Bernie Pitzel – Creative in Residence at Jacobs Agency

For close to 30 years, Bernie Pitzel has created and directed award winning advertising for clients such as Gatorade, McDonald’s, Coors Light, Long John Silver’s, Corona Beer and HEAD Tennis, to name a few.

Bernie is best known for creating the “Be Like Mike” Gatorade campaign featuring Michael Jordan. The creation, pitching, production and results of Bernie’s campaign are featured in Darren Rovell’s recent book, First in Thirst.

Bernie began his advertising career in 1977 in Phoenix, AZ at Young & Rubicam. By 1979, he was in Chicago working for Leo Burnett.  Since then, he has created emotionally resonant advertising for Foote Cone & Belding, Bozell and Bayer Bess Vanderwarker. He started his own agency, Romani Bros, in 2003.

Bernie is currently Creative in Residence with Jacobs Agency, where he is using his talents to help the agency deliver on the promise of its new branding effort. By becoming the strategic partner that helps clients untangle business problems, Jacobs Agency helps clients successfully navigate today’s complex marketing and communications landscape using “Through the Lines” engagement and an objectives-based approach.

Besides writing advertising, Bernie directs television commercials and does voice-overs. He lives with his wife, art gallery owner Lisa Nordstrom in Oak Park, IL. He has 3 sons, a website producer for Deutsch-LA, an actor in L.A. and a jazz guitarist in New Orleans.

What are you working on right now?

A web video for a new client.

Where did the idea for the web video come from?

The strategy, as always. I’m a stickler for a smart strategy because irrelevant ideas make for irrelevant communication. And there’s already plenty of that in our day-to-day lives.

What does your typical day look like?

If you have a typical day, you’re either not in advertising or not typical.

How do you bring ideas to life?

That totally depends on the idea, who the idea is for and where that idea will connect best.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Trends never excite me. Making an emotional connection always does.  The quickest way to look dated is to follow trends. That has never been truer than now. Trends are over as soon as they are defined as trends.  Emotional connections last forever and never go out of style.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

The worst job I had was working the graveyard shift as a cashier at a 7-Eleven. If someone wants to steal something at 3:30 AM, let them.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

Not a thing. I have no regrets. And I’m certainly glad I’m a writer.  Basically the only thing that has changed for writers is that we no longer need Wite-Out. But for art directors–yikes!

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Stay curious.

What’s one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our community?

I‘ve always been intrigued by creating an agency in which it’s core asset and differentiator is based purely on listening.  The agency would just simply listen to the client’s goals, then listen to the consumer’s needs and blend all that listening into the appropriate action. No hidden agendas. No pushing the trend du jour or tried and true; just listening. Sounds pretty radical.  Actually sounds like what we’re striving to do here.

Tell us a secret.

After I explained to him what we were going to try to accomplish that day, the first question Michael Jordan asked me on the “Be Like Mike” shoot was,”Who’s the blonde in the white tank top?” I’ll answer that question during my next interview.

What are your three favorite online tools and what do you love about them?

  • Google. No explanation needed.
  • Funny or Die. Great how-to on viral videos.
  • Spotify.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. If you continually doubt your instincts and insights, stop. Bonus book: Marley & Me by John Grogan, just to see if you are actually human.

What’s on your playlist?

Imelda May, Amy Winehouse, Van Morrison, Clapton, Corrine Bailey Rae, Adele, Stevie Wonder, Bruno Mars, Springsteen, Tom Waits, Massive Attack, Dylan and Gaga.

If you weren’t working on a web video, what would you be doing?

Wondering how I could make it better.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

  • Vinny Warren:  You just never know what you’re gonna get.
  • Lee Clow’s Beard: Timeless fortune cookie wisdom for ad types.
  • Funny or Die: See online tools.

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

Twenty seconds ago when you asked me to tell you a secret.

Who is your hero?

My wife. Spectacularly amazing woman. I am so not worthy.


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