press: the alternative pick magazine features ceft and company new york

 

drog-dogma-alt-magazine-coverin today’s fast-paced, time-conscious world, many have forgotten the power of one-on-one client collaboration. when assignments get saturated in committee politics and red tape, an overabundance of uninspiring and mediocre print, broadcast, and electronic communications floods the marketplace. after more than 10 years, ucef hanjani just got tired of the heavy-handed bureaucracy of agency work and sought to build a high-end, luxury-driven creative office that provides a more personal, hands-on approach with clients. by taking a leap of faith, the former creative director moved out of the agency rat race and started his own venture. a small, but very active, new york based firm, entitled ceft and company, was born.

“i got a small office on lafayette street in soho, where i lived, and made sure all the resources went towards producing great work and not feeding egos and managing politics,” hanjani recalls.

ceft and company’s approach to client relations, highly focused and personal, is a breath of fresh air. “i see my clients all the time. i know their personality, preferences, and views –like a friend would. i learn about their brand, as they see it. i respect their views and knowledge of the brand, and in return, they respect my views and expertise in communication. this helps tremendously in producing work that is relevant and focused,” explains hanjani. “as an agency creative director, i was quite hard to reach by my clients. i spent the majority of my time in meetings managing politics.” but, hanjani’s agency experience, working with well-known clients like IBM, jaguar, and möet & chandon, did help to build a portfolio, establish contacts, and get a foot in the door with other well-established global companies.

alt-mag-press-nikethe boutique-style firm offers an interesting mix of both editorial and advertising work. “i love the emotional power of great visuals and the ideals of fashion, but i never cared for pretty pictures alone. the hybrid fashion-editorial and advertising work i wanted to do was not really offered by agencies, and when i did see it, i always felt some part was missing,” notes hanjani. “i was looking for something smart and impeccable, almost like a person you’d want to meet at a dinner party, and seldom do.” but between the two vehicles, it’s the editorial work that allows hanjani and his colleagues to really experiment and push the envelope. “there is a higher level of risk available to us editorially and we use it to its full potential,” he says. “the end goal is to create something new and inspiring.” hanjani’s editorial work has graced the covers and spreads of such international magazines as numero (france), big magazine (U.S.), and sleek (germany).

when the up-and-coming company formulated its business plan, international clients were at the top of the list. even though U.S. clients offer the largest budgets, hanjani prefers to target the global marketplace. “i find european and japanese clients much more respectful of the creative process. they seem to understand that there is an art to producing good work. they appreciate what we do very much, and they usually get the best work in return,” he observes. “i love the power of visual communication across borders and the lasting impact it has on the average person. i want to do work that transcends race and language; having a global client list is the key to that.” hanjani’s understanding, appreciation, and passion for cultural diversity flourished from an early age. studying abroad in switzerland and later living in paris opened his eyes to extraordinary art, architecture, film making, literature, and, of course, advertising. that global sensibility has stayed with him and continues to influence every project he works on. “i grew up traveling around the world. europe was my backyard,” he adds. “i think my background has exposed me to many different cultures and surely that has had an impact on the way i view things today.”

working with different cultures and time zones, however, does have its ups and downs. the kose corporation, a japanese client, requires the firm to be functional when most of us are still sleeping. “with japan being 13 hours ahead, days merge into nights,” acknowledges hanjani. “sometimes we work really late hours and get up early to make meetings. we also have a ton of early and late teleconference calls and, of course, we travel a lot as well –sometimes traveling two to three times a month to paris, which can be quite exhausting. but, my work, fortunately, has its hills and valleys, and i love that.” working with clientele outside the U.S. also means conforming to different cultural and social norms. “you have to understand that the casualness in the united states may be seen as cool, while in japan or france it may be viewed as disrespectful. “so, we always make sure to wear our pants to meetings,” hanjani says jokingly. in regards to language, hanjani sees no barriers when working with non-english-speaking countries. even though he works with a pool of international writers, most of his work is aimed at visual communication. In meetings and presentations, he simply uses translators to assist him.

