Interview with Stan Richards of The Richards Group

Below is a guest interview conducted by Yvonne Cao, Assistant Professor of Design at Texas Christian University, with Stan Richards during a visit to the university. They were kind enough to share it with our community.

After Alan Fletcher, Phil Meggs, Louise Fili and Steven Heller, the Department of Design at Texas Christian University has welcomed Stan Richards, the founder and creative director of The Richards Group, as the Cecil and Ida Green Honors Chair for 2019. On April 10th, Mr. Richards visited the TCU campus to interact with students in design classes and give a public presentation to the Dallas-Fort Worth Design Community. On the occasion, Richards was interviewed by TCU Assistant Professor of Design, Yvonne Cao.

Yvonne Cao: The Richards Group was ranked the #1 place to work in DFW. So, every year you must go through quite a number of job applications. When you’re searching for young creative talent for your agency, what qualities do you look for the most?

Stan Richards: What we look for the most is a great portfolio. We want to see their work from school or from a previous job. And it’s important that that work be the kind of thing that is done so well that when I interview one of those kids coming in for the first time I can find two or maybe three pieces in a portfolio that I wish we had done—that are that good—that could easily have come out of The Richards Group and I would have been very proud if they had. So, the portfolio is the primary evidence of what they are capable of doing and we care a lot about that. In addition to that, you have to look at personality. What kind of a person is this? Is this somebody that is going to be fun to work with? Somebody that we will all enjoy having as a part of the organization? Are they likely to have good presentation skills? You can’t judge that in an interview, but it’s important that you get a feel that this person has enough confidence that they can become a highly effective presenter. And those are the characteristics I look for most.

TCU Students with Stan Richards

YC: You talked about the importance of portfolio and presentation skills. What would you suggest to young creatives to prepare them? If you could give one piece of advice for people just starting out, what would you say?

SR: I guess when I talk to those kids I hope to make them understand that this is hard work. That it can be great fun. It can be exciting. One can be very well compensated for it over a career, but it’s also very hard work. And you just have to do the hard work. Spend the hours, spend the commitment, work as hard as you possibly can no matter what the requirements are. There are going to be times when it doesn’t come easily. When you have to slug it out with trying to find an idea that is a terrific idea. But you can’t just stop because you ran out of time. And you can’t miss deadlines. Deadlines are deadlines and they cannot be missed. You have to somehow figure out—how do you get to the right answer and get to the right answer in the amount of time that you have allotted for it.

YC: You have been working in advertising for many years. How has the advertising industry changed for the past 20 years?

SR: The changes have been extraordinary. If I go back 15 to 20 years, 100% of our income came from traditional advertising. Television, radio, outdoor, print, newspaper. For the bulk of my career, that’s what we did. Now, 60% of our income comes from digital. 60%! Now that is an enormous change. And it’s changed everything that we do. We still do lots of television. We don’t do as much print as we used to because magazines and newspapers have just gotten skinnier and skinnier. But we still do lots of radio, lots of outdoor, and lots of television. But the bulk of what we do today is something that is going to happen digitally. It’s going to run on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and any of the other digital media. And it occupies 60% of our staff and accounts for 60% of our income.

YC: Wow. You often refer to yourself as the creative guy. What satisfies you the most being a creative person?

SR: I get the most satisfaction out of coming up with an idea. And an idea that has real value and lasts for a long, long time.

YC: Could you give us an example?

SR: Probably my favorite campaign of everything we’ve ever done has been the campaign that we did for Chick-Fil-A. The cow campaign was one of those things that the world has never seen before. The category had never seen anything like it before because the category has always been, show pictures of the food with an interesting line and that’s how you sell the product. And we didn’t do any of that. We went a way that no one had ever explored before. And it turned out to be the most successful campaign in the history of fast food. And that campaign probably set standards that have never been achieved before and maybe will never be achieved again.

Yvonne with Stan Richards at Texas Christian University

YC: Could you briefly share with us what you’re working on now? Or what’s your current project?

