Jimmy Smith, the veteran creative behind high profile branded entertainment efforts like Gatorade's Replay and Nike Battlegrounds, has departed TBWA/Chiat/Day, L.A. to launch Amusement Park Entertainment, a co-venture with IPG that will focus on transmedia storytelling and branded content. Outside of its non-traditional focus, the L.A.-based shop also boasts an unconventional revenue model that places a premium on what agencies are best known for--ideas. "The philosophy behind the company is simple," Smith says. "Ideas are the Holy Grail; therefore we should value them and their creation highly."
Smith has already made a name for himself steering successful branded entertainment properties. He most recently served at TBWA/Chiat/Day, L.A., where he was GCD on Gatorade and oversaw the highly decorated branded content Replay series, which for three seasons has given sports teams the chance to address unrequited triumphs from their athletic past--and which, Smith says, is on its way to becoming a feature produced by Sony. As an ECD at BBDO he worked on the Instant Def campaign for Snickers featuring the Black Eyed Peas, at Wieden + Kennedy, he was writer on Nike's Battlegrounds, the documentary-turned-MTV series that chronicled street b-ball champions in New York, and on the Paul Hunter-directed spot-turned pop culture phenomenon Nike "Freestyle." Outside of the ad world, Smith has applied his talents to books-he wrote "Soul of the Game" and Graphic Novel "The Truth"; and was CD on EA Sports titles NBA Street 2 and 3.
At Amusement Park, Smith will get a chance to flex his entire skillset under the multi-pronged title of Chairman/CEO/CCO. The agency's management team also includes Director of Digital, Film and Music Quincy QD3 Jones III, founder of urban digital entertainment shop QD3-who himself has a number of pop culture and transmedia accomplishments under his belt. Musically speaking, at the age of 16 Jones produced his first gold record for LL Cool J, he scored The Hughes Brothers' Menace to Society , composed the theme song for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and has sold over 40 million records out of QD3. On the production tip, he served as executive producer on TV shows and documentaries feature hip hop and rap artists like 50 Cent, Jay-Z, Kanye West and Lil Wayne. Outside of the hip hop world, QD3 has produced skateboard documentaries on skate icons like Christian Hosoi, P-Rod, Tony Hawk and Terry Kennedy. Roberto Grande, former Head of U.S. Operations at mobile marketing company Motopia will serve as Director of Mobile and will be key to further developing the company's mobile offerings and Bobby Ware, previously Commissioner of Transportation for Chicago under Mayor Richard Daley (and Smith's college roommate at Michigan State) will serve as Director of Finance.
Amusement Park Entertainment and IPG are not disclosing ownership terms of the co-venture deal. Smith says the partnership came about through suggestions from friends. "I was talking to Jon Kamen, the Chairman of @radical.media, and he said I should talk to Michael. So I did. And to my pleasant surprise, that cat got the concept in the blink of an eye. Then Jon told me to talk to Bob Greenberg, founder of R/GA, about IPG. Bob loves Michael and I could feel it from the way he talked about IPG." One of Smith's clients then spoke with Roth and told Smith "It was like talking to your granddad," Smith says. "That was it. I was done! My granddad was off the skillet. Very protective and caring. He was wise as I don't know what and he was a bad mofo. You didn't mess with him in Mississippi. I figured if Jon and Bob vouched for Michael and IPG, and if my future client was digging him big time, I wasn't going to be the dummy who didn't see the light." Moreover, "from the very first day I spoke to Michael, the deal we discussed hasn't changed. He's old school. A deal's a deal. Everybody who knows me, knows that's how I roll. From what Michael has shown me, that's how he rolls."
Smith says he chose the name "Amusement Park Entertainment" for its connotations of fun and possibility. "Our work will be entertaining and fun. Also, amusement parks are effective at what they do. We will be effective as a company, too. Amusement parks have a little bit of everything and are transmedia companies themselves. Finally, and most importantly, they're places where kids can dream and believe that anything is possible. I'm a big kid, I dream big and I do believe that all things are possible. I want everyone who interacts with our company--in whatever capacity--to believe that this is the place where your wildest dreams can come true."
It doesn't hurt that the shop's business model itself is shaped to encourage that thinking. One of the shop's primary aims, Smith says, will be to fix the "broken model" of advertising. The agency will either wholly own or co-own its non-traditional ideas--anything that falls outside the scope of traditional advertising. It will also have at least partial ownership in anything it creates--never selling 100% equity in any of its ideas. "Sometimes we'll create for our clients, and sometimes we'll create for ourselves, but we'll always co-own," he says.
Perhaps even more significant is that this thinking filters down to the shop's talent and collaborators. Says Smith, it's only in the best interests of the company that idea creators-whether they work at Amusement Park or not-- co-own a percentage of the ideas that they create, and profit from their ideas. If they work at Amusement Park--they'll get this percentage on top of their salaries. I don't know of any companies that offer that." Such a model, he believes, will help to attract--and retain--talent from a broad swath of creative spheres-from art, technology, videogame sector and marketing.
"And unlike a standard entertainment company, when we create content for a brand, the content and idea will emanate from the brand," says Smith. "It won't be product placement. Screw that! Our ideas for brands won't be able to exist unless that brand exists--you won't be able to just simply slap another brand name on the content idea. Our ideas will be custom created for specific brands. We actually care about the brands we develop for. This isn't about give us $40 million so we can make something that can exist whether your brand is in it or not. We want to create content that helps brands accomplish their goals, and that's to sell product and/or services."
No Assholes Allowed
As for the sort of culture he hopes to create at Amusement Park, Smith believes the agency "will survive and thrive because of its no borders policy. Within the walls of Amusement Park will be people of every race, color and creed. I've always said that if the people of Babel could build a structure to Heaven, then surely people from all over can come together to build the freshest, sickest, dopest, most off the skillet content and innovation transmedia company in the world." Smith, who is speaking today at the One Club's Where Are All the Black People seminar on diversity in the ad industry, believes "the state of diversity in advertising sucks. It's horrible. I'm intent on making Amusement Park a beacon for how things should be. But if more entertainment studios and ad agencies don't take our lead, the better it will be for Amusement Park because we'll have the dopest talent, which will lead to groundbreaking ideas, which will lead to the smartest clients, which will lead to more money."
Smith also says that the company will also have a very strict hiring policy made clear with a simple sign hanging at its entrance that reads "No Assholes Allowed."
"I'm not joking," he says. "If you are, you'll find it hard to get into Amusement Park. And if you manage to slip in under the radar, you won't last. If you're into politics, fucking go someplace else. Because I personally promise not to suffer political game playing fools. And I won't allow my staff, those who just want to come into the office and create dope work, suffer fools, either. I hated it where I worked in the past and I didn't understand why some places had developed into such b.s. nests. So if you're a nincompoop who likes to lead people to the Nincompoop Forest, beware. But if you want to work at Amusement Park, be prepared to leave your preconceived notions that 'everyplace has politics' at home. And be prepared to work your ass off, plus have a funky good time."