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Agency Life

Advertising by Day, Author by Night

Advertising by Day, Author by Night

Patricia Murphy

Patricia Murphy

November 5, 2019

Havas North America’s Tim Maleeny on the release of his fifth novel and how he juggles his career in advertising with his passion for storytelling.

"Writing a novel, or anything worth doing, is a stamina game—the key is the will to keep going"

They say everyone has a book in them and for Havas North America’s Tim Maleeny, it’s five and counting. In October, Maleeny, the President of Havas New York and Havas North America’s Chief Strategy Officer, published his fifth novel, Boxing the Octopus, a comedic mystery that follows private investigator Cape Weathers and local merchant Vera Young as they try to understand how her boyfriend ended up at the helm of an armored car as it plunged into San Francisco Bay.

Maleeny, who published his first novel in 2007, talks about his passion for advertising, his career with Havas, and the drive it takes to bring these gripping thrillers from his mind to the bookshelf.

 

How did you start your career and what led you down the path of advertising?

I went to graduate school with the naïve ambition of figuring out what I wanted to do when (or if) I grew up, and was lucky enough to get an internship at a cable television channel. I worked in the on-air promotions department, writing and producing trailers for the channel’s TV shows and, in the course of that summer, fell in love with copywriting, production, and the world of marketing.

Tell us a little about your role at Havas North America.

My job is to take complicated business challenges and translate them into simple and compelling stories that get creative teams excited and consumers engaged. All of strategy comes down to answering two big, but simple questions: what would you do if you were the client, and why would you care if you were the target consumer (and had a million cat videos to watch every day)?

My job demands getting very hands-on with campaign development for all of our clients—working with the core teams as briefings occur and work takes shape—and also very involved in new business as we meet clients for the first time and reimagine their business opportunities into meaningful brand behavior.

You’ve just published your fifth novel, Boxing the Octopus, a mystery set in San Francisco’s gritty underworld. Where did you find your inspiration for this one?

I used to work near Pier 39 in San Francisco, one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world, where millions of tourists come to shop, eat, visit the sea lions, look at Alcatraz, and spends lots and lots of money.

One day I saw an armored car driving along the pier and thought, how would you hijack an armored car in broad daylight at the height of tourist season? That got me thinking that a tourist destination could be a great place for a criminal conspiracy to move a lot of money around while hiding in plain sight. The rest was thinking of all the colorful and bizarre characters who might inhabit such a place, and once you know the characters, the plot of your story takes on a life of its own. The plot of Boxing The Octopus was a fun jigsaw puzzle to put together.

"Havas is the only agency with the breadth of capabilities you’d find in a big agency combined with the fluidity of an independent agency"

How much research is involved in writing a novel like this, and what kind of people do you connect with to make your plots stronger?

In my case it takes about two years to write a mystery novel, in part because of my relentless day job(s), but also because of the research. Knowing your characters and their backstories, getting details of your location right, and becoming fluent in the element of the plot—money laundering, smuggling, police procedures—becomes really important if you want the reader to suspend disbelief and come along for the ride.

Once I pick a subject matter and location, I buy books and maps, go to the library, watch documentaries, spend hours online and talk to as many experts as possible; in some cases lawyers, members of law enforcement, or other writers who’ve discovered great sources for what you need to find. The crime fiction community is an incredibly generous bunch.

How do you juggle both careers and what are some of the challenges involved?

I’ve been incredibly fortunate that everyone in the mystery community—readers, reviewers and other writers—has responded so positively to my books and short stories, so it’s been amazing to pursue a passion while also throwing myself daily into agency life. The balance—if there is any—only works because I’ve been lucky enough to write at my own pace and accept that family comes first, my agency life second, and writing occurs whenever (and wherever) I can find time to make it happen. That means giving up a lot of other hobbies and making writing a priority, getting up early or staying up late to write, research, or just edit what I’ve been working on, and realizing that even a short paragraph is a giant step forward. I write on airplanes, in restaurants, hotel rooms, parks—wherever I can steal an hour. 

You left Havas in 2016 and then returned in 2018. What drew you back to the network and what did you learn from the experience?

