February 11, 2016

Thought Provokers- Jim Carlton

An image shot in China from my personal series entitled Bodies of Land 

 It is essential for artists to recognize who or what has influenced them during the course of their career. Taking a breath to look inward and recognize those people or things lets an artist recognize what fascinates them, what motivates them to create and be passionate about their work and what they are trying to say with it. 

As a commercial photographer, I have had the opportunity to work with a tremendous amount of talented creatives. I would have to say that most of them have had an impact on my thinking and approach. There have been a few, however that I had the opportunity to work with early on and still collaborate with to this day in one way or the other, that I feel I need to call out as true thought provokers for me.

Jim Carlton

I first worked with Jim when he was ECD on the McDonald’s account at Frankel, a retail design and promotions agency in Chicago, that later became Arc World Wide.  His group approached me about starting a relationship shooting for McDonald’s after they had seen a promo piece I had sent them. Since that first shoot, I have had the benefit of Jim’s trust and endorsement. His encouragement and enthusiasm for me and my team’s work was uplifting to us and pushed us to go beyond the expected. I have watched how Jim infects people with his enthusiasm for ideas and get them to do their best work. He brings a liveliness and friendliness to business interactions which result in more creative thinking.

At this time Jim is transitioning from being the EVP, Managing Creative Director at Arc, Leo Burnett’s Activation agency in Chicago, to CCO of Geometry NA, the world’s largest activation agency.  

I had some questions for Jim:

1.What is your passion? Creativity. What excites you about what you do? 

People. In marketing, many people touch the creative and ultimately influence the outcome: clients, account, production, planners, copywriters, art directors, designers, illustrators, photographers, printers and programmers. Getting people to collaborate and align on an idea and then protect and grow that idea thru final execution – pulling off what you set out to achieve as a group - is what excites me.

Leigh and Jim in Hong Kong in for Simple Bold

2. How do you define Branding and how does that fit into how your team/ agency brands itself. As photographers, hell even as individuals we are kind of branding ourselves in social media. Is this what you in the agency world too?

Totally. As individuals, we all want to be perceived a certain way – our best, way. First impressions are everything. But sometimes circumstances or things we say or do can contradict that desired perception. Nothing is more frustrating than being misunderstood. Branding is that conscious effort of controlling how we (individuals, companies and brands) want to be perceived – who we are and what we stand for. I’d say Donald Trump is as aware of this as is Apple or Starbucks.

Jim on set in Hong Kong for Simple Bold Campaign 

3. How is that changing as technology is changing? I don’t mean specific technologies- I know everyone was all about video and now they are all about virtual reality, but how does that change your approach to what yu and your team do? You probably could write a book about this, but is there a short answer?

Yeah. Technology is making everything faster, more interactive and more accessible. As a result, people are becoming more informed, savvy, and selective. Thanks to technology, marketing isn’t so one sided anymore. But brands have to be much more thoughtful with their message and how they interact in people’s lives or be shut out with the click of a button.

Jim and Leigh with Creative Director at the time Matt Denten and Happy McDonald's client

4. To me, you are the ultimate team leader. The one who inspires everyone to kick ass at his or her job. Do you like that role? If so, what do you think makes you so good at it? Do you think your great sense of humor helps with that? I have always loved working with your team because they know how to laugh and laugh and have fun with a project. They know how to get through the difficult times and keep rolling and being creative. That is an atmosphere I try to maintain at the studio and you guys helped me realize how important that is.

Wow, thanks for that Leigh. Leaving Arc for Geometry has given people the opportunity to tell me what they appreciated most about my run as Creative lead for Arc. Overwhelmingly, the word protector would come up - protector of the work, but mostly of the people. I love hearing that because as a manager of creatives, I felt the best way I could add value was to create an atmosphere of freedom and of respect that enabled people to create the way they were most comfortable.

5.  You seem really good at selling off ideas and getting everyone on board with something- that is something I respect a lot. Does that come easy to you?
My dad use to tell me in high school what a great salesman I would be and it would really irritate me. Over my career though, I’ve realized just how important salesmanship can be and how far it’s gotten me. But that doesn’t mean it comes easy to me. I can’t sell anything unless I believe in it. I learned that the hard way.

Jim and his Creative Director Seth Guge hanging out with our digital tech in Hong Kong

6.  What is the best project you have worked on? What made it the best?

The most rewarding project I’ve been a part of would be McDonald’s Retail Identity – Simple Bold. We came to you 15 years ago because of your unique approach to food and how it is photographed and your grasp on digital, which at the time was a hotly debated topic – film v digital. What makes SB a standout is it’s longevity, It has evolved over the years but the same principles we set out to achieve then: authenticity, harmony and clarity, are still in place today. What made it best was being able to launch the work in the US with you and then twice bring SB to other markets like Asia, where you and your team set up a studio and workshops for global agencies to observe how to shoot and execute for SB.

7.  How do you come up with creative ideas- how do you get your inspiration?

Creatives need to be inspired. Inspiration comes from anywhere, music, art, literature, YouTube or each other. One sure way I get inspired to do something cool is when I’m presented with a good insight. Unearthing a human truth that makes you feel something is like striking gold in our industry - it’s a gift on a silver platter – and ours to fuck up.

8. Do you have a specific strategy to pitching your clients with a new concept that you know might be a stretch for them?

The only strategy that works is don’t present something you don’t want the client to buy.

9. What do you value in your “team members?”

Talent isn’t the only requirement when I bring someone onto the team.
I look for people who are passionate about their craft, accountable to the business and each other and most of all I value decent human beings.

10.  What do you think the role of photography is in the branding world?

People want things faster than ever before. Content is exploding and technology gives us unlimited access – we are a scrolling, swiping culture.

A photograph has the opportunity to stop me in my tracks, take notice and feel something amongst all the clutter.

2008 Simple Bold that I shot that was  used for in store and national advertising for their new Asian Chicken Salad.
It was great to be able to use these kind of "story telling" props that showcased the premium quality of the food that McDonald's wanted to convey.

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