Creative Director Steve Vengrove Is the ‘Reel’ Deal

by William Childs

In fly-fishing, it’s incredibly challenging to land a fly in just the right location to entice a fish to strike. Steve Vengrove, who’s spent his career catching big ideas for some of the world’s largest brands as an Executive Creative Director/Board of Directors for Saatchi & Saatchi, understands this very well.
“Fishing and idea generating can sometimes be an elusive experience. You must be willing to invest the time because both are highly specialized activities that require large amounts of patience. They also happen to be the only two things I’m good at,” joked Vengrove.
Steve once responded to an ad for a copywriter posted for the agency Dancer Fitzgerald Sample (DFS) by sending this risky response to their Creative Director, Jack Keil – “I would like to work for you because I believe that every ad agency should have a fly fisherman on its staff.” He sent no resume, included no samples of his work. The plan paid off. After an interview with John, he landed the job.
In 1986, Saatchi & Saatchi purchased DFS. Today, Saatchi is still one of the largest global communications agencies with over 140 offices in 76 countries and more than 6,500 workers around the world. Steve spent close to sixteen years working alongside some of the most prominent brands in the world, including Toyota, Proctor & Gamble, General Mills and Wendy’s.
Jack Smart, a Creative Director who worked with Steve at DFS and Saatchi, said this about working with him, “Steve always had a clown nose in his pocket and would put it on in a restaurant, his office or in a meeting. Working for Steve wasn’t work, it was clown noses, jokes, funny commercials and very happy, successful clients,” said Smart.
Steve’s Son, Tony, Founder & CEO of Miles Finch Innovation has fond memories of his Father’s unique approach to his work. “When I was a young teenager, he stormed into our family room one afternoon and asked me if I knew of any current songs about legs. I said, “She’s Got Legs” by ZZ Top. A few months later “She’s got Legg’s” was the new campaign for Legg’s pantyhose. Sparks of ideas inspired in the house seemed to have a magical way of making it onto television. I certainly learned from my father that creativity benefits from teamwork and not being afraid to ask questions.”
Steve understood how to navigate the waters of the agency world. “I was lucky in that I was able to surround myself with people who were better than me. That’s what made the difference. I always worked with really talented people. Many times I would come up with the initial idea, but I always counted on my team to find ways to make it better, and they would.”
Steve and his team were responsible for creating the wildly successful ‘Oh, what a feeling!’ Toyota automotive campaign featuring people jumping in slow motion over their excitement of owning a Toyota. Another successful campaign Steve had a hand in was ‘Cuckoo for Coco-Puffs.’ Featuring ‘Sonny’ the Cuckoo bird who goes crazy every time he tastes the chocolaty cereal.
Saatchi once had the opportunity to present to Wendy’s a new concept. The agency was in the process of acquiring the rights to the song ‘Georgia On My Mind,’ and after reworking some of the lyrics, Steve hired jazz musician Grady Tate to re-record the song as ‘Wendy’s On My Mind.’
“It was such a strong idea that I believe had they bought it, it would have sold them a lot of hamburgers,” said Vengrove. Even though this idea was ‘one that got away,’ Steve keeps it in perspective. He’s proud of the people he has mentored over the years, his lifelong agency friendships, and the work he did on behalf of Saatchi and DFS’ clients. Since retiring to Bethlehem, Steve no longer has to worry about catching his next big idea. He now pours his creative energy into getting the Saucon Creek trout to bite his hand tied flies.
He kept the ideas he caught while working for Saatchi. Now, he’s at peace with releasing what he catches.

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