Rob Bloom, Creative Director, Universal Orlando Resort
With a career working in top advertising agencies, Bigeye’s podcast guest this week is Rob Bloom, Creative Director at Universal Orlando Resort.
IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: Bigeye’s podcast features Rob Bloom. Building on his career working in top advertising agencies, Rob has made the move to an in-house role as Creative Director at Universal Orlando Resort. Rob discusses how the pandemic has impacted his team’s creative work and how they are navigating working from home. Rob explains his personal career journey, where he finds inspiration, and gives practical advice for anyone interested in pursuing a career in advertising.
Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full -service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us for the first episode of our fifth season. Universal Orlando Resort, which is owned by cable giant Comcast Corporation, typically welcomes around 20 million visitors combined to its Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure theme parks, and its Volcano Bay water park. I’m very excited to kick off this new season of IN CLEAR FOCUS with Rob Bloom, Creative Director at Universal Orlando Resort. Rob’s advertising agency resume is both extensive and impressive. Rob has worked with many household name clients, including the American Diabetes Association, AT&T, Baskin-Robbins, Cinnabon, CNN, Comcast, Dunkin’, Hanes, The Home Depot, Merlin Entertainment, NAPA Auto Parts, Nemours Children’s Health System, Pulte Homes Toyota, Verizon, the US Virgin islands, Yamaha, and the YMCA. Rob has worked at agencies in Philadelphia, Atlanta, and here in Orlando. Welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS, Rob!
Rob Bloom: Thank you, Adrian. Thanks for having me.
Adrian Tennant: So first of all, Rob, can you tell us what your role as Creative Director at Universal Orlando Resort entails?
Rob Bloom: Sure. So there’s actually a couple of different creative directors as part of the team and each one has a different focus. My primary focus is really in terms of producing engaging content.
Adrian Tennant: Now we’re going to talk about your advertising agency career in a moment, but I’m curious – was Universal a company that you were always interested in. What led you to the role that you’re in now?
Rob Bloom: I’ve always been fascinated by theme parks. So I grew up in Orlando and, you know, we had annual passes to Disney for years. And then when Universal came to town in the late eighties, early nineties, you know, we went to Universal all the time and I was always so fascinated by the worlds of the theme parks and how they were able to create immersive experiences. And I mean, even as a kid and as a teenager, I mean, I loved the rides. I loved the attractions, I loved the shows, but I loved just walking around and being a part of the Disney and Universal landscapes. I just found it fascinating. I actually spent many years trying to make inroads at both Disney and Universal and it felt like, you know, like almost trying to break into, an impenetrable fortress. So, there’s only so many positions and, there’s very few openings, you know, cause people, people tend to get there and people tend to stay. At some point actually it became something where I thought, “You know what, this may happen. This may not happen, but if it does, it would be wonderful because it is a dream.” And then I don’t know, the stars kind of aligned and everything fell into place.
Adrian Tennant: Well, you’ve been a Universal Orlando Resort about a year now which means that for half of that time, COVID-19 has been a concern. How has the pandemic impacted the kind of creative work – and maybe the volume – that you’ve been managing?
Rob Bloom: I am so proud of not only our team, but the larger marketing group and the larger Universal organization itself, because they’ve done a really, really great job of taking care of us during the pandemic in many ways, but in one way specifically, you know, making sure that everyone is equipped to work at home and to be productive at home. That’s definitely not an easy task when you’ve got however many thousands of team members. For a good chunk of the time that we’ve been home, particularly towards the beginning, you know, we were full speed on producing work for Halloween Horror Nights 30, which was going to be the anniversary year. You know, obviously that event’s not happening this year due to the pandemic. But I mean, I’m incredibly proud that for many, many months, you know, we were able to have ideation sessions and tissue sessions and brainstorms and pitching work and tweaking work and back and forth. I mean all the way up to the actual production and pre-pro meetings and the production and the post production of all of the HHN creative, which had to happen remotely.
Adrian Tennant: We don’t know how long the coronavirus will be with us, but do you have any predictions for which behaviors picked up as a result of COVID will stick in a post-pandemic world?
