Congrats on the launch of Cartwright! It’s quite a time to be starting a new agency, given all that’s going on in the world. What has the experience been like? This is the second agency that I’ve launched. One of the reasons why my first agency, Union Made Creative, didn’t work originally was because I wasn’t able to scale. Being independent in a project-based market prevents you from having the stability and confidence to invest and grow your business. This second go-around, I’m bringing in people at the executive level to focus on the work, the productions and the details. This, along with our partnership with holding company WPP, has been revelatory. The agency network has given me the freedom to bring in resources as needed. Having both WPP and Grey Global Group as partners has been massive.
What keeps drawing you to entrepreneurship? I always wanted to make things. When I was twelve, I started a comic book company and hired writers and artists from my class. I made photocopies at my mom’s school, where she taught as a teacher, and sold them for 25 cents each. Building a company is simply a different way of creating. It’s about making something, providing useful products, and setting up culture and infrastructure at a different scale. I love it.
How does your background as a creative leader help you make better business decisions? I’m always going to lead with the work; it’s the driving decision behind my business. It’s our product. If it’s not right, then nothing else matters. I’ve built a creative leadership team around me that allows me to focus on the work, with individuals I trust to lead their respective teams so that I can focus on our product. This enables me to make business decisions that are beneficial to our business and the clients.
We can tell early on if a relationship with a client is not going to work. If a client is not giving us enough insight into their business or just wants an iterative change, then we can’t help them. For the clients who trust us, are open to our thinking and see us as a partner who can help impact their business, we’ve found that those relationships go a lot further.
At Cartwright, how are you building off everything you’ve come to understand about managing your relationships with your clients? Honestly, COVID-19 has changed my answer to this question. With the issues we are all facing, our clients are going through things they never have before. We are working closely with our clients as business partners, not just as their marketing agency. They are dealing with new kinds of trauma on a daily basis. There’s an openness and honesty in how we work together because everything they do could be detrimental to their bottom line.
Many clients are now looking for help in telling or retelling their brand story. This is important today because if they don’t have an authentic brand story, consumers will not let them get into the conversation the way they want to. There is now the realization that people and consumers want to know who a brand is and what it stands for.
You launched SATURDAY MORNING in 2016 with Geoff Edwards, Kwame Taylor-Hayford and Jayanta Jenkins. Have SATURDAY MORNING’s goals changed since then? We started out hoping that we could build a coalition in the advertising industry that could be set off to do big things. Then, we realized that this coalition we were building was based on our creative powers, and it was actually the clients who wanted to do big things with us. We ended up taking a bigger role in ideation, production and creation. We are very honest about the fact that we are a nonprofit creative consortium that puts creativity out in the world.
In the open letter that SATURDAY MORNING released amid the global Black Lives Matter protests, the last paragraph begins, “We have been fortunate to work with leading companies and brands who understand they have a role and the power to be a voice for real change.” What are specific ways the advertising industry can better support such clients in this role? Agencies first need to have a diverse staff. There’s no creative idea that you can put out into the world that isn’t improved by having a diverse group of thinkers who are coming up with the answers. Agencies and businesses can’t just say that they are in support of these important issues and causes. Agencies need to be working on the inside to make their product and output as diverse as the world we live in. The “White” ideal society in marketing is gone. That stigma is no longer accepted in everyday society, and to think that the same demographic who created the stereotype can change it is ignorant and blind.
Why do you think advertising is an especially good vehicle to talk about racism? Advertising can be a powerful tool to drive change because of its reach. The smarter companies understand that people and consumers still look to brands as a representation of culture. Imagine if 20 percent of brands operated like Procter & Gamble and others that participate in a constant dialogue on what they need to consider in order to make the world a better place.
What is inspiring you nowadays? My family. As my kids grow older, I’m tuned in to how they are handling such difficult moments. We are getting closer and finding ways to stay inspired. Watching my kids create and share their point of view of the world amazes me. I know it sounds cliché, but my kids are my inspiration. I come to work every day and I think about my client’s business. But when I come home, I look forward to what they are doing or thinking; it’s always a reset for me.
What would you tell a creative who’s looking to get hired by you? The craft will get there—in part because of the number of reps you put in every day. What I can’t teach is ambition and curiosity. The ideas are ambitious and have to have depth. I look for thinking that I have not seen before, like fresh or audacious ways to solve a problem. If I get that from their portfolios or even their social profiles, then I can see that they could do special things.