The creative team at Planit is largely what you’d expect: a veritable menagerie of bold, artistic thinkers with big ideas, high standards, and an unrelenting fervor for snagging food leftover from client meetings. As a copywriter and editor, I’m lucky to be a part of that brood. But luckily, we’re not here to talk about me, because as a grammatical pedant and serial comma enthusiast, I’m not terribly interesting (unless you like existential literature and Ovidian bucolic poetry, which no one does).
Instead, I sat down with one of our art directors, Casey Engel. Casey is a cool customer, succumbing only very rarely to an item on his Miff List™. He’s known to spearhead amicable debates amongst the department, most of which skew food-centric. We once saw Brand New together, and it was a lot of fun. Here’s what he had to say.
Where are you from?
Catonsville. Baltimore. Maryland.
Did you go to college?
Yup. University of South Carolina.
How did you go from Catonsville, Baltimore-ish to South Carolina?
I was just looking to get out of state. So that’s what I did…I picked a bunch of colleges that had teams in the Top 25 on ESPN and big enough curriculums that I could have a wide choice of majors if I didn’t like what I started out in—which, I picked advertising.
Right off the bat?
Yeah. I just figured—I took Photoshop, InDesign courses in high school, and I figured it was close enough to that, but also one foot in the business world that there was some, like, legitimacy to it. Read as: money.
I never felt artsy enough to have just picked a graphic design major, which was in the art school. I just didn’t think I belonged in the art school, whereas advertising they actually had in the journalism school, not the business school. Marketing was the business school, but advertising was the J school.
J School. That’s awful.
I know, but it’s fewer syllables. Brevity. That’s one thing I learned: people appreciate brevity.
True. So you did advertising all the way through as an undergrad?
Yeah. Getting started, I actually, in one of my first writing classes I was like, “I’M GONNA BE A COPYWRITER.” ‘cause I thought I was a decent writer. I have a pretty solid grasp of like, the grammar and the rules of writing, but I don’t feel like I have that much creativity in my usage of ALL THE WORDS, aside from a really bad “dad joke” here and there. I just don’t know where you guys come up with it.
*laughs* Yeah, me neither.
What was your first advertising job out of school? What was your title?
I was hired at Havas as a production designer.
Did you find that once you were at Havas you started to gravitate more toward print or digital?
Definitely digital. And that was probably just a matter of the type of work it was. ‘Cause it was either like, mailer packages that you yourself throw away, or, in my case, I ended up doing the PlayStation newsletters for Sony PlayStation. So for like, three years, I did every single Sony PlayStation email that PlayStation network users got. I was like the one guy doing all the emails. So it was either that in the digital world, or like, diabetes mailers in the print world.
What drew you to Planit?
Well, I had kinda kept Planit in the back of my mind from my days of applying to jobs out of college as a leader in the Baltimore ad scene. And I was doing so much of the same work at Havas, that I didn’t really feel like I was learning anything. That was the big thing. I just wanted to learn more.
And have you found that at Planit?
Yeah, definitely. A lot of good opportunities. And it was mainly from coming into a team that had been constructed very selectively, yanno. It had a lot of different skill sets and backgrounds, who…I definitely came in feeling like, “I’m the least—it was like all my art school fears coming back. I’m the least talented person here, so get better.” I still can’t draw. Nobody taught me to draw. But definitely I’ve gotten influence from everybody else as far as being pushed to try new things…
…and becoming aware of new things that you can try.
Absolutely. Stuff you just had no idea was out there. That kind of motivation to try illustrations and different designs and work on things, and also having a boss who was supportive of like, yanno, taking those leaps on actual projects. That’s been good. I mean it’s definitely a supportive environment here if you want to try something. I think it also helps to have sometimes two or three concepts on a project, where we kinda collectively define our lanes, and you kind of then feel like you can try something and feel okay if you fail a little a little bit and you can rely on your teammates in that regard. Not that you phone it in, but you definitely feel empowered to try. At the end of the day, out of three concepts, only one of ‘em’s gonna win. Two people are gonna lose. So two people might as well try something.
What’s your favorite project you’ve worked on?