to support the day-to-day workload, hanjani works with a team of full-time and freelance creatives. “my main partner is the senior producer and has worked with me for the past two years,” he details. “i also have four main writers, an ex-bbh (bartle, bogle, and hegarty) london planner, a senior art buyer, and a few designers and art directors that i like to use on our magazine and print work.” the talent pool at ceft and company includes seasoned pros with experience from some of the most respected agencies, both nationally and internationally. “when it comes to hiring directors and photographers, we are flattered that the best talent always seems to want to work with us, even when our budgets are small,” adds hanjani. “they know the process will be personal, fun, and the result worth showing.” hanjani also likes to hire newcomers who have an inspiring eye and a keen sense for craft. “i like to think i nurture the underdog. they are forced to do great in order to survive, and i’ve always had an affinity for that.” hanjani believes that the key to successful collaboration is matching the right project with the best person who can fully realize the concept. “my role is to provide a theme or a direction, respecting who i’ve hired to interpret the idea,” he acknowledges. “doing this usually leads to work that is slightly different from what they do and not exactly the same as what I do –basically a hybrid. i watch the process of growth and direct it as necessary.” starting his own company has taught hanjani a great deal, including patience and to some extent, “a kissinger-style” as he puts it, sense of diplomacy.

alt-mag-press-dkny-hennessythe work at ceft and company is youth-inspired, upbeat, and universal with a bit of an edge. to keep in touch, culturally rich books, music, and art encompass the studio. “i like to surround myself with what interests me, hoping it will seep its way into the work,” shares hanjani. “there are a ton of prints, art and photo books, about 12 framed portraits of less-than-pretty girls by frank schwere, a charcoal drawing of a massive wave by robert longo, and two white-on-white paintings by hadi tabatabai –just to clear my internal ram.” hanjani is always looking and feeding his mind, finding his muse in almost anything. “for example, i see someone and i get inspired by how they carry themselves. that attitude could lead to directing a campaign,” he says. “if i see a pattern on a wall of a playground, i may end up using it for an editorial story or a print shoot for nike.” hanjani’s keen sense of observation is what keeps the work fresh and new. “when i go to the galleries in chelsea or see a film, i’m actually working. when i go to a bar or a club, i’m researching without even knowing it,” he notes. “if we surround ourselves with what we love, our work will be that much dearer to us.” as far as staying creative, hanjani adds: “i simply make sure i take in as much as, if not more, than i put out. i also always have at least one or two projects that answer to no one but me.” such projects may include recording music, designing editorial pieces, creating art-related books, or simply doing personal projects that allow him to fully experiment and grow as an artist. “i am driven by a somewhat false, but rather necessary, sense of confidence. without it, one could never survive in this industry,” claims hanjani. “i am very curious and tend to gravitate towards things that are less literal and more mysterious. from books to movies, i like work that stays with you long after the initial experience.”

because of the downslide in the economy, companies are more competitive than ever, driven to make an impact. “clients have realized the power of visual work. brands communicate through imagery much faster and in a more telegraphic way than the usual formula of funny headlines and elaborate body copy,” he details. “the original joe boxer tv commercial that i did along with writer david lowe had much more impact on the kmart brand and image than all the earlier spots they’d done. it was a mood enhancing piece that announced something exciting at the dusty kmart, exactly what they needed at the time.” hanjani believes that companies should update their look annually while still retaining the integrity of the brand for as long as possible. “nike is an obvious example of that, always fresh while the core idea remains the same,” he observes. “volvo, on the other hand, advertised safety for years, and suddenly it was the safe, boring car. so, because of the negative impact, they switched.”

for ceft and company, the biggest challenge is staying true to its vision, continuing to do work with interesting, compelling, and globally recognized brands on an intimate level. “i like clients who really believe in the process so we can continue to produce great work that will resonate with our times,” hanjani concludes. the boutique firm’s courage to venture out with a unique voice and approach has truly paid off, leading the industry into a new era. – by lisa l. cyr