Adam Johnson, Creative Director of Xtra Shiny

There are certain perks when you run the shop, the main being control.

How do we come up with pearls of wisdom like this I hear you ask…? Well, we don’t. We get others to do it for us.

This week we have Adam Johnson, Creative Director of Xtra Shiny, in the Hungry hot seat and leech a healthy dose of wisdom and advice. From setting up your own agency to possessing a healthy amount of arrogance, Adam tells it straight and true.

Where did your creative journey start?

My fascination with creativity began in year four, primary school. I remember a mate and I were bored in class, it was at a time when Reebok shoes were popular in Australia, and I used to play basketball. We used to sit there, draw shoes and draw the Reebok logo in different colours. Something just clicked in me that made me go, “This is fun, I like doing this”. That concept of design, brands having their own identity and creating things from nothing stemmed from shoe design.

I didn’t understand this, I was a little tacker. I remember asking my mum what careers were available for people who enjoy drawing and creating things, as she wasn’t exposed to the design industry, she didn’t know. I liked the idea of designing greeting cards and magazines, but I didn’t realise people could do that full-time. In my primary school yearbook, under career aspiration I wrote graphic designer; so I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to do. My understanding of design and creativity as an industry began there.

What made you want to start your own agency?

Primarily quality control; I don’t think it’s earth-shattering news to say that most agencies are started with the intention of changing the game a little – to produce work that everyone who had a hand in its creation can be proud of. Financial realities, client relationships, day-to-day deadline pressures, and the politics that accompany these, can pretty quickly compromise that lofty intention, but I like to have a say in my own future and controlling outcomes is something that I’m fond of.

Xtra Shiny seems a little bit different to the other advertising agencies around Adelaide. Can you tell us what Xtra Shiny is all about?

Over the 16-or-so years that I’ve been in the creative industry – the one constant that I’ve noticed is that loyalty is where the satisfaction is. Good briefs, budgets and working environment attract the best practitioners. An increasingly, those practitioners aren’t satisfied with occupying a cubicle in a conventional agency. Instead of having a large team of creatives on staff, we simply assemble a team appropriate to the demands of the client and brief, resulting in a uniqe creative outcome as opposed to a ‘house style’.

That Robert De Niro movie ‘Ronin’ is a great example of what Xtra Shiny is about; A carefully selected crew come together on a job, they work closely to achieve a result, then they disband into the fog.

From a client standpoint, all work is directed by myself or Jarrad Van Dijk (my business partner), so regarless of what wierdos are working on a project, there’s always a confidence that brand consitency and quality control are in check.

If we happen to win a piece of business that consists of regular work, we happily expand to accommodate for it. When we lose a piece of business, we contract. As the core crew are each share holders in the business, we are accountable. If we have an enormous success in a particular financial year, we split the earnings, and if we don’t, then tough shit, we learn a business lesson about profit margins. That kind of thinking means we are not as susceptible to massive shocks of the system.

When Xtra Shiny was just opening its doors, I read an article, in which you said you want each piece of work you produce to be better than the last one. How do you achieve this? – The continual improvement of skills and work produced?

I think that’s the challenge for any creative; to make sure that what you produce today is better than yesterday. That’s why a lot of creative people put so much pressure on themselves to do something better, to win an award, to impress a client, to make sure the industry respects you. You’re always pushing yourself, and its good driving. It’s just knowing how to have balance. A graphic designer mate of mine once said that at the end of each year he stops and looks back at what he has achieved. Submitting work for awards gives us a chance to do this, as you’re compiling all the work you’ve completed for the year. You may look back and see if you’ve done some good stuff, or it may have been a pretty lean year, where you’ve made a lot of money, but weren’t creatively fertile. It’s a good thing to reflect, asking yourself what you’ve achieved. That’s where the hunger to improve is born; especially when you look back over your year, seeing that there isn’t a lot of good stuff, or that you could have worked harder on a project. This motivates you to do so next year.

Do you have any pieces of work that you are particularly proud of?

Pimp My Kettle, a campaign I did with Clemenger BBDO / Collect Magazine / a series of ads for baby animals for the zoo done at Showpony / some nice packing stuff that I’m working on at the moment for T Bar.

What do you think the best thing a person could do for themselves, if they are trying make it in this industry at the moment?

It’s different, depending on the type of work you do; but for a creative, it is important to be technically competent and to know your tools. Like Xtra Shiny, a lot of Adelaide creative companies are quite small don’t have the resources to really commit to on-the-job training. As a junior creative, if you can embrace working as a copywriter, a finished artist, or a Mac user that’s building un-sexy jobs; as opposed to looking down on it, you’ll be streets ahead of the others.

A great case-study is Amy Weston at Clemenger. She was the Creative Services Manager when I was there freelancing, she wasn’t a creative. She was booking all the freelancers, making sure everyone was where they needed to be. It was essentially an admin role, but she made a conscious effort to learn the craft, and in a space of a few years she is doing great work with one of the best creative networks in the world. Wherever you position yourself, be humble and enjoy the little bits at the start that kind of suck but provide valuable perspective as you advance in your career.

Curiosity is an incredible motivator for the advancement of skills. Asking yourself “how the hell did they do that?” and then actively seeking out an answer using the wonders of the interwebs – that’s rewarding stuff right there. The trick is to not stop. Keep asking questions and seeking out answers… sure your brain will hurt, but the one who dies knowing the most stuff wins… right?

What do you do once you’re in? How do you stay in the creative industry?

Consistently be the one who is easiest to deal with, who delivers the best results and doesn’t just say yes all the time. There’s a confidence that comes with it.

A certain amount of arrogance is needed in this industry to stand out; you know the old saying, ‘the squeaky wheel gets the oil’. People will be measured up in a minute. I do it – I’ll meet juniors, seniors, and people in the industry I have known for years; They all have their own way of doing things and what they want out of their work, but there’s one consistency; they all stand their ground when auguring for a good idea. This is respected, and the ability to articulate that idea to the person above you or a client is an incredibly valuable commodity.

What would someone have to do to impress, and convince you enough to hire them. Is having a great portfolio enough? Or is there a need to see something more?

For a newbie, the folio is hard. I prefer to see what someone’s idea of a great piece of creative is as opposed to a fat book of catalogues and real estate ads. “Where do you want to be and why”, as opposed to “show me what you’ve done”. After all… you’re just at the start.

Does Xtra Shiny have any work experience or internship programs in place or have the ability to offer someone a placement at all?

Short answer: Nope.
Long answer: Maybe. If the applicant was able to demonstrate a genuine ability to add value to our daily existence while filling their brain with knowledge… maybe that could work.

I got my start at 18yo by doing work experience with a local photographer Drew Lenman. I assisted him on shoots by helping set up lighting and carry equipment. In-turn I got an amazing insight into the role of an Art Director / managing props and talent / post production in Photoshop and the day-to day operation of a commercial photographer. I was of value to him, and him to me. Everyone’s a winner.

Some of Xtra Shiny’s work:

Adam Johnson, Creative Director, Xtra Shiny

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