The Sony stuff was really cool because that was the first time of being thrust into a role of such responsibility. Where it was like, everything. Yanno, and I had direct client contact (with an account person), but the lines of client communication were open, so it helped to get a really mature attitude in handling the work and even at a young age feeling like a part of something that mattered, something consequential. Even though it was just direct mailers, and emails. A lot of people don’t even open emails, so the “open-rate conversations” were never fun, but then again, I don’t write the subject lines.
*Nicole guffaws for ~30 seconds*
But the coolest thing I ever worked on was the Meet Your Skin stuff.
Author’s note: Meet Your Skin was a multi-platform campaign done for Kleenex® Facial Cleansing. It featured dirt, oil, and makeup personified as characters living on the surface of your skin that fabric-based KFC products gently, yet effectively, removed in a way that water-based facial cleansers just can’t. It was, in a word, awesome.
That was again, just one of those things where we’re throwing out concepts and as long as it’s grounded in the brief and it makes sense, let’s try something crazy. It somehow just kept getting moved on and refined through all the rounds of revisions and everybody was looking at it like, “This is interesting, it makes sense, it’s really weird, but the client hasn’t said, ‘no’ yet…” and then it got to the point where the client said yes and it was really cool to just blow that out.
And that was all started with some illustrations—freehand, pretty much everything we did in the early stages was me drawing these scenes of people on the surface of your skin to help really explain to the client what this concept was going to look like, because we couldn’t find literally anything…
*interrupting* Weird, there was no stock for that?
*laughs* No! So yeah, it was all really relying on just practicing drawing, and getting the expressions right, and the actions right, and the wardrobe right, and all that sorta stuff into illustrations.
And how on earth did you come up with Meet Your Skin?
I think this kinda speaks to the type of creative I am, where it’s extremely rooted in the strategy and the brief, and the actual information that goes into that. We were looking at the brief, and I was reading product benefits and the way the product benefit was written about small fibers and tall fibers working together to lift off the dirt or something. Into my head popped a really tall person and a really short person dressed as fibers, like, high-fiving, and moving little bits of dirt around. And so it was just reading those words that were not creatively written at all.
So something strategic…
Yep. Its product benefits, like what we need people to understand and how do we show it to them in a creative way. That picture popped into my head, and I started laughing to myself in the middle of somebody else talking, just giggling to myself ridiculously thinking, “If I show this to somebody else and it gets nearly the laugh that I’m having, it might be something.” So it just kinda snowballed from there.
You mentioned your approach being rooted in strategy, but is there anything else you feel inspired by design-wise?
As far as your traditional concepting for campaign ideas or things like that, in college I had a professor who, when she was teaching us the creative process, her method when you had to—when there was a product, you take some time to just analyze it and go through what does it look like, what it is, what it isn’t, yanno different things like that where you’re very much just creating lists of metaphors and visuals so then you can equate them to other things you’ve experienced in the world.
So that’s always kind of been the basic process at the heart of how I creatively think about anything. The inspiration comes from just paying attention to anything—you have to be a sponge for culture, and a sponge for cool stuff you see.
I’m gonna switch gears, somewhat entirely. If you weren’t an art director, what would you be?
Something with finance. I love managing money.
Do you want to manage mine?
*unequivocally* Yes. Real quick—can I offer a different answer?
If I didn’t need to provide for myself and livelihood, I would just play golf all day. Because it’s insanely hard and I just wanna be good at it.
I’m sensing a recurring theme of identifying something you’re interested in and wanting to become as good as you possibly can at it.
If you were a professional athlete—perhaps a professional golfer—what would your walk out song be? Mine’s “Bring ‘Em Out” by T.I.
These are ones you need to think about! I need to get back to you on this!
*after much deliberation* Nothing makes me feel as good as “No Problem” by Chance the Rapper, ft. 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne.
Is a hot dog a sandwich?
Uh, yeah. *pause* Do you want to ask me why?
I’m afraid you’ll get mad if I ask why.
I won’t. I’ve agonized, but if a sub is short for submarine sandwich, and a sub is essentially the same cut of bread with meat inside of it, then how could a hot dog not be a sandwich? Hot dog’s a sandwich, reluctantly. I’ve been presented with an argument I can’t refute.
And there you have it! Special thanks to Casey for his time and to you, dear reader.