Marketing Insider Matt Smith

For this edition of Bouvier Kelly Q&A, we’re talking with our Creative Director, Phillip Yeary. In addition to overseeing our Creative Department, Phillip is also just a cool guy. We discussed everything from his experience in the marketing industry and trending topics to his upbringing in rural Virginia and his favorite musical artists.


BKI: Where did you grow up?

Phillip: I grew up in the mountains of Virginia. A little coal mining town in Coeburn, Virginia.

BKI: So growing up in the foothills of Appalachia, how do you think that has impacted your life?

Phillip: I lived there until I was a teenager. That’s a good question. You know, I had a small-town mentality, kind of underdog/challenger type sort of baked into my psyche. It was small, less than 2000 people. So you kinda know everybody. Everybody’s families have been there for generations. 

BKI: So was your family in the coal mining industry?

Phillip: Well, not my immediate family, but yeah, my mom’s dad was a coal miner and some uncles.

BKI: How did you end up in Greensboro?

Phillip: There was a big coal strike in the eighties, and the economy was just dead and my mom packed her bags and said she was taking the kids. And yeah, my dad showed up about two weeks later.

BKI:  Do you recall much of the coal strike and that situation?

Phillip: I remember as a kid, it was people like mine in the streets of, uh, these little towns throwing out these little spiked nails that have been welded together like this, covering the roads so the trucks couldn’t go. You know, whatever national news channels, all of a sudden they were in this little town. It was bizarre.

BKI: What was it like growing up surrounded by that?

Phillip: I had no idea, really what was going on. From an economic standpoint, I had no idea that it was as severe and impacting the entire country.

BKI: Can you tell me a little about your family now?

Phillip: I have two boys, both about to age up. Both October birthdays, 12 and 14, six and eighth grade, middle schoolers. Good kids. Sports. My wife’s name is Jill. She’s an interior designer, so we’re both in the creative industry.

BKI: Is that how you guys met?

Phillip: We actually attended the same high school. We had similar friends, you know, same or overlapping circles of friends, probably more like it. We knew each other then, but we started dating later on in college.

BKI: What are some of your main hobbies?

Phillip: I love golf, tennis, art, just being outside, spending time with family. Those are really my hobbies outside of work.

BKI: What did you want to be growing up?

Phillip: As a kid, we fished a lot. And so I just wanted to be a fisherman. I don’t know some weird dream, but now I can’t stand to fish. Really very boring. Too static, but I loved it. Loved it immensely growing up and did it all the time. I mean, Not much to do. Hanging out in the woods and playing. We spent a lot of time dipping lines in the water somewhere. But early on, I could always draw pretty well, so art was always a potential career path.

BKI: Was that something you initially started out doing in college?

Phillip: Yeah doing fine art and design, and that just shifted from fine art to more commercial art design.

BKI: So what made you shift from fine art to more commercial?

Phillip: Realizing I didn’t have the chops to be a fine artist. It’s interesting, just like anything you might be pretty good in a small pool of people, and then you get to college where everybody is equally talented or more talented. I realized I really didn’t have the discipline and the skillset really to pursue it. This design was a little bit more attainable.

BKI: And how’d you get your start in the industry?

Phillip: An internship. I worked at a company that was called DQ. It was an in-house agency for Cone Mills, one of the textile companies here in town.

BKI: What are some of your favorite aspects of the job?

Phillip: Just having to be creative all the time. Having to come up with ideas. Idea generation. I love that. I love just keeping up trend-wise, with what’s going on, with what’s happening. And I guess I love the idea of art and business overlapping. I enjoy learning about different types of businesses, obscure types of businesses or products. Things that exist that you don’t know about unless you’re involved in that specific industry, you’d never even know it now it’s there. And so learning about that, I really enjoy that. I love meeting people that are involved with those types of companies. Fulfillment wise, why I enjoy this type of job is it is very service-oriented.  You feel like you’re helping. You know, oftentimes it’s you know a person, or you might know the owner of a company, or it’s a marketing department. You feel like you’re really making their reality a little easier, helping them achieve whatever success they’re chasing.

BKI: You mentioned keeping up with trends is one of your favorite aspects, but what are some trends that you’ve noticed that you think will remain integral to your position going forward?

Phillip: That’s a difficult question. The power of a brand and its image and voice kind of transcends whatever technology is out there, whatever medium it may get displayed in.

There are brands that are not just about their product. That sort of represents a higher ideal. I think you see brands that are attached to bigger causes. Patagonia, Nike. Brands like that. 

Yes, they make wonderful, great, innovative products, but it’s also this idea that it’s just part of the culture we live in. And you see smaller brands trying to emulate that kind of stuff all the time.

From a marketing perspective, how can you help a brand do that with smaller-scale budgets? These other companies, they can throw millions and millions of dollars at it, and you know, we’re trying to figure it out on a shoestring. That’s what I’ve noticed on a subconscious level. It’s funny you ask a question and that really is what it kind of all points towards. Brands that have similar stances that you feel comfortable wearing their logo.

BKI: Do you think a brand can authentically do take a stance on an issue? Do you think the brands really care about the message they’re promoting or do they do it because they see this growing trend that people want them to take these stances?

