PwC’s Jon Finkelstein on How His Existential Crisis Helped Him Overcome Agency Monotony

The executive creative director was 'really bored of the same brief over and over again'

Having read some articles on the rise of consultancies as a formidable force in the advertising world, Finkelstein was tempted by the notion of working on bigger, more multidimensional business challenges. - Credit by Chi Deng
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A little over two years ago, Jon Finkelstein had a moment of existential crisis he thinks is common among longtime creatives in the agency world. A quarter-century of working in creative shops big and small had left him disenchanted with the ephemerality of his work.

“Even though I love it, I kind of describe it as farts in the wind,” he said.You’ll spend three months working on a TV campaign that’ll be on air for maybe six, eight weeks if you’re lucky. … I got really bored of the same brief over and over again.”

Having read some articles on the rise of consultancies as a formidable force in the advertising world, he was tempted by the notion of working on bigger, more multidimensional business challenges.

Finkelstein likes to describe himself creatively as a “meddler”—a type of cross-disciplinary curiosity he defines as “nosy, but in a good way.” And as executive creative director of PwC’s digital services, he thinks he’s found a better outlet for that quality. “Now, we’re talking about AR, VR, drones and construction, reinventing the supply chain—it’s these really big problems,” he said.

As an example of this mentality at play, he points to an upcoming project with a major international retailer he can’t yet name, in which PwC designed an in-store experience across digital and physical spaces, including an app, Salesforce integration, store layout and social presence.

But that’s not to say Finkelstein doesn’t have fond memories from his time at agencies: the Toronto firm where he got his first staff gig in 1995, Integrated Communication and Entertainment (then a farm agency for “smart ad people,” he says); his stint at Ogilvy & Mather; and eight-plus years as an eventual partner at Toronto-based shop Grip Limited. He’s particularly proud of his more offbeat projects, like an award-winning amateur track competition and experiential marketing event for Nike.

“One thing that made me different … is that a lot of creative directors for digital were designers first,” Finkelstein said. “They would approach their work as a design solution, whereas for me, I came at it conceptually, so like, ‘What’s the idea we’re trying to do here? Then we’ll figure out what it looks like.'”

Big Mistake

When Finkelstein first started as a creative director, it took him some time to realize he needed to be more hands-off. “It took me a while to let go and to trust my teams,” he said.

Lesson Learned

“You don’t have to be as much of an idea machine; you just need to be a good shepherd,” he explained, adding that being a creative director is “about providing the conditions for people to do great work, to shepherd them to do it and to help them. That’s where the power is.”

How He Got the Gig

After reading about the consultancies-as-agencies trend, he researched a few of them and found that PwC’s abundance of like-minded experience consultants and agency veterans made for the best cultural fit.

Pro Tip

“[Give] yourself permission to try [stuff] you’ve never done and stop worrying so much about it is key,” Finkelstein advised. “So stop worrying about what other people think about you, because they’re not really thinking about you at all. Do the work. … Be silly. The world needs more silly.”


@patrickkulp patrick.kulp@adweek.com Patrick Kulp is an emerging tech reporter at Adweek.