By Simon Campbell – Special Projects Editor, San Francisco Business Times Jul 5, 2024

Updated Jul 5, 2024 10:47am PDT

In the San Francisco 49ers’ run to Super Bowl LVIII, the team’s star players saturated the media landscape, blanketing airwaves, billboards, and social media in the run-up to the big game. And none were more ubiquitous than quarterback Brock Purdy.

One of the fledgling QB’s most high-profile campaigns saw Purdy team up with Oakland- based ad agency H/L and Toyota.

H/L President Trey Curtola has been with the agency since 2004. During that time he’s worked on numerous high-profile campaigns, sometimes with local sporting heroes like Buster Posey and Steve Young, and seen the advent of cell phone technology and then social media shake up the ad game.

Now, with AI presenting a fundamental shift to the advertising industry, he is steering the agency toward new opportunities and playing fields.

Tell us about the Brock Purdy, 49ers and Toyota campaign.

It’s been amazing. From our standpoint, there’s certainly a bit of luck in it, because he got lucky in just getting the chance (to play after injuries to other players). And so our approach was to build off of that opportunity that he was given. The whole campaign was about taking advantage of opportunities.

In hindsight it was pretty easy to see that he was going to be a superstar, but that’s never the case before it happens. He’s proven that he’s got something else above and beyond talent. He’s got a lot of intangible character traits and talent.

Why did you want to work with Brock specifically?

We approached him because we saw an opportunity that we might be able to get in early on. And it has proven more than we actually ever really thought would happen. We have a great partnership, and we’re actually shooting the next campaign with him, down at the stadium, a brand-new campaign, which is going to be amazing. But it’s just grown into this huge thing. And he’s remained completely on board and loyal to our commitment to him early on. Now we have a long-term commitment with him, for the next few years and beyond.

How is H/L approaching AI? It’s a big part of what we do here at the agency.

We’ve created a think tank with about 20 people from all the different components of the agency around the country and different departments to ensure that we listen to everybody’s thoughts and concerns.

We owe it to our clients and to ourselves to make sure that we’re not missing anything here, that we’re doing it the right way. But we can’t be the last one on the dock when the boat leaves.

How is H/L using AI in practical terms?

We have already found a lot of different ways to leverage AI. But when you get into generative AI, that’s where, especially in the creative industries, it becomes a little bit more tricky because of the IP and protection of creative rights. So we’ve done nothing at this point that’s consumer-facing, but we’ve done a lot of experimenting and implementing internally to help us be better thinkers, better operational and create better products for our clients.

We’re doing a lot to make sure that we do it the right way and that we’re not going to be left behind. It’s moving fast. We have got to make sure that we’re leveraging it both for us and for our clients.

Have you started to recruit people with AI prompt generating skills?

The short answer is we have not yet. But our plan going forward is to add that to our list of skill sets that we’re interested in.

We’ve tested a lot of different platforms in different departments so we know what we’re looking for rather than just saying, do you have AI on your resume? So it’s going to be more specific to a task that we need help with.

We need creative people more than ever. So it’ll be a component of what we look for. It’s not replacing the skill sets that we have, it’s additive.

What’s the biggest technological impact you’ve experienced in your career?

When we got into the mobile advancements with the iPhone everything went from TV to your phone. And then soon after that, it was social media. And so mobile became the place to reach people, to reach consumers.

Most content is consumed on your phone, so adapting to that is probably the biggest change I’ve seen, because it’s not just the formatting and the logistics, it’s the fact that there’s so many different audiences that you can reach now through data and analytics and tracking.

Everybody says that AI is going to change the world, just like the internet did. And maybe that’s the case, but it’s yet to be seen. But certainly in terms of the effect on advertising mobile has been the biggest change to our industry.

You are based in Oakland. How do you feel about the headlines the city has received in recent years?

Oakland was on its way up before Covid and then things started falling apart like everywhere else. So we remain positive. Our team really enjoys being here but I wouldn’t avoid saying that it’s tough. Like anywhere, the story gets exaggerated sometimes.

We love being here because of the creativity. We kind of like being gritty. That helps us stay on our toes. But there’s no doubt there’s problems in Oakland. We’re doing everything we can to be a part of positive change. Like with the kids in Oakland schools and scholarships. We recognize there’s an issue and we’re trying to be part of the solution by doing what we can to give back in the community.



Age: 57
Born: Vallejo
Residence: Green Valley, Solano County.
Hobbies: wine cultivation. “I’ve got three acres, I’ve got 600 vines and I make wine, that’s my hobby. I like being a bit rural. This is my third year, so I will have fruit and I will make wine in the fall.”

Favorite Bay Area restaurant: Bistro Don Giovanni, Napa. “We’ve been going there since they opened in the early 1990s. Every meal you have there is quality.”
The best advert ever: “The ‘Just do it’ Nike stuff. Even though it’s been around forever, that just inspired me as a kid to chase things.”

Dream dinner party guests: Muhammad Ali, Ronald Reagan and Mark Twain.
Did you ever watch the TV show Mad Men? No, I’m sorry to say, I’ve been asked that a million times. I missed the boat. But I hear about it and it just never happened. And I don’t know why.


ABOUT H/L Agency

Founded: 1985
HQ: Oakland
Offices: Atlanta, Miami, Phoenix, Kansas City and St. Louis Employees: 185
What it does: independent advertising agency
Notable clients: Toyota and McDonald’s


Link to article on San Francisco Business Times