At Work With: Mike Hartman

Mike Hartman, chief creative officer, W2O Group
Mike Hartman, chief creative officer, W2O Group

Q: What was your biggest break?

I was working as a copywriter in the mid-'90s, doing mostly print and a bit of TV, when my wife found an ad in the newspaper classifieds for a job at an Internet company! The dot-com boom was upon us, and the next thing I knew I was making websites. And because UX wasn't even a thing yet, my art director partner and I were creating interfaces for all sorts of web-based products that would someday theoretically take over the world! As it turned out, this early foray into the interwebs made me “digital” pretty early on and that certainly didn't slow me down in terms of future gigs.

Q: What's the best and/or worst part of your job?

The people and the people! The talents and personalities you come across in this business are incredible, and those amazing folks can really complicate things. It can be very tricky to get passionate people out of their zones and truly collaborate. Everyone talks about collaboration but really doing it is another thing altogether. Another fantastic part of my job that's both great and terrible is the ideas. Being a creative has lots of moving parts, but essentially I get paid to come up with ideas all day. Choosing the right ones and getting others to see around corners though can be maddening. 

Q: Who is the person you admire most in your area of work?

I have to say it's still Gerry Graf. It's been him for a long time now. His work has always defined clever, edgy, simple but so very smart. It's like car design. Sometimes you see a new model and you think it's strange and you don't dig it, you're not quite ready for it. It bothers you in fact. But then it grows on you and everyone else and it's the new shape. It's like that. Graf always manages to turn things slightly with just enough weird to make it uncomfortable but amazing. So, for me, bringing that kind of freshness to health is where it's at. It needs it so desperately.

Q: How long is a typical meeting with clients?

About 20 minutes too long! I realized years ago that I can be pretty sharp for about 40 minutes at a clip. After that, it's diminishing returns. I'm toast. In any pursuit it's important to know where you can be super-effective as well as totally ineffective. I know my strengths lie in the concepting behind the scenes and the showmanship of the pitch. If it's going to be a marathon session, I'm sending someone else. I'm mature enough to know my weaknesses but not mature enough to sit in a long meeting.

Q: What's the view like from your office/work area?

Fortunately for me I'm fairly bicoastal and I get to spend my days not on the road either looking at the Brooklyn Bridge and the river from our New York offices at the Seaport, or gazing fondly at the Golden Gate Bridge from the company's headquarters located at Fisherman's Wharf. I have no complaints either way, but this year's winter made one coast way more preferable. 

Q: What books are you reading?

I'm always reading a few books at once. Like a buffet, tasting here and there. It's something I've done for about 15 years now, reading about a book a week. After watching Birdman the other day, I dug out my favorite collection of Raymond Carver stories. But I'm also fairly deep into Transformer, the biography of Lou Reed. And the recent passing of Philip Levine has me noodling around with What Work Is all over again. As a poet, I like to think of poetry as snacks, but they're of the heavy variety.

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