Rob Bloom: I think communication has definitely become more efficient in some ways, you know, we’ve had some challenges like, if you have a question you can’t just walk over to someone’s desk and ask them a quick question or you want to have a brainstorm session, you can’t just have some impromptu idea meeting. So, there’s been some challenges like that that have required, maybe a little more planning, maybe a little more scheduling of meetings or video meetings or whatever. But I think it’s helped make communication more efficient because people realize, you know, “Look, if we’re going to be gathering four or five people together into a meeting and trying to juggle those schedules, you know, we need to make the most of the meeting.” So I just think all of these little hurdles that we’re constantly learning and adapting to are going to just help improve efficiency after the virus is over.
Adrian Tennant: Now Rob, you started your advertising agency experience as a copywriter in Atlanta and progressed to senior copywriter, associate creative director, and of course immediately prior to your position at Universal, you were both Creative Director and VP with an agency here in Orlando. Can you tell us a little bit about your career journey and what you learned along the way?
Rob Bloom: My career journey was definitely not what I expected, I would say. I majored in advertising in college and, I think that I was under the mindset of, like the moment you leave college and you get your degree that there’s going to be all these agencies just standing on the corner, they’re gonna be offering you jobs and everyone’s going to have a job for you. And I got out and, after having done internships over the summer, and having made a good amount of agency contacts and then I got out and was faced with the reality of, you know, it’s hard to find a job when one, there aren’t that many jobs and two, at that time it seemed like people didn’t want to hire someone who really didn’t have any, practical experience, any real world experience, so to speak. So, I mean, I had this kind of Cinderella idea in my head, you know, that everything was just going to be a glorious fairytale and it was rough, you know? So I was able to find a job as an assistant account executive at an advertising agency in Atlanta. This is kind of dating myself, but they specialized in advertising for the Yellow Pages, you know, phone books. This is in the late nineties. So they had this massive room in this agency. I mean, almost like, I don’t know, half a football field, maybe a little bit bigger. And it was just filled like ceiling to floor with just racks of, Yellow Pages. And they had a copy of the Yellow Pages for every region in the country. So I had, I don’t know, two or three different clients that I was assisting with. And my primary responsibility was to go into this big room with the stacks of the Yellow Pages. And I would have to find my client’s ad in the previous edition of the Yellow Pages phone book. And I would take down the book from the rack and I would make a photocopy of it. And then I would fax it over to the client along with a note, basically asking them if they wanted to keep their Yellow Page ad that they had the previous year or in the previous edition and then make any changes to it. So I spent most of my time in this back gigantic room. And I never even saw anybody else in there like, this is the only person I ever saw in there. I didn’t know, like a practical joke or something, but so, I was getting down the phone book and make a copy of it, then I would fax them. And then I would wait for some feedback about if they wanted any changes on their Yellow Pages ad. and I did that. It was awful. It was absolutely awful. I did that six months to the day. And I was able just really through persistence and just trying to get somebody to give me a chance, I was able to get a job as a junior copywriter at an ad agency in Atlanta, with a really, really wonderful creative director named Ben who I’m great friends with to this day. Came to my wedding. I talk to him every couple of weeks just a great guy. He was a copywriter and he gave me a chance, you know, when he really had no reason to. And it was incredible because he gave me opportunities to really learn and grow. And, before I knew it, I was actually writing copy that was getting used and I was doing radio scripts and casting the talent and helping to produce the spots. And, all of these little things that I was being exposed to just really gave me the opportunity to do a lot of different things. And so I guess to go back to your first question about, you know, what did I learn along the way? I think from the first job, you know, I learned that even when things really, really suck that kind of hang in there because everything is only for now. There’s always something else that’s coming. And I think the second thing when I got a job as a copywriter, I learned to embrace every opportunity and to be grateful for it. I was so happy to have a job at a real agency and I was so happy and grateful to be actually having a job as a copywriter and so grateful to actually be creating work and so grateful to have a mentor who would, who would take time out of his busy schedule to sit with me and to talk about my copy and to talk about my thinking. I mean, I was just, I was just very grateful for each of these little experiences. And I think it’s important to maintain that. And I’d like to think that I’ve carried that through into different opportunities, because you mentioned a lot of jobs and clients at the beginning and different titles, and I think it’s important, you know, that regardless of how long you’ve been doing it or what your title is, I think it’s important, you know, to never lose the gratitude, for whatever position you have or whatever client you’re working with. Because at the end of the day, you have the ability to make a living by being creative or by being in a creative field. that’s a gift and it’s a joy and it is something not to lose sight of.
