John McNeil Studio

JMS at 13

At some point in our history at JMS, someone wrote a headline for one of our clients. (Not a particularly spectacular opening line, I know, but bear with me for a paragraph, or two.) The brief was to recast a 30-year-old global technology brand as a vital, young software company, capable of competing with the likes of their smaller, younger Silicon Valley competition. The ad ran as a series of billboards on the 101, declaring to the start-up disruptors that our client was in the neighborhood, and there to compete.

The headline? “We start up every day.”

Just a line, of course. A solid interpretation of what we (as a creative company) are asked to do all the time. Meet the brief. Be smart. Be creative. Be memorable.

But as my own company’s age is now, also, in double-digit territory, I’m reminded of that line, and the intended truth of it—that to be great at what you do, to be vital, relevant, and valuable to the world, you have to do just that. Start up everyday.

That’s what I love about JMS. We are founded on helping our clients embrace, and make the most of constant change. We don’t rest on our laurels, or repeat the same old models defined by the creative agencies of the last century. That’s why, when we started 13 years ago, we didn’t want to be known as just an “agency,” hence the “S” in JMS.

As a studio, we’ve operated differently from day one. We treat our clients like partners. We make it a point to understand their business, and recognize that we are in business to leverage our creative talents in the service of what they need.

These past 13 years have been proof of that approach, every day. We’ve repositioned, redesigned, and relaunched global brands. We’ve weathered pandemics, won awards, cooked countless Thursday suppers, helped launch start-ups and transform blue chips. We’ve executed countless commercials, billboards, banner ads and social posts, sure, but we’ve also developed mobile games, AR/VR product tours and webinars, original content series, social newsrooms, executive thought leadership programs, influencer activations, and corporate culture initiatives.

We coded a cause-related social network within a retail website to activate and engage customers. We developed a web app that enabled kids to promote themselves, and receive funding for college from individual donors anywhere in the world. We created a rap battle to advertise networking equipment. We wrote and directed a musical parody that posed the question “was Thomas Alva Edison a d*ck?” We convinced the city of New York that a giant plexiglass cube full of old routers, switches, and cables was a public art piece. Of course all of this mayhem was driven by one primary objective: to provide value to our clients with surprising, engaging, smart, culturally relevant creative thinking in the service of their brand.

That was the thing. We recognized early on that if our clients and partners needed us, regardless of the assignment, it was the most valuable thing we could do. As the saying goes “Everything is a chance to build a brand.”

Come to think of it, a slight addendum. Not actually “regardless of the assignment”.

There was a moment when Juul came to us in the early days of their existence. They were still owned by PAX, and not the marketing plutonium of a brand they are today. This was the early days of the California legalization heyday, and we were excited to talk to anyone associated with PAX. But after one or two meetings with the incredibly nice, stylish 20-30 somethings who were talking to us about the potential opportunity we had with Juul, we politely declined. I looked around at the faces of my people in the meeting as they were enthusiastically absorbing the opportunity, and then as the enthusiasm drained from their faces once they realized the product they’d be marketing. I knew in an instant, this was not a brand we could believe in, or work for.
It was my proudest moment at JMS.

So, after 13 years of passion, inspiration, ingenuity, effort, and accomplishment what’s next?

Honestly, more change. If that last two years has taught us anything, it’s that surprise is always just around the corner. Whether good or bad, change happens and those who fear or rail against it are doomed to be part of the past, not leading the future. So stay tuned as we consider the evolving world of hybrid work, content at scale, inclusivity and accessibility, brand transformation and Tik Tok swallowing the media world whole. There’s no doubt that the result will be surprising ideas, compelling work, new relationships, and no end to exciting possibilities.

Here’s to wherever we’ll go! Thank you, JMS.


John McNeil
John McNeil