SR: Well, we have lots of clients and probably at any given moment in time we have maybe 50 campaigns that are under development. And although I don’t take the primary responsibility for any of them, I take a role. It’s a review role where I see all of that work and I sit in the meetings and the work is presented. I may see it in interim stages as well, but at some point in time I’m going to see virtually everything that we do. That doesn’t include the 5th generation of a direct mail campaign that we’ve been doing for a long time. I don’t need to see that. But anything that’s new, I’m pretty much a part of. So, how do I spend my time? The day before yesterday I looked at rough cuts on the new campaign for Shiner beer. And the rough cuts were terrific. They were outstanding, and the team that was responsible had done an outstanding job. Shiner is a decent-sized client so we will be doing a lot over the next several years. On the other hand, we have a new client Nature Nate’s Honey. A tiny client who is never going to spend a lot of money, but it’s an opportunity to do something outstanding creatively.  And that is as exciting to me as some of the big things that we do for some of our other clients. Sometimes we are dealing with television spots that are going to cost a million dollars to produce. And other times we’ll be doing things digitally that cost $2,000 to produce. And yet I could get just as excited as the little ones as I can the big ones.

YC: Your team recently won the Shiner Bock account. Congratulations! Do clients like these find you or do you reach out? How do you win new business?

SR: That particular one, since you brought it up, there’s a history there. About 20 years ago, we were hired by Corona beer and Corona was a very sleepy little Mexican brand that hadn’t made much headway in the US. We introduced an idea for Corona that was terrific. It was to take Corona to the beach and everything about Corona should bring up the idea of how nice it is to be at the beach and how relaxed you are and how much you enjoy life. So, everything that we did for—oh probably maybe an 8- or 9-year period, maybe even a little longer than that—was all about the beach. Really revolutionized the brand. It went from being a very small player in the imported beer business to being the number one import in America over the period of time that we worked on it. As it happens, we were the agency for the distributor that had the eastern United States plus Texas. There was another distributor that had the western United States. And our client at the time, who owned that distributorship, was Carlos Alvarez. Fabulous guy that we did a lot of great work for. And we had a terrific relationship with. Ultimately, Carlos lost the brand. It went away. And of course, we were gone too. But then Carlos bought Shiner. So, we presented for Shiner and whether it had anything to do with the fact that we had a big success in the past working for Carlos or it was our presentation. I’m not going to decide which had the most important role. But we were hired by Shiner. And that’s how that came to pass.

YC: Was it a member of your family or friend who might’ve inspired you the most in your youth?

SR: No, I don’t think so. Not in terms of inspiration. When I was a little kid I drew all the time. I was always drawing something. And I got to be pretty good at it. I could draw better than anybody I knew. My mom decided that I was probably going to be the next da Vinci. And one of the things that she did was insist that I take painting and drawing classes on Saturdays. I wasn’t thrilled about that because I’d much rather have been out playing with my friends. But I did it anyway. And I just got better and better at painting and drawing. When it came time for me to choose a college, I chose Pratt Institute, which was the preeminent school in the country for design. So, my course was set early on. [I had] no idea that advertising was going to be the answer because I thought that I’d probably wind up being a gallery painter, but I found that I loved advertising. It had all of the challenge and the joy of doing what I loved to do. And what I would do for nothing, and I was just delighted that people would pay me for it. So that really set the tone for my career. I graduated from Pratt when I was 20 and have been working in advertising ever since.

YC: Do you feel a responsibility to contribute to something bigger than yourself?

SR: Yes, in more than one way. First of all, I think it’s important at my stage in life that philanthropy becomes an important part of what I do. I’ve been successful for a long time and I don’t need to worry about money anymore. There will be some left over for my kids and my grandkids but basically, I don’t need any more. So, what you do when that happens, you give it away. And generally, pick very few nonprofits that are doing great work and you do the best you can to help them. And I do that. The problem with it is that when you’re on that list of big givers, and I’m sure there’s a list somewhere, there’s somebody always contacting you looking for help. And, with the exception of the super rich, nobody has enough money to be able to help all of them. So, you wind up having to say no more often than you say yes, that’s not what I want to do. And so, you’re limited to a very few beneficiaries. And that’s where the money goes. There’s another way, I think there’s something bigger than myself. And it dramatized itself, a few weeks ago. I had an early morning meeting and I was going to be picked up in front of our building by one of our account guys and then he and I would go to that meeting. We all come to work at 8:30 in the morning. We are really good about being on time. And so, I was out front of the building waiting for him to pick me up at precisely 8:30. And this long string of cars came across the front of the building and pulled into our parking garage. We have 742 employees, so basically 742 cars came by and I was standing there waiting for much of that time. And I thought about all of the people who are educating kids, buying homes, taking care of their families, and living a good life as a result of the firm that we have collectively built. And that was probably the most emotional and telling moment I’ve ever had in thinking about what our business accomplishes.

By Yvonne Cao
Published May 3, 2019