Best Advice from Peter Shier

“Best Advice” is a recurring column on The Message, in which industry veterans Jack Neary and Kevin Spreekmeester—and some of their colleagues—dispense practical advice for people who are just entering the industry.

This week’s Best Advice talks with Peter Shier, president and owner of Naked Creative Consultancy in Toronto. Shier started his career at Vickers & Benson, and also spent time at Saatchi, Cossette, JWT and finally at FCB where he was president and vice chair. Shier also was the volunteer chairman of the ICA for three years and on the board for seven years.

What was your greatest early career hurdle?

Peter Shier as president of Naked Creative Consultancy, and (top) Peter Shier as young hockey player fresh out of college.

I graduated from Cornell University with a degree in Hotel Management and then spent six years playing professional hockey in North America and Europe. So most of my early learning came from the hockey world, and I transferred that knowledge to business. I literally had no experience in advertising or an understanding of the industry. I was playing pick-up hockey with Terry O’Malley [owner and CEO of Vickers & Benson Advertising, at the time the largest agency in Canada] who had just won the Amstel Beer business and they needed someone who knew the restaurant industry. Hello opportunity.

When I played hockey I absolutely detested running to stay in shape. On day one at V&B, Terry—a noted runner and YMCA fanatic—asked me if I wanted to run with him at lunch. Me, a nano-second later: “Running? I love running. Sure I’ll go running.” We ran about three or four times a week, all the while Terry regaling me with advertising stories and me trying not to puke and just trying to keep up. We’d sometimes do 20 miles. Between gasps for air and sore feet, I listened well. That became my advertising training program.

What was your most valuable lesson learned?

Starting out sucks. You get treated like crap, you’re last in line for everything, no one listens to you and you begin to wonder if you even matter. You have to learn—and master—the fundamentals. Not just the fun stuff but, more importantly, the grunt stuff, too. Sidney Crosby is a star hockey player because he’s a terrific goal scorer and playmaker—the fun stuff—and also because he’s solid defensively. He wins face-offs, puck battles and board battles, too—the grunt stuff. So if you’re solid with the fundamentals of the business, you’ll earn the opportunity to do the fun stuff.

What advice would you give young account people entering the ad agency world?

When you’re interviewing or meeting people in the industry, ask them about themselves. It’s human nature to want to talk about yourself. Don’t try to be smart or inject yourself into that conversation, just let them talk. Trust me, you’ll be amazed at how smart they thought you were.

Who were your early influences?

Terry O’Malley. I still ask him for advice to this day. My brother Blair was also a great sounding board. He’s a highly respected business leader and I knew his left-brain thinking would be a good counter to the way my brain worked. At Cossette, I loved the way Adrian Eaves, the head of planning, thought. And John Clinton, president of JWT, was also an inspirational mentor for me. I was lucky to work with and know some incredible talents.

Did you ever make any major missteps and if so, how did you recover?

True story: My senior year at Cornell I was offered a late-season contract in the WHA with the Edmonton Oilers. I was literally eating popcorn for dinner and barely had $20 in my pocket. I was offered $25,000 to finish the playoffs with them, a fortune at that time in my life. I turned them down. They told me I would have to leave school early and I knew that I wouldn’t come back and finish my degree. The guy who took my place went on to win four Cups with the Oilers. And I missed my chance to play with a young kid named Wayne who did pretty okay.

But here’s the point. In spite of all that glory, I’d make the same call again. Get the facts, make your decision, stick with it and keep looking forward. Don’t let yesterday take up too much of today.

What should young people be most aware of when starting in advertising today?

I taught advertising strategy at OCADU for seven years until recently. Every year, my final class consisted of me doing mock interviews with students. And I let the students critique each other. I explained that this would likely be the friendliest interviewing environment they would ever be in. Hockey taught me that you’re more accountable to your teammates than anyone else. You don’t want to let the team down. When you join an agency you’re part of a team. And the team’s success is the only thing that matters.

What is your Golden Rule? 

These are all connected: Take the high road. Treat people well. Don’t burn a bridge.

The ad world in Canada is one degree of separation. Your reputation is gold. If we want to hire you at Naked, I can pick up the phone, make a call or two and in five minutes have a solid bead on your skill, your attitude and your persona. Don’t let people fuck with your reputation.