Give People a Story to Talk About

Campfire’s Jason Sutterfield shares the driving philosophies that keep people talking about the firm’s work

Jason Sutterfield, COO.

Jason Sutterfield is in the business of thinking outside the box. He and his colleagues at Campfire, the ad agency whose founders were some of the makers of the cult horror film The Blair Witch Project, are asked everyday to deliver the next award-winning campaign. As COO, Sutterfield fans the flame of success with leadership and makes sure the fuel of this fire is rooted in company philosophy. He sat down with Profile to share some of the strategies that allow this shop to churn out the unexpected time and time again.

1. Allow clients to be a part of your team

Beyond understanding the client’s business and objectives, allow them to be a part of your team. Focus your attention on meeting your client’s needs; but beyond those basics, bring them along with you throughout the creative development and production processes. Openly welcome the opportunity for them to be a part of your team by including them in strategic discussions, creative decisions, and iterative reviews along the way. Doing this allows them to be further invested in the success of both your project and your agency.

2. Don’t let internal politics cloud your focus

Internal politics in advertising agencies (and all companies for that matter) can be costly, hinder corporate success, and cause a lot of undue turnover. Not to mention the work suffers and becomes less innovative. As a small agency executive, it’s my goal to keep the agency at the focus. I hire individuals that have personal internal drive and goals, but who are also passionate about the goals of the agency and its clients.

3. Keep teams small and focused

If your goal is to deliver ideas across all platforms, then keep the internal teams small and focused. At Campfire we work in small teams of incredibly smart individuals and empower them to deliver the right idea for the client, regardless of platform. We’ll then bring in experts as needed to supplement the team for execution of individual tactics. For example, our Game of Thrones team wanted to create influencer packages that brought the fantasy world of Westeros to life using the sense of smell. The team brought in a fragrance company and movie prop builder to collaborate on this piece that launched a massive multisensory campaign for HBO. That same team worked with other partners, such as Top Chef’s Tom Colicchio, on other aspects of the program while owning the entire project from concept to wrap.

“You’re not creating projects in a black hole. Take the client through the process. Offer regular updates, and they’ll give you feedback.” —Jason Sutterfield

4. Provide a unique and innovative culture

Every idea we produce is different and unique. Rather, it’s live events, 30-minute television shows, or a deep digital experience that’s never done before. Being able to execute such a vast array of projects requires a culture that’s both unique and innovative. It’s a requirement, not a request, for all employees to be able to innovate, stay nimble, and try and explore these new things every day. This makes for a very exciting and highly sought after culture.

5. Have a fluid vetting process

We’ve carefully designed our entire team to fuel creativity and collaboration among the entire agency: everyone from interns to senior leadership. We work hard to remain focused on pushing ourselves creatively to move the industry forward. We ensure everyone remains involved throughout the creative process and that our clients benefit from our small size and attention to detail. We keep our model flexible and nimble, to empower our creative ideas.

6. Work hand-in-hand with the experts

We know who we are and we do it rather well by carefully building a team that specializes in the core function and philosophies of Campfire. You won’t find us boasting that we can “do it all.” Therefore, we’ve learned to be great collaborators and seek the assistance of those that are experts in their field, just like we are in ours.

7. Make your audience the storytellers

People call us storytellers, yet we aim to create experiences that give people our story to tell themselves. One example is our recent work for Hunted, a new series by Cinemax that explores the shadowy world of corporate espionage. Starting with provocative posters on Wall Street to coincide with the OWS anniversary that said, ‘We’re not for everyone, just the one percent that matters,’ we led online communities into a subversive online experience, where they found themselves unwittingly part of a recruitment test for the fictional security company. Each experience gave a unique story for every person to share with their friends, and social sharing has by far been our biggest traffic source.