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Creative industry Leader Interview - 5 minutes with...

James Nixon

Managing Director, JKR

James Nixon - JKR

Career to date:

2016, Managing Director, JKR
2014, Client Service Director, JKR
2012, Group Account Director, JKR
2009, Account Director, JKR
2006, Client Director, Landor Associates
1998, Account Manager, Sterling Brands
 

Creativebrief: As Managing Director of JKR, what’s your primary focus on a day to day then on a greater, agency scale?

James Nixon: Day to day, it’s all about creating an ambitious, creative environment in the building. We’re very good at culturally putting people together to think more about the challenges that we’re being asked by our clients.

Broader, it’s about the vision, direction and space that we want to move the agency in, in quite a tough world at the moment.

Creativebrief: Can you outline your career to date, where you started and how you ended up at JKR?

James Nixon: I started my career in New York. I worked for Sterling Brands, which is now an Omnicom agency, when they were independent. I left there, came back to London and had two separate stints in independents. Then I moved to Landor for about seven years, where I spent the majority of my time on consumer brands.

There was a stint in F1, airline work and jazzy things in the Middle East. I spent a bit of time in Sydney, came back and then moved to JKR, where I’ve been for about 7 and a half years.

“In my personal experience, it's not a truly creative agency if it doesn't have a creative partner at the top. The founding partner cascades creativity throughout the business."

Creativebrief: What attracted you to JKR? What did you think was unique about it?

James Nixon: In my personal experience, it’s not a truly creative agency if it doesn’t have a creative partner at the top. The founding partner at the top cascades creativity throughout the business.

The second thing that attracted me was the work and now, seven years on, it has never been better. Work has always been the centrepiece of the agency. My previous experience had been all about the money and the relationship. How to keep it going and how to squeeze every single penny out of the brief. Here, we question the brief. I joined the agency when it was about 85 people in Camden and now it’s about 280 in four offices.

Creativebrief: Did you grow for your brands?

James Nixon: We grew through the need of the client. New York was born on ABInBev, Shanghai on MARS Inc., Singapore on Unilever. They were all in the market. A good reflection of the culture is that the founders were very much like, if we’re needed, we’ll be there.

Creativebrief: What do you think has been your agency’s best work in the last year?

James Nixon: The Budweiser work is up there, from our traditional heartland of design and rebrand, to our more ideas based brand at the heart of activation, Bud America.

Domino’s made a massive transition in our journey in London. And HIPPEAS probably, is the other side of it all, a fantastic opportunity to broaden influence on how branding can grow brands.

Creativebrief: Outside of the UK, what work or agency in the last year has really grabbed your attention?

James Nixon: I’m a massive fan of Revolt, a really cool start up comms agency. They’re in London and New York. They put purpose at the heart of their thinking and their connected platform stuff. They are some top guys out of BBDO and Mother. Really charismatic, really get the landscape, are on the cusp of doing something quite big. We’re working with them in some areas, the ABInBev and MARS Inc. space, but we’ve seen them do other things. Predominately, they’re a new type of agency where they believe that strong purpose and visual identity is the future of growing brands, which is a good reflection of the way the landscape’s changing now.

There’s a brand in the US called SnackNation. Sean Kelly runs it, your classic Silicon Valley, 32-year-old, tanned, white teeth, you get the picture. He curates healthy snacks to millennials. His origins are in bioscience, so he knows all about how the body functions. He’s pioneered a way that business can attract and target a snacking revolution.

Creativebrief: The theme for BITE LIVE this year is From Insight to Action. Can you talk us through a piece of insight that led you to action?

James Nixon: I’ll use Domino’s as an example. It’s one of those funny things; the simplicity of the idea is the reflection of the power of the insight.

We’d received the brief, which was the identity of the brand, but focussed on the pack to start. We were in the third discussion about the pitch because the brief had nothing in it, it was really quite dry. We thought we would get on the phone and talk to a few people and one of the clients, off the back of a question, said 96% of Domino’s pizzas are bought it twos.

Literally there, we drew two different Domino packs; two and a one, red and blue, that simple. That’s the answer to the packaging. Lee, one of the strategists, went, do you think they’ve seen this idea before, and we’re like, shit yeah, it’s really quite simple isn’t it! It was a classic powerful insight that led to the solution.

“We have the opportunity in the branding space to completely begin to own that fragmented media challenge. This industry, more now than ever, has the opportunity to completely disrupt the way it's always worked."

Creativebrief: What do you think makes a successful client/agency relationship?

James Nixon: It often depends who you’re talking to but from my perspective it is quite frankly trust. I appreciate it takes a long time to earn trust with clients. Trust is really important because then you can say the unsayable, do what you think, release creative people loosely rather than over tight in terms of direction. You get the best work, you fall out, you get back together, you go through the good and the bad and then you celebrate when it all works. At the end of the day a lot of it, I know it sounds cheesy, is having a good laugh.

Creativebrief: How do you see the advertising industry and the world of branding evolving over the next five years?

James Nixon: I’m not really all that bothered about the advertising industry if I’m honest, respectfully. It used to be that campaigns run by the ad agency overruled everything. But now, it’s brand over everything. We’re seeing a big shift in the diet of work from what I’d have said five years ago ad land would have done, that we’re now doing.

I think a lot of people say there’s a lot of economic and political negativity in the UK market but at the same time I see a lot of that as opportunity. We are at the forefront of a big change in the way branding has become the tool to the marketer. We have the opportunity in the branding space to completely begin to own that fragmented media challenge.

This industry, more now than ever, has the opportunity to completely disrupt the way it’s always worked. You no longer have bands of people in certain departments, or the pressure of how salaries might be banded. Rather than, I need a senior account manager, an account director it’s more, we need someone that can get this founder over the line with this idea and launch it. This industry is ready for that.

Domino's - JKR
JKR's simple packaging design reflects the insight that 96% of all Domino's pizzas are sold in pairs

Creativebrief: What are your ambitions for JKR?

James Nixon: Do more of what we’re doing. Put ideas at the heart of what we do, more so than ever, create a platform for our clients to present ideas. We are going to drive much more talent and diversity in talent towards the omnichannel challenge and really own the brand. We want to grow more but with less effort. We want to really push our ability to grow our business but through simplicity of thinking rather than over-executing. We’re experts at executing what brands look like and how they stand out. But we’ve put more emphasis on the way we think about how those ideas can disrupt in the modern space we’re in now.

Creativebrief: Outside the industry, personally, who or what are you inspired by?

James Nixon: I have a side line sock business. I have a partner I work with, we’ve known each other for many years and we built the business together. I have a big entrepreneurial side to me.

In a broader sense, it’s spending time with my family. At home, we try to have a weekend, or a day in the week, where we do the complete opposite of what we do all the time. That could be going somewhere new or not touching your phone and you hang out and do something different to completely free your mind. The reality is, when you do that, you come back that morning or on the way home that night, and you suddenly have the next thing you want to do.

James will be speaking alongside Livio Bisterzo, CEO of Green Park Brands and the founder of HIPPEAS, at BITE LIVE

“BITELIVE”

About the author

Izzy Ashton, Writer/Researcher, BITE, Creativebrief

Izzy is a writer/researcher for BITE, Creativebrief’s daily insight into global marketing trends and the cultural movements driving them. She keeps abreast of the latest communication, technology and consumer news, and is responsible for conducting interviews with key agency strategists and creatives to gain insight into the most innovative global campaigns.

www.linkedin.com/in/izzy-ashton-950352a7