Adrian Tennant: Now, Rob, you’ve worked within large holding company agencies, as well as smaller, independent ones. What do you see as the advantages of working in larger agencies versus smaller independents – and vice versa?
Rob Bloom: You know, I think they both have their pros and cons as does everything. And I think it’s really a personal preference. I think with large holding companies, you know, I mean, just to speak really practically, they’re in a position where they’re able to offer things maybe like less expensive health insurance or benefits, you know, or, you know, I once worked for a Publicis agency, you know, and,
just again, speaking practically, I mean the amount of vacation days and official agency holidays was, just unbelievable, you know, and, you know, are international holding companies and they’re just able to offer things that smaller agencies are not, or that independent agencies are not. On the flip side, smaller, independent agencies, you know, because they’re smaller, you tend to be able to make more of an impact. You may not be viewed as a number, you know, you’re able to make more of a personal contribution, which is something that I always found very appealing too.
Adrian Tennant: You’ve made the move from the so-called agency side over to the client side. In what kinds of ways, if any, have you found in-house processes differ from agencies?
Rob Bloom: So I think there’s a lot of similarities between in-house and agencies. You know, I mean, at the end of the day, the goal is obviously still the same. The goal is to produce creative work that is going to get attention that is going to get results that is going to drive some kind of action. In some agencies, I think people have to wear more than one hat. Like if you’re talking about a smaller agency, perhaps, you know, there may be someone who is a project manager or doing traffic, but then maybe on occasion, you know, they’re also serving as a producer to get quotes on something or estimates on a broadcast spot, or maybe actually even trafficking that spot. Whereas in an in-house environment, you know, it tends to be, maybe more clearly defined roles. And people having the luxury of being able to specialize, you know, in, in their specialty. And, being able to focus on that.
Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message.
Dana Cassell: I’m Dana Cassell, Bigeye’s Senior Strategist. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as marketing professionals, often inspired by data points reported in consumer research studies. At Bigeye, we put audiences first. For every engagement, through our own research, we develop a deep understanding of our client’s prospects and customers – analyzing their attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. We distill this data into actionable insights to inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – with strategic, cost-efficient media placements. If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. We’re talking to Rob Bloom, Creative Director at Universal Orlando Resort. In advertising agencies is typically the case that Creative Directors have either a background in art direction or copywriting yours is copywriting. How, if at all, do you think a background in either discipline influences Creative Directors’ approach to the work?
Rob Bloom: So I’ve worked with a lot of great Creative Directors. I’ve worked with some who have a copywriting background. I’ve worked with some who are Art Directors. I’ve worked with some who are hybrids, you know, who, who actually are both amazing Copywriters and Art Directors. And that makes me mad because I’m jealous of them for being so talented. I do think there’s a misconception, you know, that only an Art Director is able to look at something and recognize great design. And I think there’s a misconception that, you know, only a Copywriter is able to string words together and create some kind of poetry. I really don’t believe in that. And I’ve worked with Art Directors who are great Copywriters, you know, and, you know, I’ve been an Art Director in Copywriter teams where I’ve been struggling to come up with a headline and my Art Director partner just kind of spit something out and I’m like, “that’s way better than anything that I’ve had, you know? And at the same time, there’s been those instances where I’m with my Art Director partner and, you know, he may be struggling with the art direction on something. And I look at it and say, “Hey, how about if we do this, this, and this?” And it’s like, “Oh, I didn’t think of that.” So, I can’t physically go into Illustrator say, and, arrange the pixels to do that magic and to make it look beautiful, but I can speak to elements of great art direction and great design. I think that especially, as advertising and creative evolves, you know, I think it’s important, for a quote unquote Art Director, to be able to know what is a good headline or what isn’t, or have the confidence to say, “Hey, how about if we say this? And on the flip side, I think it’s important for a Copywriter to be able to, to have opinions on art direction and not just think of their function as “I’m going to write the words. And then I’m going to email over this Word document. And the Art Director will just make it look pretty. I think it’s important for the two disciplines to really be thought of together and for teams to be working together and have to create that harmony.
