His own spin on brands

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS - By Ron­ald D. White ron­ald.white@la­times.com Twit­ter: @RonWLATimes

The gig: Ad­ver­tis­ing vet­eran Jimmy Smith, 53, has or­ches­trated award-win­ning work for brands in­clud­ing Nike and Ga­torade, the lat­ter in­volv­ing the adop­tion of the more edgy “G” in pack­ag­ing and mar­ket­ing the sports drink. Since 2011, Smith has been chief ex­ec­u­tive and chief cre­ative of­fi­cer of Amuse­ment Park En­ter­tain­ment, which he founded with ad­ver­tis­ing con­glom­er­ate In­ter­pub­lic Group to de­velop “branded en­ter­tain­ment” — in­dus­try lingo for mak­ing the prod­uct or brand the cen­ter­piece of an app, game, event, tele­vi­sion show or movie, rather than cre­at­ing an ad that view­ers can ig­nore.

An­other gig: Smith has added more tra­di­tional ad­ver­tis­ing and mar­ket­ing back into his play­book. His busi­nesses will op­er­ate as part of a larger com­pany called sim­ply Amuse­ment Park, formed with long­time ex­ec­u­tives from DGWB Ad­ver­tis­ing & Com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Smith is chair­man and chief cre­ative of­fi­cer of the new firm. Part­ners Mike Weis­man, Ed Collins and Jon Gothold have taken on the jobs of CEO, pres­i­dent and ex­ec­u­tive cre­ative direc­tor, re­spec­tively. The ven­ture op­er­ates out of of­fices in Los An­ge­les and Santa Ana, where DGWB has oc­cu­pied the town’s his­toric City Hall. Com­bined, the busi­nesses have nearly 90 em­ploy­ees.

Parental in­flu­ence: Smith, born in Muskegon, Mich., points to the de­ter­mi­na­tion of his fa­ther, James, to leave fac­tory work and run his own busi­ness, even­tu­ally ac­quir­ing a restau­rant fran­chise. “It was the first time that I could re­mem­ber of a black per­son own­ing some­thing in Muskegon,” Smith said. “It stayed in my head that I could do that too.” His mother, Eve­lyn, was a teacher and his lan­guage guide. “I couldn’t speak or write or do any­thing, from a very young age, with­out be­ing cor­rected on the right way to do it by my mom, in a healthy way.” Be­com­ing “Be­witched”: Brand­ing and ad­ver­tis­ing was an early ca­reer idea, Smith said, that he got from “Be­witched,” a sit­com that ran from 1964 to 1972 about New York ad exec Dar­rin Stephens. In the show, Stephens mar­ries a witch, Sa­man­tha. The only draw­back was hav­ing an evil witch — En­dora — for a mother-in-law. “Dar­rin’s wife was beau­ti­ful,” Smith said. “He had a big house and if it wasn’t for En­dora, it seemed like a pretty easy gig.”

Fall­back plan: Smith at­tended Michi­gan State from 1981 to 1984. He ma­jored in ad­ver­tis­ing but still en­ter­tained his child­hood dream of be­com­ing a pro­fes­sional bas­ket­ball player. Michi­gan State has one of the na­tion’s most suc­cess­ful men’s bas­ket­ball pro­grams. “Af­ter I was cut from the Michi­gan State bas­ket­ball team three years in a row,” Smith said, “I thought, ‘OK, I think I need to make this ad­ver­tis­ing thing hap­pen.’ ”

ABCs of ad­ver­tis­ing: “I went to New York, Detroit, Chicago, any­where I could go to get a job in­ter­view.” At Chicago’s Bur­rell Ad­ver­tis­ing (now Bur­rell Com­mu­ni­ca­tions), one of the largest mul­ti­cul­tural mar­ket­ing firms in the world, Smith for­got the name of the per­son he was sup­posed to see. De­spite the mix-up, Smith got the job. There he met a young co-worker named Lewis Wil­liams, now Bur­rell’s chief cre­ative of­fi­cer, who “taught me the ABCs of ad­ver­tis­ing,” Smith said. “The main thing he taught me was huge. ‘They try to act like it’s a se­cret. They act like it’s rocket science. Ad­ver­tis­ing is not rocket science.’ That gave me con­fi­dence. It al­lowed me to feel com­fort­able any time I was pre­sent­ing an idea.”

Be­com­ing a mad man: The busi­ness “was in­tim­i­dat­ing be­cause mostly they don’t like what you are pre­sent­ing,” Smith said. “You go in and get to be hu­mil­i­ated. It’s per­sonal. It’s mine and my team’s idea and they are just putting bul­let holes in it. That is the way it is in ad­ver­tis­ing.” Smith built his name as he moved from agency to agency, in­clud­ing Wieden + Kennedy, where he was a writer and cre­ative direc­tor for the Nike ac­count; BBDO, where he was ex­ec­u­tive cre­ative direc­tor; and TBWA\Chiat\Day’s L.A. of­fice, where he was Ga­torade’s group cre­ative direc­tor.

Ap­peal­ing to all: Hav­ing been told that his ad ideas were “not black enough” or “too black,” Smith said he liked the at­mos­phere at Muse Cordero Chen in the 1990s. There, he said, one “could walk down halls and hear Man­darin at one mo­ment, Span­ish the next, some­one else speak­ing Ja­panese. If you are only a black agency, then your ideas are only go­ing to come from that cul­ture; same thing if you are at a white agency. But if you mix all of those cul­tures to­gether, that’s where the most pow­er­ful ideas are go­ing to come from.”

Di­ver­sity: Smith said he has tried to foster cre­ative free­dom in his di­verse team, which draws from the worlds of sports, art and en­ter­tain­ment. “Find that coach who is go­ing to give you the green light, who un­der­stands what you do, the value that you bring,” he ad­vises.

Fam­ily af­fair: Smith’s wife, Smoke, works at Amuse­ment Park En­ter­tain­ment, as do their sons, Se­quel, 28, and Jar­rel, 27. Work is never far away, even when he and his wife man­age to get away to a con­cert. “When I’m at the con­cert, it’s al­ways, ‘Maybe I can use Lil Wayne in that,’ or some other idea. You can’t help it.”

Ge­naro Molina Los An­ge­les Times

AD­VER­TIS­ING EX­EC­U­TIVE Jimmy Smith, seen at the Santa Mon­ica Pier, has been cre­ative direc­tor of ma­jor ac­counts in­clud­ing Nike and Ga­torade.

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