I left to build a new agency model in the world of consulting, wanting to get a closer look at that approach to clients, and I’ve also worked at a number of other agencies besides Havas in a variety of roles. I came back because Havas is truly unique among the bigger agencies because it doesn’t have a rigid structure, whereas the larger holding company agencies tend to be hierarchical and very linear in how they approach things. Business isn’t linear, people don’t make rational decisions, and creativity happens in swarms of talented people who bring different perspectives to a shared agenda of doing something amazing. Despite all the obsessions with data and tools, marketing is still as much art as science, and Havas is the only agency with the breadth of capabilities you’d find in a big agency combined with the fluidity of an independent agency in which teams can be reconfigured on the fly as clients’ needs change. It’s a much more dynamic place to work, where the lines between roles are constantly blurred. As a hybrid myself, Havas has always felt closer to the way agencies used to be, and how they are trying to become again. Integrated, nimble, and always changing. 

You wrote your debut novel Stealing the Dragon in 2006 How long had you dreamed of publishing a book and how did it move from an idea to the shelf?

I’d always loved reading and I started to write while stuck on airplanes and in airports between pitch meetings. I began with short stories, which were featured in major mystery anthologies, and that gave me the confidence to try writing a novel. I lived in San Francisco near Chinatown, a city with a great noir tradition and a neighborhood that provided the perfect setting for Stealing The Dragon. Research was easy because I lived so close—anytime an idea struck, I could go for a walk and find the details I needed. It took a while to work through all the moving parts for a novel, and that was only the first draft. Then I had to rewrite, which is the most important part before finding an agent and shopping the book to publishers. It takes a lot longer than you’d expect, but as long as you’re lost in a story you don’t notice the time.

Who is your favorite author and what is your favorite book?

If you’re a reader this is an impossible question; the list would go on for pages. I read mystery novels, science fiction, comic books, historical and select nonfiction. If you’re asking about crime writers, I jump back and forth between iconic crime writers like Elmore Leonard and Ross MacDonald to a range of contemporary authors like J.T. Ellison, Lee Child, Lisa Lutz and Carl Hiaasen, to name a few.

What is the best book you’ve read this year?

Thirteen by Irish writer Steve Cavanagh.

What is the best piece of advice you could give to other aspiring writers in Havas?

Keep writing! Remember you’re telling yourself a story, so all you have to do is keep asking: what happens next?

Writing a novel, or anything worth doing, is a stamina game—the key is the will to keep going and the ability to judge your own work—edit, fix it, make changes and do whatever it takes to make it great. You’ll know when you’re done.

Boxing the Octopus is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Independent Bookstores everywhere.

"Writing a novel, or anything worth doing, is a stamina game—the key is the will to keep going"

They say everyone has a book in them and for Havas North America’s Tim Maleeny, it’s five and counting. In October, Maleeny, the President of Havas New York and Havas North America’s Chief Strategy Officer, published his fifth novel, Boxing the Octopus, a comedic mystery that follows private investigator Cape Weathers and local merchant Vera Young as they try to understand how her boyfriend ended up at the helm of an armored car as it plunged into San Francisco Bay.

Maleeny, who published his first novel in 2007, talks about his passion for advertising, his career with Havas, and the drive it takes to bring these gripping thrillers from his mind to the bookshelf.

 

How did you start your career and what led you down the path of advertising?

I went to graduate school with the naïve ambition of figuring out what I wanted to do when (or if) I grew up, and was lucky enough to get an internship at a cable television channel. I worked in the on-air promotions department, writing and producing trailers for the channel’s TV shows and, in the course of that summer, fell in love with copywriting, production, and the world of marketing.

Tell us a little about your role at Havas North America.

My job is to take complicated business challenges and translate them into simple and compelling stories that get creative teams excited and consumers engaged. All of strategy comes down to answering two big, but simple questions: what would you do if you were the client, and why would you care if you were the target consumer (and had a million cat videos to watch every day)?

My job demands getting very hands-on with campaign development for all of our clients—working with the core teams as briefings occur and work takes shape—and also very involved in new business as we meet clients for the first time and reimagine their business opportunities into meaningful brand behavior.

You’ve just published your fifth novel, Boxing the Octopus, a mystery set in San Francisco’s gritty underworld. Where did you find your inspiration for this one?

I used to work near Pier 39 in San Francisco, one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world, where millions of tourists come to shop, eat, visit the sea lions, look at Alcatraz, and spends lots and lots of money.

One day I saw an armored car driving along the pier and thought, how would you hijack an armored car in broad daylight at the height of tourist season? That got me thinking that a tourist destination could be a great place for a criminal conspiracy to move a lot of money around while hiding in plain sight. The rest was thinking of all the colorful and bizarre characters who might inhabit such a place, and once you know the characters, the plot of your story takes on a life of its own. The plot of Boxing The Octopus was a fun jigsaw puzzle to put together.

