Magic Is Hard to Explain: Bruce Lee, Founding & Chief Creative Partner, IPNY

by Dasha Ovsyannikova


IPNY, Inc.
Full Service
New York, United States
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Bruce Lee
Chief Creative Partner IPNY

Tell us about some of the creative partners you’ve worked with.

As a copywriter I’ve worked with many types of creative partners over the years. Starting out, I teamed with an art director twice my age. He couldn’t come up with an idea to save his life, but what a talker. Every time we’d work we got into these incredible conversations and I’d find myself coming up with ideas, ideas, ideas – way better than the ones I would have come up with on my own – even though we barely talked about the work. In some weird way he opened my flow. But isn’t that what you want – to be with a partner who gets you going? Magic is hard to explain. Fortunately, you don’t have to explain it. You just have to produce it. 

Most art directors I’ve partnered with had collaborative styles. We’d toss thoughts back and forth and build on each other’s ideas until one of us had the eureka. Which neither of us would take credit for. We felt the process made it happen. At the other extreme I worked for a while with a lone wolf. He preferred to close himself off and come up with his own ideas. Creative problem solving is a delicate process – you can’t make someone interact if it’s out of their comfort zone – so I adapted  to working as a recluse as well. In the end we’d show each other our hand. I never liked this subtly competitive approach but there was no other way to get him to deliver. He was talented, and the work we did brought a lot of attention and new business, so it was worth it from that standpoint, but it was neither a satisfying or efficient experience.


What makes for the best creative partner?

In the beginning, before the writing or the art direction, you and your partner are idea people in quest of unexpected ways to express the strategy. I’ve always done the best questing with a partner who wants to create something never seen before and is flat-out obsessive about finding it. You wouldn’t want to live with such a person, but you sure want them for your partner. Because they push you as hard as you push them and it makes the solution, when it comes, that much sweeter.

Another quality one appreciates is a partner who’s open to new things. I’ve worked in categories known for flashy work, but these days I enjoy more complex categories like financial, healthcare and nonprofit, where the work can be just as challenging but there is more opportunity to rethink the rules. And having an art director who enjoys problem-solving no matter what the category is essential. 


When is a creative duo not a duo?

To paraphrase Freud, creative people are polymorphously perverse. I’ve been party to great creative ideas by working solo, in a pair, in a triad. With some of our TV projects I work with my long-time art director partner and our favorite TV director who is a former agency art director. The process is so easy because the three of us have been collaborating for years and there’s a high degree of trust.

Sometimes the most valued creative partner does not meet the strict definition of a “creative.” I work successfully with our strategic planner, because he inspires me with his deep appreciation of the problem. And because he has the ability to see my ideas the way the marketplace will.  


Do women make better creative partners with men?

Having worked with many women partners in my career, I’d love to be able to tell you that female creatives make better partners. But gender differences fall away when you’re focused on a client problem. Women creatives are just as imaginative and driven as men. I once presumed they’d be more sensitive, but being intuitive and able to feel things more deeply – that’s essential to any creative person’s genetic makeup.

The secret to a great creative partnership is who you click with: who you can talk with easily, who makes you laugh, who you learn from – the same mysterious personal stuff that goes into friendships. Who do you like being with for long stretches of time? Who brings out your best? Who’s your dude?


Is there any advice you’d give to young creatives looking for a partner or a duo just getting their start?

When you’re starting out, there’s nothing better than dating around before you make a commitment. See what feels right to you. For many it’s the sense that your partner somehow completes you. As individuals, we each have limits to what we perceive and what we know, and it’s enlightening to be with another human being who sees things outside your periphery or has opinions you don’t share. It’s also good to look for a partner whose talents complement yours. If you’re not great at selling your work or less than skillful at agency politics, find a partner who’s killer at those things and study how they do it.


How has the pandemic impacted working with your partner? Do you have any creative tips on how to collaborate when you’re working from home?

At IPNY we’ve had an eight-year jump on quarantine. From the day we opened our doors, our style of working involved periods of working from home or on location and communicating via email, mobile device or Zoom, along with immutable in-office days. It’s been a personally liberating way to work. I think many people, once they’ve had a taste, will want more of it. As for collaborating in isolation, come on. You have a phone, you have email, you have Google, Facetime, YouTube, Netflix, Spotify and all of recorded history at your fingertips – what’s so hard?


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