The fact that Jon ever has to wonder when he’ll get his next freelance gig makes the rest of us mere advertising mortals thank our lucky stars that anything ever comes our way. Jon is, to put it mildly, incredibly talented. We know this not just from the oodles of awards and famous agencies that populate his resumé, but also by taking a stroll through his portfolio and realizing he’s created approximately half of the ads we wished we’d created throughout our careers.
We’re talking work for brands like Nike, Levis, Emerald Nuts, Playstation, Chrysler and Anheuser Busch; agencies like Goodby Silverstein & Partners, BBDO/SF, Hal Riney, Chiat/SF and LA, Wieden + Kennedy and Mad Dogs & Englishmen. We're also talking awards like Grand Prix in film at the Cannes, multiple Pencils at the One Show, The Effies, New York Festivals, London International awards, Art Directors Club, The Emmy Awards as well as a slot in the Clio Hall of Fame. Right?
Of course, perhaps most impressive is that in spite of all these accolades, Jon seems to have remained an awfully nice guy.
Jon is currently working around the Bay Area as a freelance Creative Director/Art Director/Writer for the likes of Twitter and Facebook as well as a handful of agencies and clients. When not creating work that makes us go, “Damn, that’s good,” he can be found riding different types of boards, collecting and playing ukuleles "like a mother fucker" and making god-awful paintings (his assessment, not ours).
Is ageism in the industry something you thought about in your 30s? Your 40s?
Something happened to me in my 20’s that has stayed with me forever. It was at one of my first jobs at an awful agency. I remember walking down the hall and seeing one of my teachers from SVA (who was an older gentleman at the time) walking out of the creative director’s office carrying his big old black portfolio. He’d obviously been interviewing. As I walked towards him to say hello, I could see his face. He looked so, so sad. Before I could say anything he stepped past me, eyes staring into the distance, shoulders hanging down from the weight of the box he was lugging from place to place. He never saw me. I literally had to step out of his way with my back to the wall and watch him slowly walk away and disappear into the elevator. It was like the ghost of Christmas future. It scared the shit out of me. At that moment, I knew I had to get really good at what I was doing or that would be me. So yes, I’ve always thought about it. And I’ve always known it was real.
Is ageism something that’s affected you? What are some of the challenges you faced as a person who was getting older in the business? Do tell.
Funny you should ask. Recently, after 5 years, Nick Cohen and I decided to, shall we say, send Mad Dogs 2.0 off to live on a farm in the country. We made some nice work for our clients along the way. But, the bold experiment had run its course and we both decided it was best to go our separate ways. So, between kicking stage four throat cancer’s ass (for a year before we started Mad Dogs), reopening, then closing up shop, throw in the factor that I’m now considered a “veteran” and things have really been put into perspective.
So, while I’m writing this, I’m also sending emails out to all of my contacts, hunting down freelance or trying to find a new home. You know the drill. Going through that whole process is making me think very hard about what I really want, what I actually need and how exactly I’m going to make that happen. I know that I’m really good at what I do. But, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that writing this is raising some fears in me. Thanks, Susan.
"My journey honestly feels like a flash. A blip. And, in the grand scheme of things, it is. We really have such a short time to explode onto the canvas. You always have to keep that in mind. It all matters."
Tell us about your own creative journey. What are your thoughts on where you are now, compared to your mindset when you were in the beginning of your career?
My journey honestly feels like a flash. A blip. And, in the grand scheme of things, it is. We really have such a short time to explode onto the canvas. You always have to keep that in mind. It all matters. My motive was always just to put my head down and work. As an art director, as a creative director and even when I held ECD roles, It wasn’t until you looked back and saw what you’d all made together that you were actually able to reflect on the journey part. When I’m in it, I’m just doing. And that’s the fun part. I always just wanted to make the people around me feel lifted, happy, thoughtful and responsible for the work they’re putting forward.
When I create anything, be it work, art, music, it all comes back to that feeling I used to get when my mom would stick something I made up on to the fridge with magnets. That feeling that I did something that made someone happy made me feel so giddy and proud. All I’m ever really looking for is a chance to be able to keep putting work up on the fridge. So, no, nothing’s really changed.
