Influencers: Alec Beckett and Brian Gross

The alleged immortal founders of the Providence-based ad agency responsible for some of the most innovative and memorable campaigns talk T-shirts, snark, and keeping the creative spark lit while working remote.

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Your recent commercial for Lifespan was NAIL’s first socially distanced production – concepted, shot, and posted without anyone working together in the same space. What has this process been like for you to work out concepts and collaborate apart?

It has sucked. But we have done it – frankly better than we imagined possible. We have managed shoots in LA and NYC remotely. We have brought on new employees that we’ve never sat in a room with. We have welcomed employees’ new babies by Zoom. But we know that we are missing out on all the magical conscious and unconscious inspirations and connections that happen when we are physically together.

Any tips for maintaining the collaborative give-and-take flow of the creative process while independently working from home?

We are fighting hard to keep some semblance of company culture while all trapped in our mansions. For instance, we did a virtual escape room together; we took pictures of everyone’s desks at work so they could use them as Zoom backgrounds; we are watching Master Class

videos together and talking about them; and we do a monthly meeting where people volunteer to give presentations.

You’ve orchestrated some of the most memorable campaigns both locally and nationally. For example, the breakup of Mike and Ike. How did you sell that idea? Was that a favorite campaign?

Agencies often get all the credit for creative campaigns but the reality is that every single great campaign out there – either by us or anyone else – had a brave, smart client who had the vision and guts to say “yes.” Mike and Ike was a great example. When we proposed the idea of the breakup, it hinged on the idea of “defacing” all their packaging by crossing out either name – Mike or Ike. We never really believed that they’d be willing to pull the trigger. But they did. The hard truth is that we have had many more good ideas die for lack of a “yes” than have made it out into the world. Our favorite campaign has to be the “Nothing Can” for the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. While Mike and Ike was creatively successful, the Nothing campaign was soulfully successful. We love using our powers for good and giving back to our community.

A trade magazine described NAIL as having a “palpable snark” – is that something that comes natural to you both?

I had a palpable snark, but the doctor was able to remove it. I couldn’t sit for a week! [Brian]

We definitely don’t take ourselves seriously. For two main reasons: One, it’s a lot more fun to work at a place with that kind of spirit. And more importantly – we’ve learned that doing great work requires an atmosphere where everyone feels safe to try things, suggest crazy ideas, and screw up royally. So that means we are loose, tolerant, and endlessly making fun of each other.

NAIL has been around for 22 years now. Are you starting to feel like the elder states-people of the ad world? Does this mean you’ll start wearing ties to work?

We’re actually a lot older than we look: Brian will be 124 years old on Sunday and Alec just turned 219. How do we do it? After much debate, we have decided to share our closely guarded secret to eternal youth: Ironic T-shirts. Yup, science has shown that regularly wearing sardonic, faux nostalgic, non-sequitur T-shirts will add decades to your lifespan. The flip side is, of course, that should we accidentally put on a tie, our ancient bodies will desiccate to dust almost immediately.

See more of NAIL Communication's work online.

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