'Every problem has another solution': Beyond the Brief with John Cornette, EP+Co

John Cornette, EP+Co

To celebrate its 100th Anniversary, the 4A’s has partnered with us at The Drum to pull back the curtain and look at an industry full of problem solvers, creative types and analytical minds. But what keeps them going once the briefs are written, the campaigns executed, and the pitches won (or lost)? The Drum is now interviewing 100 people at 4A’s member agencies — across all disciplines, levels, regions, and agency types — to get a glimpse into what drives them at work and what fuels them in life.

John Cornette wears a lot of hats at EP+Co. He serves as the executive vice president and executive creative director at South Carolina-based EP+Co. In his current role, Cornette works with brands including Denny’s and Lenovo.

In a video interview with The Drum, Cornette, who is in New York, thinks that great creatives are the ones that more interested in the process of creating a campaign than in the final result.

“I think it comes down to almost having a little bit of a safecracker’s mentality about you and wanting to solve problems passionately,” he said in the video interview.

Before joining EP+Co (formerly Erwin Penland) in 2013, Cornette served as executive creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi in New York. Throughout his career, he’s also worked at BBDO, JWT and R/GA.

Cornette’s passion for advertising, as well as his desire to make an impact through creativity and innovation, shows how he is living beyond the brief.

If you started an agency from scratch today, what would it look like?

I’d attempt to build a place comprised of more specialists than generalists. More people with specific talents that extend beyond the art director and writer teams that still proliferate most agencies. A place where on any given project you could look around a table and see a motionographer, a GIF maker, a mobile app developer, a writer, a welder and a set designer. The outcome is less predictable and ultimately that’s what clients expect from their creative partners.

The toughest conversation you had with a client. With a boss?

My bosses’ boss, the global chief creative officer once called me into his office for some “good news.” As he was handing me what I knew was a performance bonus check … I started to realize that he hadn’t heard I had resigned two days earlier. So, with the bonus envelope extended over his desk I was faced with a very tough decision: I could pocket the check and say “thanks” and ride into the sunset or do the hard thing and resign again. I ended up doing the hard thing. Still don’t know how big that check was though.

What makes you excited about going to work every day?

This is not math, I was always terrible at math. In this industry, single answers don’t exist and that’s what makes in interesting. Every problem has another solution and sometimes more than one at the same time. Clients, or budget or timing puts up a wall and you figure a way the dig a hole under it or a way to climb over it. That’s what being creative is all about. The ability to continually say “here’s another way.”

When you take a break from work (i.e. - vacation), what do you like to do most? Why?

I love riding motorcycles. Particularly when I can do it in a place I’ve never been. Every July I travel abroad with my father-in-law and wife to a new place and tour the country by motorcycle for 10 days. It’s a great way to reboot the servers and get a real taste for a new place and culture at the same time. Being on a bike is different, the community around it and the focus it requires make it truly unique. It’s a real break, and that’s the important thing — you can’t answer emails going 60 in a twisty canyon, and if you find a country with no cell service or Wi-Fi? … Even better.

Is work too personal or not personal enough at times? Why is that?

Work should be personal. The number one thing we look for when interviewing people is: do people want to be around this person? Does this person make the agency a better place to be? Performance is the standard. Everyone should be excellent in their field, but the more important thing is to build a culture of people that want to engage, interact, and collaborate. The truth is that this business is filled with long hours, nights, and weekends you probably spend more time with your colleagues than your family. Knowing that, I always ask teammates that interview candidates: Do you want to go to lunch with this person or spend a Sunday working with this person?

What book would you suggest to a stranger?

“Tribe” by Sebastian Junger. As creatives, the more understanding we have of people and the way they think, what motivates them, why they do the things they do, the better our strategic thinking will be. This is that kind of book. A book that breaks down human motivation and draws from real firsthand experience. I think it’s important to draw creative insight from books and life that is away from the industry. This is a great example of that.

To pitch someone from a 4A's member agency for Beyond the Brief, please complete this linked form.

Haley Velasco

Haley Velasco is a writer based in Chicago, IL, who has a background in PR for a sports media company and has reported on a variety of topics, including sports, opinion, politics and celebrity news. Based in the Windy City, she covers industry happenings in the Midwest and throughout North America. She has been reporting for The Drum since May 2016.

All by Haley