCann by the time this work came out, but such is the pace at which highly technical work sometimes gets made.

Lockheed’s acclaimed virtual field trip was only possible because the creative team took a risk with the pitch, and the client saw its value. "It reminded me that creatively we have an obligation to be more than a vendor to clients," Graves says, "but a true creative partner."

That kind of partnership fosters open dialogue and greater creativity, Graves says. In this case, it resulted in "an entirely new technology platform."


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