After a very competitive six-month search, we are excited to announce that Mick Sutter joined SimpsonScarborough as Executive Creative Director in early March.
As Executive Creative Director, Mick’s foremost job is to clear the path for great thinking. Leading our creative studios, he unpacks insights, sparks revelations, and elevates the role creative plays in all that SimpsonScarborough does. Mick holds 20+ years of experience as a copywriter-turned-creative director at agencies like Arnold and Huge with his work recognized by every major award show, including Cannes, Clios, ADC, Webbys, and Shortys. His higher ed experience includes Sallie Mae, Georgetown University, the Department of Education, and Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher Initiative.
We (virtually) sat down with Mick to learn more about his background in creative, his thoughts on joining a higher ed marketing agency, and exciting future developments for the industry.
Congratulations, and welcome to SimpsonScarborough, Mick! You've had a wonderful career as a creative leader thus far. What inspired you to pursue a career as a creative director, and how did you get your start in the industry?
My Dad would say that I was destined for the industry as a kid—he always found it harder to pull me away from TV when the ads were on versus the programs themselves. Interestingly, I truly hated and resented most of them. But I had great respect and gratitude for the few that won me over. And I began to subconsciously deconstruct how they went about it. As I got older, I would find myself concepting taglines and ads in my head for brands and causes I came into contact with. It made me seek out an internship at an ad agency in college. It was there that I picked up my first copies of Adweek and the One Show. I was a lost cause after that.
With this new job, you're also changing industries. What excites you about working in higher education, and in particular, at SimpsonScarborough?
I think I speak for most creatives when I say that we want to do work for something that matters. We want to work for clients whose products ultimately benefit society—and the more visible and tangible the benefit, the better. We don’t often get that chance. In fact, there are times you really have to do some mental loop-de-loops to justify the work you’re putting out into the world. In comparison, higher education as a category is much more worthy of that time, effort and passion.
SimpsonScarborough is at such an exciting inflection point. The client base is strong and growing. We’re a clear leader in the space. And our capabilities are expanding. To be able to impact not just the work we do but the identity and trajectory of the agency itself is a really enviable opportunity. I’m honored to be chosen for it. With the incredible talent that’s already assembled here, it’s fun to consider where we could go.
In your opinion, how does messaging and branding for higher education institutions differ from other industries?
It’s like taking the old “You don’t own your brand, your consumer does” chestnut and placing it in the metaverse. An institution’s brand is in its colleges, majors and classes. It’s in its deans, faculty and staff. It’s in its research classification and athletic division. It’s in a dorm room’s layout, student center’s food court, a library’s closing hours and weight room’s equipment. It’s in every Insta, Snap, TikTok, and BeReal a student posts and at the top of just about every alum’s LinkedIn profile. It’s in every piece of swag the bookstore sells, but—more than that—it’s in the unique, deeply personal reason each person feels compelled to buy it. That’s both a thrilling opportunity and a daunting challenge.
Speaking of thrilling opportunities — what are some of the most exciting technologies or innovations that you see on the horizon for the creative industry?
Cool new technologies like AI, AR, voice search, smart speakers, 5G, and blockchain are on the horizon for creative professionals in marketing. They can help create personalized campaigns, give immersive brand experiences, and make buying and selling ad space more efficient. With voice search and smart speakers becoming more popular and 5G promising faster mobile experiences, these innovations can transform the way marketers create and deliver campaigns, making them more engaging for consumers.
ChatGPT wrote that ☝️. Actually, it first gave me an answer that was over 300 words long, so I asked it to condense it to 75 words or less. Then I asked it to make its answer more conversational. And it did it all in a matter of seconds. It’s proof that AI is already a boon for content generation and optimization. That kind of iterative writing and design is destined for automation as, eventually, much of search and performance marketing will just become algorithms performing for other algorithms.
More conceptually, AI is a great way to quickly identify the obvious and cliche so we as creatives can push past them more quickly. As it improves, I can see it becoming a more reliable concepting partner, helping identify emerging trends and cultural themes to play off of and unexpectedly connecting the dots between relevant but seemingly unrelated data points.
You've had so much experience with branding and advertising. We are curious to know what your favorite ad campaign of all time is, and why?
Oh, there are so many greats. But if I had to point to the one that had the biggest impact on my young, impressionable mind, it’s this local ad that ran in New York for the Coalition for the Homeless in 1993.
It’s such a simple, powerful idea, filmed almost journalistically, featuring real unhoused people. I often apply the old journalism adage to advertising—that a good piece should “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Man, did this one do the latter to me. I was eviscerated when I first saw it. It wasn’t overproduced. It didn’t try too hard. It just laid out its case in quiet, elegant juxtaposition. Not only did it drive donations for the organization, but it got a lot of media coverage at the time as well*. And, if I remember correctly, it even helped reunite some of the people featured with family members who had lost touch with them.
(*When I looked back on this later, I realized the power earned media has to amplify great work. And I use it as a metric to judge creative to this day: will this work make headlines? It requires audacious talent and brave clients to do it.)
Thank you for your time, Mick! And we know we said five questions, but this final one is just too good to leave out. Who are the people you're inviting to your dream dinner party, and what are you eating?
It’s the same as most nights—my family. The dream part would be having the kids do the cooking.