Egotist Briefs: John Elder

By Egotist / /

Heat is one of those quintessential SF shops that we love – not too small, not too big, cranking out great work for clients over and over, and we never hear anyone say a bad word about anyone who works there. So we decided to talk with John Elder, one of the founders of Heat about his agency, how they keep long-term clients and more. Enjoy.

What’s the best thing about running your own agency?

The best thing is being able to create an environment in which great people do great work. I’m constantly amazed by and proud of the intelligence and creativity of the people who work here. Seeing how much our people care about doing a great job is very rewarding.

What do you wish you knew before you started Heat?

That it would be the most fun job I’ve ever had.

What’s the secret to keeping long-term clients like EA Sports?

Treat your clients like they are close friends and they will become friends. Tell them the truth. Hang out with them. Get to know what’s important to them as people, beyond just the basics of their business. Naturally, you have to understand their marketplace and come up with great solutions, but to keep a client with you, you have to go farther. If you really care about your clients as people, they will be able to tell.

In 5 years Heat will be ___________________.

Just as awesome, bigger, and still believing in the power of surprise.

Best career advice you ever got?

Treat your clients’ money as if it were your own. Clients are on the hook for results like never before, and it’s important for them to know you’re right there with them when they have to make a big decision.

What separates a great ad agency from a mediocre one?

A combination of talent and perseverance. No mediocre agency wants to be mediocre, but you need the talent to be able to do great work. Equally important—talent alone isn’t enough. You need to obsess over the details and push to make an idea come to life. You need the right people pulling together to accomplish something great. If not, you’ll end up with something less than great.

We’ve read where you said, “the vast majority of advertising is invisible, irrelevant or insulting.” Why is that?

So much of advertising is unremarkable and tends to blend into the background. People generally say they don’t like advertising, yet many can point out one TV spot or piece of content that really got their attention. That’s why I think it’s important to focus on the small percentage of advertising that truly connects with the intended audience.

Overall, how do you feel the SF ad community is doing these days?

San Francisco as an advertising market seems to be doing very well. There are some bright spots in the SF ad community, but I wish it felt more cohesive.

What’s your favorite recent campaign or ad?

This may be totally self serving, but we just launched an ad for Bank of the West’s mobile app that is very different for the category. And our upcoming spots for EA SPORTS NCAA FOOTBALL 14 made me laugh out loud.

Give us 3 pieces of advice every ad person should know.

1. Pay attention to what’s really important.
2. You don’t have to be a jerk to be good. And vice versa.
3. Try harder than anyone else


  1. Courtney Buechert June 5, 2013

    Great guy, terrific agency,
    Great guy, terrific agency, delightful citizens of this town. Just love Heat.

  2. DJ O'Neil June 6, 2013

    Way to go, John. Congrats on
    Way to go, John. Congrats on your success–maybe the best part being how much fun you’re having…

  3. Dan Holland June 6, 2013

    Awesome interview – congrats!
    Awesome interview – congrats!