Culture at Mullen

Life outside 40 Broad – creative muscle

December 21, 2010 MullenLowe

When Rodney Raftery leaves his pristine, white desk at Mullen, he heads straight to the dark confines of a black box theater in Cambridge where he’ll be rehearsing for the next three hours. He won’t get home until close to midnight and he’ll be lucky if he has time to grab a granola bar for dinner.

Rodney has been doing this for the better part of two decades. An active member of the Boston theater scene, he does about three shows each year on top of his full-time job as an associate creative director. He says he’s slowed down a lot recently; he used to do seven or eight.

“You wouldn’t eat,” he says. “You would basically get up at 6:30 and you wouldn’t be back into your own house until after midnight. Then you’d get up and do it all again the next day.”

Six weeks of rehearsals. Four or five nights each week. After opening night, he performs up to eight times per week for the run of the show.  “It’s basically like having a second job,” he says.

You might think that the amount of creative energy Rodney expends on his characters coupled with prolonged periods of severe sleep deprivation might have a negative affect on his career. But over six years at Mullen, he’s risen through the ranks and become a crucial part of the Stop & Shop and JAMRS teams.

“It actually opens you up creatively,” he explains. “When you’re so busy that you don’t have time to be creative, that’s when you are most creative. It gives itself momentum. If you just go with that momentum you are constantly creating.”

Rodney Raftery on left

Nicole Berard agrees. She’s spent five and a half years in the pop rock group, Mercy James Gang, holding rehearsals each week, writing songs, singing and playing synthesizer. They’ve performed frequently at clubs like the Abbey Lounge, Great Scott and even the Somerville Theater. Nicole is also a visual artist, working primarily in collage and shadowboxes.

“The more I do, the more I can do,” she says. “The more fired up I am about stuff outside of work, the more fired up I am about work.”

She sees a direct link between performing for an audience and presenting to clients. “Music is a huge confidence builder,” she explains. “I’ve presented work at the Pentagon. I don’t think I could have done that if I hadn’t sung at the Abbey Lounge first.”

In the same way, Rodney sees a connection between acting and copywriting. “As an actor, you have to think creatively. You have the lines, but how you deliver them is what makes your character. [In advertising], it’s not really what you’re selling, but how you sell it. How you spin your character or how you spin your product is really where success or failure lies.”

In his novel, Then We Came to the End, Joshua Ferris writes that every copywriter has a screenplay in his desk drawer. And to some extent, that’s the way it ought to be. In fact, Mullen’s original creative chief, Paul Silverman, was a prolific writer of short fiction, described as “a real writer” who just happened to work in advertising.

Just as professional athletes need to hit the gym and exercise different muscles in order to excel at their sport, writers and art directors should exercise their creative muscles outside of advertising. Both Rodney and Nicole agree that their extracurricular pursuits sharpen their skills, stretch their imaginations and ultimately make them more successful in their work.