James Friedman . . . Unleashed

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Sausalito agency Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners' head of cultural insights, as his evocative title goes, may be better known to some by the even more evocative name of James Fucking Friedman—before coming to advertising, the outspoken DJ was a fixture in the New York dance music community. Currently, Friedman, 28, leverages his cred connecting brands to cultural prime movers, but he hasn't left the nightlife behind—after running noted DJ/producer/designer Trevor Jackson's London-based Output label and releasing a mix CD entitled Go Commando in his earlier life, he's now a co-owner of New York dance-punk band The Rapture's vinyl label Throne of Blood. We caught up with Friedman before he left for Berlin and Paris for a few DJ gigs (and some research for BSSP client Mini) to hear his impressions on the advertising industry and how his many areas of expertise are suited to his new post.

James Friedman
James Friedman
Initially, BSSP needed someone full-time for Converse, and one of the client's big imperatives was that they wanted some authentic insight into what's next with the cool kids. I was DJing in San Francisco, and I met [director of account planning] Ed Cotton in the office on a Saturday—he took me out to lunch and they hired me. It was all very serendipitous. I hadn't had a salaried job since 2003, and this is December 2005. One of the things I try to foster with my clients at Butler Shine is to find ways for them to work more credibly with creatives outside the industry, without just aping their ideas. Everybody's so interested in all this leading intelligence, and so little of it actually has a whiff of reality to it. There are all these insight groups at all of these brands, but at most of them it's some dude who reads a lot of blogs. He might be a very urbane, tasteful person, but there aren't a lot of people who have a real authentic connection.

I'm trying to figure out ways for brands to do cool things without seeming like they're just slapping a pair of sunglasses onto Grandpa and bringing him to the high school dance. I do a lot of stuff for new-business pitches; for LucasArts, another client of ours, I was doing a lot of stuff for a videogame, mostly music supervision. So I'll do client research for pitches, specific program development or insight research for clients, I consult with the art buyer at the agency when she's looking for photographers or designers—my job is a little nebulous. We're sort of writing the book as we go along.

The job has changed every couple of months, so it's a bit confusing and really exciting. To the extent that I've lacked a clear set of ambitions, it's nice that I have a job that lets me try on a lot of different responsibilities. At first, I was pretty wary about joining the advertising industry, but I did my homework. BSSP is a great shop: we don't have the military; we don't have any tobacco companies; and we haven't reduced our advertising to tits and sunshine. That makes it a lot easier. Coming from the music industry—where everyone professes to love their job but doesn't really love their job—this is great. There was a moment when my CD came out when there were a lot more DJ bookings going on, but now I have a very steady balance. But Butler wants me to stay rooted in the DJ world and not just become some guy who can read a lot of blogs. I've got to be there, have those relationships. I may go on tour with the Rapture this summer, do the Daft Punk/Rapture tour, but I'll strike a balance with work and take some of it as vacation time.

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