Advertising As Art

June 18, 2007 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

What do my colleagues and I in advertising have in common with one of the most gifted men in the American museum profession? It might surprise you. But more on that in a minute. I had the pleasure of listening to a talk given by Dr. Edmund P. Pillsbury the other night. To be honest, the talk wasn’t something I thought I was going to enjoy. I haven’t exactly made art collecting a priority in my life. To my surprise, I was blown away by Dr. Pillsbury and left with a new appreciation for art and collecting.

But it was his relating of a professional experience that sparked an insight, however minor, that put me and my fellow ad practitioners on common ground with this gifted man. Dr. Pillsbury took over as director for Ft. Worth’s Kimbell Art Museum in 1980 and proceeded to gain international notoriety for his accomplishments there.

It was while he was building the Kimbell’s collection that he made a presentation of three pieces to the trustees for inclusion in the collection. Mind you, we’re talking about pieces from artists with names like Fra Angelico, Caravaggio, Murillo and Picasso bearing price tags north of seven figures.

For a man like Dr. Pillsbury, such presentations are based on what he calls an “editing of a much larger body of work” that includes the consultation of as many as a dozen other experts. Building a museum of the Kimbell’s caliber is no light undertaking, and his recommendations are based on a wealth of knowledge accumulated over a lifetime of formal education, study, and experience.

Dr. Pillsbury, while given free reign to pursue the acquisition of great works from the masters for the museum’s collection, had to get approval for his princely expenditures from the trustees. On this particular day his audience of trustees was having none of it when it came to one of the three pieces he was recommending. To Dr. Pillsbury’s shock and dismay, they simply didn’t want it added to the collection. But based on what? It didn’t take much probing to determine that their judgment was founded on no more and no less than their individual biases. Further, it seemed to them that if the piece didn’t suit their tastes that visitors to the museum would find it equally unappealing. Dr. Pillsbury went on to describe how he convinced the trustees to reverse their decision, and I was struck by a sudden sense of professional kinship with this man.

The work we present to clients is always the product of a collaborative effort among a talented team of people who have “edited” a larger body of ideas down to three or four concepts. Unless there has been real miscommunication on the project brief, any of the concepts we present will work and work well.

Like Dr. Pillsbury, however, we sometimes come up against clients who simply cannot get past their personal biases. They filter ideas through their particular view of the world or level of taste and simply cannot view them objectively, or more importantly, through the eyes of the intended audience. I’ve often faced the rejection of excellent ideas on the basis of personal preference and nothing more.

Of course, clients often provide excellent, objective, and fact-based insight during the presentation of work, and that should always be used to improve ideas. But this is not what I’m referring to. All advertising professionals have dealt with rejection of ideas based solely on personal taste. When we are at our best we can, like Dr. Pillsbury, convince clients to work through and past this kind of personal bias. But when we fail in that attempt, our clients pay the price with inferior work and poor results, and our own reputation takes a hit. It is a great credit not only to Dr. Pillsbury but to the Kimbell trustees that they ultimately heeded his recommendations and guidance at every important turn. As a result, the Kimbell Museum of Art is one of the finest mid-sized museums in the country today. I can think of more than one former client who should spend some time walking the halls of that great museum.


Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


We challenge underdog brands to think differently. We help them find their voice, and urge them to blaze new trails to make sure they stand out from the pack. Whether you need an agency of record or support on a project, we are here to help you win.