Getting to Know Greg Ahrens

new_greg

Title: Executive Vice President, Co-Creative Director
Here since: August 1995

What exactly do you do at SKAR?
I’m a partner, vice president, co-creative director, writer, producer, head of building maintenance and assistant IT tech. As a creative director, I oversee the creative process and continually push employees to develop innovative ideas and fresh thinking. I also write and produce for clients such as the Nebraska Lottery, Sue Bee Honey, ETMC Regional Healthcare System and others.

You’ve spent time as an electrician, a bartender and an avionics specialist in the Air National Guard. How the heck did you get into advertising?
In my high school writing classes my teachers would tell me that I was creative. I always thought that this was a polite way of saying, “You suck at schoolwork but at least you have interesting ideas.” I have worked a lot of jobs through college and I think my experiences shaped my interest in advertising. I learned how to understand different cultures and speak their languages. When I was a bartender I could talk about busted motor mounts with one customer and the current political landscape with another. My college professors didn’t like my unconventional approach to creative assignments, and strangely, I enjoyed annoying them with stuff that sent shivers down their spine.

What’s your favorite way to burn your vacation days?
I’m definitely not the type of person who sits on the beach and reads a book. I like to see new things, learn and explore. I like to ride dirt bikes, Jet Skis and four-wheelers. I have a private pilot’s license so I used to love flying but it got too expensive.

You claim to be a vintage beer can collector. How many do you have and how bad does it smell where you store them all?
I have about 1,200 different beer cans. I collected them with one of my high school friends and just kept adding more over the years. I’ve been trying to add Storz beer cans from Omaha and my holy grail is the Storz “Farmer” can. They go for about $2,000 in good condition. I’d also like a Budweiser cone top can. I saw one on eBay once – $22,000 – reserve not met.

Finish this sentence – “Greg Ahrens: The Movie” starring …
Chris Farley.

What’s the one thing you see in advertising that irritates the heck out of you?
People who don’t take chances. I’ve worked with people who are afraid to leave their comfort zone and push the envelope. They would rather hide safely in the shadows than make a splash because somebody might make a negative comment. I think some of the best ads ultimately get complaints or criticism since they get the most attention.

You’re kind enough to pick up doughnuts for the entire office every Wednesday. What’s your favorite kind to grab for yourself?
German chocolate knot at LaMar’s Donuts.

If you could only keep three things from your office of cluttered treasures, what would you choose and why?
1. Framed photo of co-creative director Mike Duman and me at Super Bowl XXXIX – Getting tickets to the Super Bowl at face value is no easy task. But it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
2. Krusty the Clown talking doll – As a big fan of “The Simpsons,” I simply never get tired of hearing phrases like, “What have you done for me lately?” and “Shut your hole.”
3. Animatronic lifelike chimpanzee head with remote – Believe it or not, this was a Christmas gift from my mom. It has a sensor that can follow movements and turn his head, make cool monkey noises and scare the hell out of unsuspecting dogs that stop by.

What’s your secret for getting through a long work day?
I try not to get burned out focusing on one project for a long period of time. Going to theonion.com helps me reset. Sometimes I look through One Show books or visit interesting sites like thisiswhyimbroke.com and thecoolhunter.net to re-energize my brain.

If a college student were to ask you for advice about getting a career in advertising, what would you say?
Consider a different career. Still here? OK. Well, I know from experience that getting your foot in the door has historically been one of the biggest challenges faced by college graduates. My advice is to make a list of all the agencies in Omaha (or the city where you plan to work) and research them. Know their clients. Know their work. Learn about the people working there and their culture. Then ask for 10 minutes of their time to show them how your skills can benefit their agency. Also, join the local ad club and volunteer to be on committees, network at events and get your name out there.

Of all the campaigns you’ve worked on throughout your career, which one are you most proud of and why?
I’ve worked on countless campaigns for hundreds of different clients but nothing has been more rewarding than the public service advertising I’ve created over the years. I’m probably most proud of the End Meth campaign that was part of AAF Omaha’s annual public service initiative.

How has the advertising industry changed the most since you started?
Digital wasn’t even part of the advertising landscape when I started out. But the biggest change I’ve seen is the move from talking at consumers to talking with them.

You can only watch one movie for the rest of your life. What are you watching?
“The Godfather.”

Anything ever happened to you on a commercial shoot that made you say, “WTF?”
More times than I can count. I had a client who insisted on taking his own personal flash photography while we were shooting scenes (on film). I had a 10-year-old tell me he “couldn’t work under these conditions” while we were shooting and walked off the set. One of the most memorable experiences was when I was at my first agency right out of college and I was assigned to direct a photo shoot with Jim Krantz – a great photographer. We were on the top floor of the One Pacific Place office building shooting a still of the Noddle Development glass door. To add to the effect, Jim was using a fog machine. Of course, this set off the fire alarms and after a few minutes, two firemen came running up the stairs and told us to get the hell out of the building. Jim pointed his finger at them and told them he wasn’t going anywhere until he finished the shot. I almost had a heart attack.