Robert Carducci is a seasoned and in-demand advertising creative director who has won nearly every major industry award during the course of his career. He has worked in advertising agencies the world over, from New York to Los Angeles to Amsterdam. A former instructor at the School of Visual Arts, Robert Carducci is also passionate about doing work that contributes to the greater good whenever possible. This passion is perhaps best captured in the public service announcement he crafted for States United to Prevent Gun Violence, a spot that MSNBC hailed as “the best gun control commercial ever.” In his spare time, Robert Carducci avidly consumes news and collects vintage guitars.
Where did the idea for your career come from?
As a kid, I found that I had a proclivity for art and design, as well as having a persuasive way with words. After high school, the advertising industry just seemed like a logical place to try to make a living. As it turned out, I was pretty good at it and accomplished much more than simply making a living. Now, looking back, I can’t really imagine doing anything else professionally.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I’m a freelancer, so that means each of my days are a little bit different depending on what agency is employing me and what project I’m working on. There are some consistent features, though. I wake up pretty early and have a few cups of coffee while watching the news in order to get myself started. No matter what I’m working on, I try to get some meaningful exercise in, too. Beyond that, I could be at home conducting research and crafting copy, or I could be flying to a different city in order to meet with clients or a new employer. Of course, since the onset of the pandemic, I try not to fly whenever possible. Like the rest of the country, a lot of my meetings are now online. I often get signed to contracts for longer periods of time, so I might work on a single project for a few straight months.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Once I sign on to a project, I’m committed to giving it everything I’ve got. That means sitting down and deeply analyzing the product or service to which I’ve been assigned and trying to find its essence; it’s raison d’être. Only once I’ve located that, I can start working on an effective campaign. So, it’s kind of the crux of my whole process. Tag lines, scripts, storyboards, photo shoots—these are all relatively easy to devise and arrange. Capturing the essence of a thing, the spirit of a thing, is the really tricky part. It’s something that not just anyone can do effectively.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Minimalism is making something of a resurgence in advertising. I really like that development. There were a few years recently where the trend was just the opposite—making everything as loud and busy with as many colors and quick cuts as possible. Those were dark days. I’m glad the pendulum is swinging around to the other side finally.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I make a habit of taking a few moments out of every day to simply sit in silence. I find it to be a great palette cleanser. It really helps to take the edge off the stresses of the day and center me. After ten or twenty minutes of complete silence, I’ll resume my daily tasks rejuvenated and full of energy. I think it increases my productivity significantly.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell my younger self to listen to himself more. As a young professional, I was often susceptible to the judgment of others. They would tell me to change this or that about a certain advertising campaign, and more often than not, I’d listen to them. Little did I realize that, with a handful of exceptions, my own judgment was better than theirs. I’m not trying to malign anyone—I think in many cases they were genuinely trying to help me—but they ended up pointing me in the wrong direction. As time passed, I learned to take the others’ opinions of my work with a giant grain of salt.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Honestly, I can’t think of anything right now.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
It may sound cliché, but you’ve got to put yourself out there and network. As a freelancer, that’s how I land the bulk of my projects. The advertising world largely revolves around making professional connections, so I make sure that when I’m employed with a new agency I get to know as many people as I can. I attend parties and functions so that I can mingle with everybody. I go to those birthday celebrations in the break room and eat the cake, I attend any extra-curricular activities I’m invited to, I make small talk in the elevators, and all that networking adds up over time. I don’t know if I could put a dollar value on it, but if I had to guess, I think it would be pretty high.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
First and foremost, I make sure that I do quality work. Advertising is a competitive business, and there are people out there that try to base their careers on Machiavellian schemes and riding the prevailing winds of office politics, but that whole way of life is empty and, I think, largely self-defeating. To me, the work has to be everything. It has to speak for itself.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I’ll refer back to one of my other answers. Early in my career, I gave a little too much weight to an opinion a co-worker had about one of my projects. I heeded their advice even though it went against what my own gut was telling me. In the end, although the campaign wasn’t a flop, it wasn’t as successful as it might have been had I stayed true to my original vision. How did I overcome this problem? I learned how to value my own insights properly. Which is not to say that I don’t listen to outside input; I just no longer prioritize it over my own ideas and experience.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I’ve always thought that creating an app to source what nearby local store has the freshest food—produce and meat primarily—was a good idea. Someone could get really detailed with it and add other information, too, such as whether or not the food source is organic or vegan-friendly or gluten-free. Somebody could do all kinds of good stuff with that idea.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I recently bought a second-hand leather jacket for a little bit under $100. I really liked the look of it. So, I tried it on and it fit me really well. It was an impulse buy, but one I’m really happy with. It was worth the money, without question.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Considering my line of work, Photoshop is indispensable. I use it for mock-ups and client presentations. As far as video editing goes, I use iMovie.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I would recommend Crystallizing Public Opinion by Edward Bernays. It is one of the foundational works of the man who pretty much single-handedly invented modern advertising. It taught me an awful lot, and its lessons are not merely limited to the advertising world.
What is your favorite quote?
“Make it simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.” — Leo Burnett
- Do quality work. There is no substitute or work-around for that.
- Value your own ideas and experience properly. If others have different ideas, take them into account, but don’t prioritize them over your own.
- Networking and positive word-of-mouth will find you your next job faster than any other method.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.