Adrian Tennant: Well, my experience has been that Copywriters are also naturally curious about people and the world in general so make great partners when it comes to leveraging consumer insights. Now in larger agencies, strategists, or account planners typically write the Creative Briefs, but in smaller agencies, that’s not always the case. What do you want to see included in a brief, what are the key elements or ingredients that someone writing a brief needs to include to inspire you?
Rob Bloom: That is such a great question. And my gosh, this is an ongoing conversation that I have with a good friend of mine who’s also probably one of the best, brief writers I’ve ever met and I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. But I think writing a brief is the toughest thing that happens in any creative environment. I mean, I think it’s tougher than coming up with the idea. I think it’s tougher than being on production. I think it’s really hard because the brief writer, whoever it is, you know, strategist, account planner, brand strategist, it’s very, very hard. And, you know, essentially everything in a brief comes down to the single-minded proposition. So now you’re asking someone who is writing this brief to take all of the research and all of the data and all of the background, and summarize that into a sentence, maybe two, but a sentence that will not only provide this amazing insight that will hopefully lead to inspired work, but to make it inspiring that it’s going to inspire the creative team. And I think, like I said, that is the hardest thing. We have a process now at Universal, it’s a “Creative Brief Lab.” It’s about once a week and we have individuals come in from different disciplines and they bring briefs that they are working on real briefs for real projects. And there’s about four people involved who hear the brief as it is so far and present to them. And then we have a very, very candid conversation about how to make that brief better. And it’s basically poking all the holes in it. It’s basically looking at it from every angle inside and out and finding ways to really hone in again, on that single minded proposition. What is it? And, you know, we need to be honest with ourselves, like, are we really crafting something here that is original, that sounds original? Or are we just kind of regurgitating stuff that we’ve used before? Um, which I think is a very easy and natural and sensible trap that people fall into because it’s hard to do. I’ve worked at agencies before, you know, and I worked on a lot of CPG products. And I swear for like two years, every single brief we got the single-minded proposition was exactly the same thing, just literally copied and paste, and I say that not as a criticism, but I think as a point that it’s hard, you know, it is really, really hard to come up with an insight that’s true, that is baked in strategy, and then to take that insight and again, crack that single-minded proposition, that’s going to influence the whole work that everything should ladder back to. I think a great brief should also be brief. I’ve seen briefs that are half a page and I’ve seen briefs that are five pages. You need something that sums it up and that’s going to drive action the same way that an ad does, the same way that a TV spot does, the same way that any piece of creative does, it needs to inspire people to take some kind of action. And it’s the same thing with a brief. So I’m very passionate about this topic because as I said, I think briefs are unbelievably important and probably underrated too.
Adrian Tennant: Well on behalf of strategists and account planners around the world, thank you, Rob Bloom!
Rob Bloom: [laughter]
Adrian Tennant: Okay. So from receiving the brief, what does your ideation process look like? Do you have a formula that works for you? A sure-fire way of generating ideas?
Rob Bloom: I wish I did! Adrian, I’d be sitting on a tropical Island somewhere. For me personally, when I get a brief, you know, my ideation process is basically, to start with the brief and reading it over and over and over again. And then usually I go and do some kind of exercise because, I don’t think that I’ve ever had, I was going to say a good idea, but I’m not sure I’ve ever had an idea just by forcing myself to sit down like at my desk and to say, “Okay, now I’m going to be creative. Now I’m going to think of an idea.” But what I found is because I did what I mentioned at the beginning of kind of holding the brief and sitting with it and thinking about it and rereading it and rereading it – but somewhere in that process, something seeps through, into my brain. So then when I put it down and I go for a run or I go lift some weights, or I go do some chin ups or whatever, like I said, I wish I understood it cause I wish I can harness it. But somewhere along the way, time and time again, something hits me when I’m not thinking about it. And that’s when the ideas start to come. Um, and usually, I mean, this is not fancy at all, but then usually what I’ll do is once I have a couple of ideas that I thought about while I was out for a run or working out or whatever, I go back and I start a Google Doc, not fancy, very, very, very basic. And I just start to type ideas, just stream of consciousness stuff. “Hey, how about if we did this? How about if we did this?” I’m not thinking about budget. I’m not thinking about reality, just a stream of consciousness on paper. But again, all based on the brief and all laddering up in some form or fashion to the single-minded proposition. But just putting ideas on paper. And then I’ll leave it, you know, and then maybe I’ll do something else, you know, maybe I’ll go, I don’t know, maybe I’ll go eat something or maybe I’ll go finish exercising, whatever the case. And then I come back to the document and then you’re able to start editing. You’re able to start looking at what you wrote in the stream of consciousness. You’re able to start eliminating stuff, sending all that out. “That’s a really stupid idea why didn’t I think of that?” You’re able to start kind of self-editing the process, or taking a kernel of an idea and making it better. But again, all of this comes from a good brief, and all of this comes from you as the creative being so closely attached to that brief you’ve got it memorized. You’re able to, you know, repeat the single-minded proposition. You’re able to rattle off the insight if somebody asked you. And once, once you have that familiarity with the brief, then all of your ideas will again, be married to the brief. you’re able to start getting to ideas that are sharper, that are smarter. And then I don’t know, it just kinda flows from there.
