Crispin, Porter & (Bogusky). From punk rock to yacht rock.
The famous Crispin sweatshop cover on top is from an issue of Creativity Magazine in December of 2005 when they won agency of the year. The bottom photo isn’t famous, I don’t really know where it came from and I don’t necessarily even know who those people are. They look like perfectly nice, smart folks though.
In my very humble opinion, I think the 2005 photo features the greatest advertising creative department ever assembled under one roof. These guys (and yes, they’re all guys, we’ll get to that) absolutely crushed advertising for an entire decade. They went places no one else in the industry even thought they were allowed to go.
The stories about working there were legendary. It was a sweatshop and damn proud of it as you can see from the photo. They didn’t try to deny it. They leaned into it. They doubled down on it. They gave absolutely zero fucks about work/life balance. For them, and anyone who was good enough and willing to sign on, work was life.
As a fairly young creative when this was going on, and working for mainly larger more traditional agencies, I was insanely jealous of the work they were doing. I would have given anything to work there. At least that’s what I would say. To be completely honest, I didn’t have the guts. Back then, if you applied and were lucky enough to get a job offer, you could pretty much count on giving up any title you might have previously had and accepting a much lower salary than what you were currently making. I worked for a VP CD who snagged a Sr. Art Director role for about half his salary. He stayed there a year. Worked 24/7. Did some famous work and then left for an ECD gig that made him a wealthy man. I, on the other hand, stayed where I was. Had fun. Did my best. Went to a ton of concerts. And slept super late on the weekends. No regrets, but I should be transparent in saying that I’m still not an ECD nor a wealthy man.
But there’s much more to unpack here than my fear of hard work for low pay. The picture on the bottom has a lot better optics. You’ve got diversity. You’ve got women! Holy cow, how brilliant is that? And you’ve got some really good energy going on there. Plus, they’re all wearing black. Which is not only slimming but, like the rug in the Big Lebowski, it really ties the room together.
The only problem? They suck now. Well, suck is a strong word. But come on, in 2005 this was an agency that refused to participate in new business pitches or reviews. They didn’t do try-outs. And if you were a client and you weren’t happy with them you were more than welcome to take your business elsewhere. You’ve heard of having fuck you money? They had fuck you talent.
The Crispin of today is a much different agency. And if you want to work with them they will be more than happy to participate in your new business pitch. I bet if you’re a creative, you can even work there and have somewhat of a life now. That’s pretty great, right? And again, look at that bottom picture. Those people are go-getters. Especially the guy who’s crouching a little and looks like he’s about to run the 50-yard dash. That guy is definitely a team player brimming with positivity.
And while there is so much wrong with the photo from 2005, you can’t deny the enormous impact they had on advertising. No one since has even come close. And advertising has changed so much since these maniacs gleefully took their beatings and cheerfully asked for more, it’s possible no one ever will. It’s simply not the same game anymore.
Now I want to be damn clear. I want diversity in every industry. I want women in leadership positions. And I don’t believe agencies should be run like sweatshops. But (except for Jane Lynch in the middle who I think is hysterical) I don’t know who those people in the bottom picture are. I don’t know what accounts they even have anymore. And I sure as hell wouldn’t be willing to take a job there for half my salary. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe that’s progress. I like progress. I’m a progressive. But I love advertising. And I loved the work that Crispin did during its hey-day. Is it possible to find a middle ground? Honestly, to achieve the level of once in a generation greatness that these bros got to, sadly the answer is probably no. And if the late Joe Strummer had been a copywriter or an art director, I think he’d probably agree with me.