"Havas is the only agency with the breadth of capabilities you’d find in a big agency combined with the fluidity of an independent agency"

How much research is involved in writing a novel like this, and what kind of people do you connect with to make your plots stronger?

In my case it takes about two years to write a mystery novel, in part because of my relentless day job(s), but also because of the research. Knowing your characters and their backstories, getting details of your location right, and becoming fluent in the element of the plot—money laundering, smuggling, police procedures—becomes really important if you want the reader to suspend disbelief and come along for the ride.

Once I pick a subject matter and location, I buy books and maps, go to the library, watch documentaries, spend hours online and talk to as many experts as possible; in some cases lawyers, members of law enforcement, or other writers who’ve discovered great sources for what you need to find. The crime fiction community is an incredibly generous bunch.

How do you juggle both careers and what are some of the challenges involved?

I’ve been incredibly fortunate that everyone in the mystery community—readers, reviewers and other writers—has responded so positively to my books and short stories, so it’s been amazing to pursue a passion while also throwing myself daily into agency life. The balance—if there is any—only works because I’ve been lucky enough to write at my own pace and accept that family comes first, my agency life second, and writing occurs whenever (and wherever) I can find time to make it happen. That means giving up a lot of other hobbies and making writing a priority, getting up early or staying up late to write, research, or just edit what I’ve been working on, and realizing that even a short paragraph is a giant step forward. I write on airplanes, in restaurants, hotel rooms, parks—wherever I can steal an hour. 

You left Havas in 2016 and then returned in 2018. What drew you back to the network and what did you learn from the experience?

I left to build a new agency model in the world of consulting, wanting to get a closer look at that approach to clients, and I’ve also worked at a number of other agencies besides Havas in a variety of roles. I came back because Havas is truly unique among the bigger agencies because it doesn’t have a rigid structure, whereas the larger holding company agencies tend to be hierarchical and very linear in how they approach things. Business isn’t linear, people don’t make rational decisions, and creativity happens in swarms of talented people who bring different perspectives to a shared agenda of doing something amazing. Despite all the obsessions with data and tools, marketing is still as much art as science, and Havas is the only agency with the breadth of capabilities you’d find in a big agency combined with the fluidity of an independent agency in which teams can be reconfigured on the fly as clients’ needs change. It’s a much more dynamic place to work, where the lines between roles are constantly blurred. As a hybrid myself, Havas has always felt closer to the way agencies used to be, and how they are trying to become again. Integrated, nimble, and always changing. 

You wrote your debut novel Stealing the Dragon in 2006 How long had you dreamed of publishing a book and how did it move from an idea to the shelf?

I’d always loved reading and I started to write while stuck on airplanes and in airports between pitch meetings. I began with short stories, which were featured in major mystery anthologies, and that gave me the confidence to try writing a novel. I lived in San Francisco near Chinatown, a city with a great noir tradition and a neighborhood that provided the perfect setting for Stealing The Dragon. Research was easy because I lived so close—anytime an idea struck, I could go for a walk and find the details I needed. It took a while to work through all the moving parts for a novel, and that was only the first draft. Then I had to rewrite, which is the most important part before finding an agent and shopping the book to publishers. It takes a lot longer than you’d expect, but as long as you’re lost in a story you don’t notice the time.

Who is your favorite author and what is your favorite book?

If you’re a reader this is an impossible question; the list would go on for pages. I read mystery novels, science fiction, comic books, historical and select nonfiction. If you’re asking about crime writers, I jump back and forth between iconic crime writers like Elmore Leonard and Ross MacDonald to a range of contemporary authors like J.T. Ellison, Lee Child, Lisa Lutz and Carl Hiaasen, to name a few.

What is the best book you’ve read this year?

Thirteen by Irish writer Steve Cavanagh.

What is the best piece of advice you could give to other aspiring writers in Havas?

Keep writing! Remember you’re telling yourself a story, so all you have to do is keep asking: what happens next?

Writing a novel, or anything worth doing, is a stamina game—the key is the will to keep going and the ability to judge your own work—edit, fix it, make changes and do whatever it takes to make it great. You’ll know when you’re done.

Boxing the Octopus is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Independent Bookstores everywhere.

Patricia Murphy is a content creator with a background in digital health and lifestyle journalism. She loves to chat and tell stories.

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