Phillip: I mean, it’s probably both. Like anything when it first initiates, there’s probably a purity to it.

BKI: Having been in this industry for quite some time, what are some aspects of the job has changed pretty dramatically?

Phillip: Consolidation. There used to be just bigger teams, multiple art directors working on the same project. That still happens at larger agencies. Just with an agency of our scale, your responsibilities range and vary. Exploration a lot of times falls on one person to look at it from three different perspectives; to make sure we have something presentable.

BKI: Why do you think that is?

Phillip: Money. Budgets. When I first started in 2000. The year 2000—it was the future. That was kind of like the end of where marketing and advertising campaigns had these giant budgets.

So, 9/11 happened, the whole economy just went south big time, so companies were very cautious when they started spending money again. 

Whenever their markets kind of started opening back up, they tightened up, and of course agencies had to tighten up. That just meant people got laid off. So there were fewer people still doing seemingly the same amount of work. Everybody had to like up their hustle. Every industry is like that, right? Time goes by and you figure out, “Well trim the fat.” You become leaner,  more productive. That’s well and good, but long-term, it kind of squashes collaboration. But yeah, it was just different. 

That’s ultimately what it was: the size of budgets got smaller and smaller. Teams just got smaller. Your relationships with clients maybe improved though, because then you’ve actually built a relationship with the person responsible for the budgets for whatever work was being created, whereas before there was this hierarchy. All these layers of people and processes before you got the work. So it was filtered. The information you got was filtered. But you know, in a lot of ways it was probably filtered in a good way, right? Yeah. Cause you get more and more people looking at it and letting you know, “Here’s the real focus. Here’s what it really needs to work.” Versus just sitting right across the table, talking to the owner of some big company, and he or she is saying they want to do this. So you just start spitballing it. Sometimes strategy can get a little weaker that way. 

That’s just my experience. You know, the agencies I worked at before, you would never need a team. And so you work as hard as you could on something and your idea may be pretty good, but the person in the little cube next to you, um, they’re working just as hard, harder, maybe not as hard. And they come up with ideas that are better or weaker or stronger. There was collaboration. There was competition within the agency. If you look around, you don’t have that here. I don’t know if that ultimately leads to the best work. I guess we all have pretty defined roles. You start thumbing through some of this stuff and you know, you look at some of this work and why is it so good? Is it because it’s just a small, tight team of brilliant, smart, strategic, people working on it? Or is it, you know, ‘cause it’s coming from the bigger agencies where the team is competitive. The talent pool is just always kind of being churned.

BKI: Getting over to some less serious questions. What are your favorite movies or TV shows?

Phillip: I’m a sci-fi kind of person. So I love those types of movies. It’d be hard for me to pick out a favorite movie. I also love comedy. Big Lebowski is probably one of my all-time favorites. I love all the Coen Brother stuff anyway. Back to the Future is one of my favorite movies. Let’s see. I mean, I was a kid in the eighties. Yeah. So Star Wars was just kind of part of my childhood.

So I loved that. I also liked things like The Matrix. I don’t know, I probably read more than I watch. Sci-fi short stories, stuff like that.

BKI: Who are some of your favorite authors?

Phillip: Asimov. I just comb the the internet for short stories. I don’t even know who I’m reading half the time.

BKI: Do you prefer shows to movies?

Phillip: Probably movies. The episodic show, they just suck you in. And next thing you know, you’re up ‘til the wee hours of the night. And then, you know, you’re doing it again the next night. So I can’t wait to watch the next episode. I like it, but at the same time, hate it. I get mad at myself. I should invest that time, playing guitar, piano, learning something. I should be painting. I should be drawing. Yeah. But I know it’s I like to think of it as like reading without the effort, you know? Man, it’s just so different. I mean, my kids are old now, but it’s like there’s no time. It’s like all your time, free time as a parent is not there. Or your free time is at 10 o’clock at night; from 10 till when you go to sleep. Not a lot you can do.

BKI: You mentioned you played guitar and piano?

Phillip: I’ve been playing guitar since I was 15, and I just started playing piano this year.

BKI: Wow, are you taking lessons?

Phillip:  No, I use just YouTube, or mostly transposing what I know from the guitar, trying to figure it out. I’m not very good, but somebody gave my wife a piano, brought it home, tuned it up, and I mess around with that.

BKI:  Who are some of your favorite musical artists?

Phillip: I like lots of different genres. Rock-wise, I’m a big Red Hot Chili Peppers fan. Their guitarist is one of my favorite guitarists, John Frusciante. I mean, I’m kind of a student of music. I’m a big Beatles fan. Beach Boys. Rolling stones, all that kind of classic rock and pop. I love all that. Love all the heavy seventies. Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, that sort of stuff. I was a teenager during the grunge era, right?

I’m sure all generations you look at what’s going on and what’s popular now and think, “Nah, music used to be way better.” I think if you listen to the right kind of stuff, every genre, there are people doing it that have soul. People who truly have talent and put their heart into it, you know, the product is usually something that has a certain character to it.

BKI: And if you could eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Phillip: Sushi.

BKI: If you could have dinner with anyone dead or alive, who would you choose?

Phillip: My mom.

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