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Jayanta Jenkins on What Advertising Could Learn From Prince

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In honor of Black History Month, Ad Age and Creativity caught up with a number of marketing and advertising executives for a Q&A. The fifth in the series is Jayanta Jenkins, global creative director on Gatorade for TBWA /Chiat/Day, Los Angeles.

TBWA 's Jayanta Jenkins
TBWA 's Jayanta Jenkins
AA/Creativity: How did you discover advertising?

Mr. Jenkins: I took an advertising class at VCU. The instructor was Jerry Torchia, who was a creative director at The Martin Agency at the time. First class, we all had to bring ads we had created. I was minoring in photography and brought a bunch of images I had shot. Jerry looked at my stuff and within minutes said, "You should be an art director." I had no clue what an art director was or did in advertising. Jerry handed me a bunch of One Show Annuals and told me to study them. I never looked back after that moment.

AA/Creativity: What did your parents think about your decision to pursue an ad career?

Mr. Jenkins: My family didn't have a clue what an art director was or did in advertising. To this day, I think they don't fully understand my profession.

AA/Creativity: Do you have any role models in the business? Are any of them African American?
Mr. Jenkins: My first role model was Jimmy Smith, who took me under his wing as a mentor shortly after I started at the Portfolio Center back in 1994 after graduating VCU. He was very instrumental in helping me stay focused and refining my voice, approach and style as an art director. Once I got started (at The Martin Agency), Pam El [now VP-marketing at State Farm and former Martin staffer], was someone who really helped when I first got in the business.

I've never personally met Prince, but I regard him as a hero and someone I've always wanted to model my career in advertising after. Why? Groundbreaking, iconic and an entertainer who has evolved and contributed to popular and music culture in ways that will be felt decades from now. I'd like to share that space in the advertising world.

Finally, I've been fortunate to be at and to have worked at all the places where my advertising heroes have been.

AA/Creativity: What are your thoughts on diversity in adland today? Has it changed from say, five years ago? Ten years ago?

Mr. Jenkins: It has changed and continues to change for the better on a daily basis. In fact, Jay Chiat started a Minority Advertising Training program here at TBWA /Chiat/Day decades ago. There are more and more people like Jay Chiat who continue to carry the torch and champion diversity where once there was none.

AA/Creativity: Have you ever worked at an African-American shop? What do you think of the fate of those? Will they continue to exist, or is the trend is toward smaller "urban" or even "youth" shops?

Mr. Jenkins: I've never worked at an African-American shop. However, I think until there is even more diversity in general-market advertising agencies, there will continue to be a need for African-American, Hispanic and Asian shops.

AA/Creativity: Have you ever encountered any problems in the industry having to do with being African American? If so, what did you learn from those experiences?

Mr. Jenkins: No, I'm an extremely optimistic and forward-thinking person. I've always let my work speak for itself and been fortunate to have attracted the best places to work. This has allowed me to develop my craft and contribute in major ways, regardless of color. I've spent little time looking for bias or thinking I'm being victimized because of race. That's something I developed growing up with a father who was a black activist in the '60s.

AA/Creativity: What about holding companies -- have you seen a trend in African-American talent leaving them? Any thoughts about that?

Mr. Jenkins: Prince left Warner Bros. a decade ago because he didn't like the way record execs (who didn't create a thing) were taking a lion's share of profit from what he created. He went on to start Paisley Park as a means to offset the way record companies do business with musicians. I think that's what you're seeing in our industry -- people who want to change the business model and blaze new territory for the way our ideas are developed.

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