Sean DallasKidd is Partner & CCO at Demonstrate, in San Francisco. Previously, he was Executive Creative Director & Managing Partner of J. Walter Thompson and Partner, SVP Content & Creative at Fleishman Hillard in the same city. His portfolio features clients like Visa, Levi’s, Nvidia, Mazda or AT&T. In 2019, he was included in 2019 Adweek’s Creative 100 list, dedicated to the most fascinating people in Marketing, Media and Culture.
Sean has an interest in art since he was a child and he believes that in this profession, all good things happen through the cultivation of trust, empathy and understanding of and for the business. His structure comes from the world of publishing, a place where “content is king”, therefore he sees his mission in helping brands define their story and creatively communicating that narrative to their audience(s).
Read on to find how he succeeded in advertising, although he jokingly says the best piece of advice he received from someone in the industry was to stay away from it.
Versiunea in limba romana a interviului, aici.
I grew up on the streets of Washington DC in the 80's. Being in that place, at that time definitely came with its unique mixture of challenges and experiences that continues to influence how I see the world today.
I've always been into art. I spent my summers in museums, a benefit of growing up in DC (free entry and A/C) and have been drawing for as long as I can remember. Becoming an "artist" was my best articulation of what I wanted to be when I grew up. Which wasn't the most appealing outcome for a mathematician single mom (laughing).
In high school I used to play pretty straight. For the most part. You couldn't get away with much anyway... all boys, formal wear, Catholic school. I kept leaning into art, finding my way into mechanical drawing and architecture. I'd say that was the beginning of trying to understand the bigger picture.
College was great. Art School was and is an amazing experience. From the passionate conversations to unexpected collaborations, I think that is the place where I learned to start getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. I think everyone should have to do a year there, so they can open up their mind and become less binary.
My path into advertising wasn't a straight one. You could say I’ve made my way around the period. I actually started out in magazines, freelanced, worked internally, tried the PR side and then I went to the ad world. You could say I was and am more interested in doing cool work in the comms space, it just happens to be labeled one thing or another.
One early project does stand out for me though... it was for a clothing brand. It was a freelance gig. I worked so hard on it but looking back on it now, it was so basic. But you know, that's how it is when you are starting out. You are applying and mixing what you learned from school, the people that inspire you and trends at the time. It's all part of the learning curve.
When I think about the type of work that I look back on with pride now, it's projects that are looking to express something deeper. I'm a big believer in brand purpose. I think that's the only point of differentiation, technical or design innovation has a short shelf life but brand actions are harder to knock-off and take real resolve. So, campaigns that are about inclusion or express real brand actions in the real world get me excited and are my favorites.
The best piece of advice I got from someone in advertising was to not be in advertising (laughing). Seriously though... "Heroic acts can't be scaled." It has a bit of that Yoda vibe and has always stuck with me. I'll leave it for you to interpret but that quote definitely stays in the back of my mind, bubbling to the service when I am looking at the business or thinking of client solutions.
What I think is interesting about our agency (Demonstrate) is that we truly look at solving business problems through communications and actions. Which leaves us a lot of space for creativity.
The solutions are open-end, manifesting themselves as a result of the process— you never know where you'll end up. I think that we are trying a new approach. It requires courageous partners that understand that the communications landscape has evolved - and if they want to be relevant they need to evolve too. And more importantly are willing to take the "risk" and act. As a result, we get to collaborate with some really cool conspirators and have found some great success so far, which is great.
When it comes to inspiration I like to look to life. You have to go out there and live it, in my opinion. The internet is a great resource, but tasting, smelling, touching and interacting with the world... getting that feedback is so necessary. For me, I like to travel, cook, check out art shows, walk the streets, that kind of thing.
My relationship with advertising is probably best described as that of a cheerleader. The industry has very smart, talented people. It has its own issues, yes. But it's starting to talk about them, which is the first step in working through them. At the same time, it's trying to figure out what it wants to be in this brave new world, which is exciting.
At the end of the day, I'm an optimist and when I see the creativity and capabilities that new talent is bringing to the table it just makes me more excited about what'll come next.