Did the reality of the ad industry contribute to the decisions you made/the path you’ve taken?
Probably not. The tides tend to shift but there’s always one common denominator. A brilliant idea. Like in the early 00’s when everything was about surprising forms of media, and then it all moved towards branded entertainment, then back around to 6 second commercials for social. In the end, It’s always been about finding an enlightening truth about a product and then expressing it. We’re all still trying to do the same thing, trying to make someone nod and say, I like the way that brand made me feel, or the way they made me think about that. In the end, if the larger idea doesn’t resonate, we’re just making noise. Finding that simple idea has always been the driving force in me, and it hasn’t let me down yet.
"You need to always be kind and value everyone you work with. From the kid in the mailroom to the owner of the agency, the same amount of respect and attention needs to be extended. It comes back in better forms."
What do you feel creative people over 50 can offer over someone 20 years their junior, things that are unappreciated, or just plain overlooked?
Aside from references to movies and TV shows that initiate blank stares? Let’s see, there’s a lot. We can remind them that it’s only advertising and show them how them to remain focused when shit is coming at you from every direction. We can help them see that there is a solid truth hiding somewhere in that brief, and help them get there with greater efficiency. We can teach them that it’s all disposable, and not to fall blindly in love with a particular idea, because there’s always a different way in. Letting go of an idea often sparks a better one. It’s kind of karmic. And most importantly, we can demonstrate that you need to always be kind and value everyone you work with. From the kid in mailroom to the owner of the agency, the same amount of respect and attention needs to be extended. Again, karmic. It comes back in better forms.
What is your advice to people who are nearing or over 40 in the ad industry?
I’d say just know what your strengths are and be honest with yourself about them. Hone in on that part of your game. Don’t ever try to fake anything. Find what makes you happiest and make it work for you.
How are you approaching the next 10 years? What does your future hold?
I’m hoping to slow down eventually. But, for now it’s still full speed ahead. I started late with the kids, so I’ve got two heading for college soon. Besides that, there’s this arrow on my back that’s still quite far from the E side of the gauge. When I hit on an idea, I still get the same exact endorphin rush that I did when I did in my 20’s and 30’s. Things still come flying in out of nowhere. And I absolutely love that. That’s where the goodness lies. And I want some more, please. And you know what, if the shit really hits the fan one day, I know I’d be able to stand on a corner with a ukulele, singing ridiculous pop songs, making people smile and maybe earn enough money for a sandwich and a delicious soft drink. #ApocalypsePlanning.
What do you see as potential solutions for ageism in the industry? Any thoughts on possibly unionizing?
It’s funny when I think of unionizing, I think of a road crews in hard hats fixing potholes in the road. A bunch of people standing around while one person works. Which sounds terribly boring to me. But, that’s just the dumb picture in my head. I honestly can’t see it working. I’m sure the union meetings would be a hoot though. Here’s a thought, it’s common practice in this industry, when the assignment is a product for women, women will work on the project. Or if it’s for a running shoe, the runners in the agency will work on it. What about agencies or departments within, working on products more relevant to where they are in life? Wouldn’t it be refreshing to see great, relatable work for products that never get that kind of attention?
"I’ve greatly loved watching kids I’ve known rise up through the ranks and crush things. Especially the really nice ones who work super hard and deserve it."
What are some positive things you’ve experienced as you’ve grown older in the business?
It’s been super interesting watching the whole thing change in such a short time. I’ve seen so many iterations of roles and different new fangled titles for people in the business. Again, it’s always been crystal clear that good ideas are the greatest product we have. It’s our currency. I’ve always tried to remain positive throughout my career. A realist yes, but positive. I’ve gotten great at detecting bullshit. I’ve greatly loved watching kids I’ve known rise up through the ranks and crush things. Especially the really nice ones who work super hard and deserve it.
Who do you look to for inspiration?
Whomever I’m speaking with. Right in that moment. There are lessons to be learned from everyone you come in contact with. Staying open to that is key. The second you think otherwise is the second you stop growing.