Adrian Tennant: So Rob, we have an internship program at Bigeye, and many of the people who intern with us are often concerned about how to secure their first position with an agency, especially now. What advice would you give to anyone listening that’s interested in pursuing a career in advertising?
Rob Bloom: That is a great question. Especially now these, these are challenging times. I’m an eternal optimist. So I would say that the flip side of that too, is that it’s never been easier to make connections with people. Again, not to date myself because I just had a birthday a couple of days ago, so I don’t want to date myself, but when I was starting, I mean, there wasn’t a LinkedIn, there was barely an Internet. It wasn’t only Universal and Disney that were kind of these impenetrable fortresses, but it was really any advertising agency because you didn’t know who worked where, or what they were doing. And now with the world of LinkedIn and Twitter and Instagram you’re able to see who is working at the agencies that you want to work at. So the first thing that I would advise anyone to do is to follow the companies, follow the agencies, and follow the people whose work inspires you and the places where you want to be. That’s the biggest thing. And then try to make a connection. Don’t just send a LinkedIn message. You know, that’s a generic message. Send a message that is specific to something that they’ve worked on in the past that this individual has worked on in the past, say something interesting about yourself. Just like any ad, you know, needs to break out from the clutter and then again, persistence is important. Be nice, always be grateful and humble. And appreciative when anyone is taking the time to have a conversation with you or to give you advice, be respectful, and grateful for that person’s time. And, last but not least, this is a huge pet peeve of mine. If you’re sending out a resume, if you’re sending out work, if you’re just sending out an email, trying to make a connection, take a couple minutes and proof it. There’s few things that drive me crazier than when I get something from a person who is trying to connect and it’s just filled with typos or sloppy mistakes, where it’s clearly a form letter, but they haven’t changed the contact information. So they’re sending it to me, but it’s addressed to whoever Mike or Ryan. So just take a moment to proof what you’re doing, because a small mistake like that can really turn off a potential employer from wanting to continue the conversation.
Adrian Tennant: What kinds of upcoming projects – that you’re allowed to talk about – are you most excited about now?
Rob Bloom: What’s really exciting is that we’re thinking and creating work that is going beyond traditional storytelling. And, I think it’s going to take some of the exciting things that are happening, for our guests and that the park is doing and take some of those exciting things and present them in ways that are as exciting as the projects themselves.
Adrian Tennant: If listeners would like to learn more about the work that you’re doing at Universal Orlando Resort, where can they find examples?
Rob Bloom: Well, I encourage everyone to stay tuned, and follow Universal Orlando on Twitter – it’s just @UniversalORL. There’s an Instagram account as well. There’s a Facebook page or YouTube page, you know, so you can certainly follow us on social channels, to see some of the work that we’re doing. If folks wanna follow me, you can follow me on Twitter @RobBloomCW. And it’s the same handle for Instagram as well.
Adrian Tennant: Excellent. Rob, thank you very much indeed for being a guest on IN CLEAR FOCUS.
Rob Bloom: Yes, Adrian, thank you so much for the time. It was a pleasure speaking with you.
Adrian Tennant: My thanks to our guest this week, Rob Bloom, Creative Director at Universal Orlando Resort. You can find a transcript of our conversation along with links to resources on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at bigeyeagency.com under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked “Podcast.” To ensure you don’t miss an episode, please consider subscribing to the show on your preferred podcast app. You can also use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Alexa Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next time, goodbye.