Advertisers at Work: Ellen Steinberg and Jim Russell

Ellen Steinberg

Ellen Steinberg

Ellen Steinberg is group creative director and executive vice president at McKinney in Durham, NC ( She joined McKinney in 2006 after serving as co-creative head of Fallon New York. Steinberg’s work has won virtually every major creative award and covers such iconic brands as Sherwin-Williams, Russell Beam, Miller Lite, Nikon, and Sports Illustrated. She has served as a juror for Communication Arts competitions and the One Show. Steinberg is a graduate of the University of Delaware. She is also a yoga instructor and a justice of the peace.

Jim Russell

Jim Russell

Jim Russell is chief innovation officer at McKinney, where he’s worked since 2003. He joined McKinney after work at in Boston, following work on the online launch of the MINI Cooper. The campaign was named Most Innovative Marketing Campaign of the Year by Business 2.0. Russell helped reinvent McKinney by fully integrating digital into its existing disciplines, rather than holding digital as a separate business unit. As a result, 90 percent of McKinney’s frontline staff is active in creating and managing integrated digital efforts, including online advertising, online CRM (customer relationship management), social media, interactive brand experience, mobile, and site design. Russell began his career at Accenture, first working in artificial intelligence and later for Accenture’s Center for Strategic Technology in Palo Alto. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Please enjoy the following excerpt from my interview with Ellen Steinberg and Jim Russell for Advertisers at Work:

Tuten: Ellen, was your first job out of college in advertising?

Steinberg: It was. I ended up being in the visual communications program, which was a three-year program undergrad, and I developed a portfolio, and I went straight up to New York, and found a job.

Tuten: And stayed in the business ever since?

Steinberg: Yeah, just about. I’ve had brief hiatuses here and there. I free-lanced for about seven years, but it’s twenty-one years that I’m in the business, I’m horrified to say.

Tuten: And the improv, justice of the peace, and yoga work—that’s all on the side?

Steinberg: Yes, yes [laughter]. Jim has a very different story than mine.

Tuten: Jim, tell us about your story.

Jim Russell: Okay. I’ve always enjoyed creative media, whether it’s music or film or good advertising, from the time I was a kid and into college. But in college, I was a psychology major and then picked up a computer science degree as well. I was a double major. I did that because I was really interested in artificial intelligence. I loved the idea of trying to teach computers how to do things that humans do well. Straight out of school, I worked at Andersen Consulting, which is now Accenture, as one of their small group of AI consultants. AI consultants go to their different clients around North America and build different AI systems to help the clients with underwriting, and this and that. I did that for a while and I really liked it.

This is where serendipity comes into play. Andersen opened up an applied R&D center in Silicon Valley, a bike ride from the Stanford campus in Palo Alto. I moved there in ’93. Half my job was still sort of building demos and doing technology stuff, but the other half was focused on a business center for different clients of Accenture. One day Citgo would be in, and the next day it would be the New York Times, and the next day would be a company like Volvo. All of these clients had different problems, and what we were basically doing was building the business center. It was really a sort of marketing center. We built these demos, and if all was going well, the chief information officer would point to what was being shown on the screens and say to his or her underlings, “I want to build one of those. How quickly can you make it happen?”

That was really what caught me first—using technology for storytelling to get people to do what you want them to do. That’s a crass way of saying it, but that’s what we were doing at the time. So I did that and I realized I was sort of a square peg in a round hole in traditional technology consulting, even at that R&D center. Slowly but surely, the next job was helping executives at Intel with their keynote addresses and speeches and building the demos around that. And then the next job over was at an online agency, so even though I have been working for about twenty-three, twenty-four years, I’ve only been in advertising since 2000, so for about eleven years now.

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