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Antonia Tritthart began her career in the creative industry at 19, founding an agency that thrived on the early adoption of social media. Her innovative spirit has led her to continually redefine creativity and leadership in her field.

How did you start out on your journey in the creative industry?

I had always loved communication. I studied philosophy and communication science at school. When I was 19, I started an agency. 

We had no clue what we were doing, but eventually we figured it out. It was at that time when social media became a thing, so we had an advantage because we could say, “Oh. You don’t understand this new thing that is coming? We’re young and we do.” I remember when I won my first client, Bank Austria. The CMO called me and said, “Congratulations, you won. The kickoff meeting is on Monday.” I had to call a friend who had already worked in an agency and ask, “What’s a kickoff meeting? What do I have to do at a kickoff meeting?” So we really had to learn as we went; a hard way to go.

After a decade and a bit, I was hired as co-CEO of Jung von Matt Austria. There were three other CEOs in the company, and I was the first woman to join as a CEO. I was there for two years before coming to the United States.

"The CMO called me and said, "Congratulations, you won. The kick off meeting is on Monday." I had to call a friend and ask, "What's a kick off meeting?"

Could you tell us more about the companies you founded?

I co-founded the fashion company GEORGE LOVES with my husband at that time. It was a big learning curve running a consumer brand after running big accounts for Jung von Matt. Every dollar counts, and you really have to move product. We produced with Dov Charney from American Apparel; it was fascinating to have a physical product after doing so much digital work. The experience was super valuable.

I now have a stealth startup named Dirt. It’s a CPG product, and it’s all about doing regular things in a more creative way. We are disrupting a commodity industry and showing how to infuse your daily life with creativity. Our target audience are young adults who are disappointed that adult life is so dull and boring. We are celebrating the mundane and showing that you can have fun with the small things.

What work are you most proud of?

I was so young when I started. I had never worked at an advertising agency. I never had anyone to mentor me. So when I won the Cannes Award for the first time, I realized I needed that win to understand “Ok, I’m actually good at this”.

The award was for a project for Samsung where they had a digital camera that would automatically connect to Facebook and upload pictures. Back then, everyone thought that it was an amazing idea, and our job was to sell the camera. The USP was that it was really easy to use, and so we said, “Okay. If it’s so easy to use, if anyone could do it, let’s give it to the orangutan in the Austrian Zoo.” We gave it to the orangutan and he took some pictures. He became the first ape on Facebook, because all the pictures would upload automatically. I remember it being my idea, and I led my team to execute it. It was a viral hit. We were everywhere with it.  Alongside Cannes, it also won the D&AD Pencil. So, it’s a project that I cherish.

"The smartest question you can ask your team during a brainstorming session is, 'What's the one thing we could do that would make us automatically lose this account and the client kick us out?'"

What does creativity mean to you?

I love when you can make people feel something. There’s always a part that is just taste, but to me it is also about work not taking itself too seriously. It’s not trying to impress you by how crafty the art direction is or how smart the copy is. It liberates you. That’s what great creative work is to me; something that evokes the feeling of freedom, liberation, and joy.

How do you lead teams to generate the best ideas?

The smartest question you can ask your team during a brainstorming session is, “What’s the worst thing we could say and do?” “What’s the one thing we could do that would make us automatically lose this account and the client kick us out?”

Usually the best thing isn’t that much right or left from the worst thing; it’s just one more twist or maybe one less twist, depending on how you see it. But going in thinking about what you could say to kill the product, or what you could never say about it, is usually that’s a good way to go because, again, you don’t want to be super smart about it. If people subconsciously feel you’re trying to impress them, they feel like they’re being sold to.

"I think with great taste you need to know what the rules are so you can then break them"

How would you define good taste?

I’ve been a judge in a lot of creative awards juries. I’ve been a judge in Cannes, Dubai Lynx, Eurobest, and many others, so you have that conversation with other jurors. I think with great taste, there is a sense of how you need to know a little bit about what happened in design through the centuries; you need to know what the rules are so you can then break them.

I had a very strict upbringing when it comes to good taste. My mom was an art director. She had impeccable taste. She wouldn’t allow us to have children’s stuff. We would only have paint. No children’s toys, just art. Not the typical things you would have in a children’s room – there weren’t any children’s books, we just had artsy books. She wouldn’t care if it was good for kids. I’m kind of thankful because she had great taste, and she exposed us to tasteful things.

How do you define a great idea?

Really good ideas change how you see things. To change someone’s perspective you have to take them by the hand and give them a completely new angle that they can never un-see. That’s when you’re winning.

At some point in your career, hopefully super early on, you will have the need for the external validation of an award, or from a trusted artist who approves of your work. That you do stuff, and someone you trust says, “This is good.” I think that’s true for everything; for sports, for whatever it is.

But once you know that, you have to learn how to listen to your own gut. I think a lot of people don’t know what feeling to look for. For me, a great idea makes you scared, to some extent. Maybe it’s not scared…it’s a weird, emotional feeling. It’s a rush that might feel similar to fear, but it might not be fear. We just might call it fear because we don’t have a word for it. Excitement and fear are really close together.

What do you find to be important when it comes to executing a great idea?

I always feel like execution beats idea. So if a great execution is done for a good idea, it’s still going to be great. If you have a great idea, and you have a super mediocre execution, it’s not going to be great. It’s probably not even going to be good.

You need to have someone who understands what makes the idea great, who really understands the one thing we have to get, and who can also see what is not top priority.  It can be a sentence in the script, a delivery that has to work, an art direction that has to work. 

Then, of course, this person needs to fight for your idea. There are always challenges, whether it be cost, feasibility, legal or anything. You need someone who won’t just tell you all the reasons why something cannot be done. Sometimes production companies need to play it safe to a certain point, so they can make sure they can actually deliver. But you can tell who is fighting for the idea and who is just saying, “It can’t be done within the budget. We cannot do this, we cannot do that.”

If you have great people, the idea will become so much bigger, because great people will see something you haven’t seen. They will add something, not take it away. If you have the wrong team, the idea gets smaller and smaller, until it’s just a shadow of what you thought it was going to be.

"I wouldn't count on humans always having the advantage when it comes to the quality of idea. AI is already pretty good, and it just started, right?"

Are you using AI in your personal or professional life?

I mean, we all use it now, right? I’m playing around with it. I use everything that is publicly available, and I think it’s very interesting. 

As a creative person, it really throws us through a loop, as it challenges the definition of creativity. What is a unique idea? Is AI doing precisely what we are doing anyway? Is every idea you have, as a creative person, just a summary of everything you’ve seen since you were two years old? 

I think AI is as good as we are, or at least it soon will be. I wouldn’t count on humans always having the advantage when it comes to the quality of idea. AI is already pretty good, and it just started, right? 

I hope we’re not going to end up in a place where we let AI decide the definition of good taste or a good idea. But I can see a world where that happens. Ultimately, it’s all about the money, right? So, if one campaign is quirky, delivers joy to the world, and works for people as an emotional experience, but another campaign has a better click-through rate, I don’t know how many joyful, quirky, weird things we’re going to see in the future.