Independent Influence: Finding the soul of the agency

An image from Arcana's Bad Bitch music video

Sometimes creative ideas have their own intrinsic value. They do not require the validation of a client in order to come into being. And they don’t need to pull against the yolk of financial targets or arbitrary KPI’s. All they need to exist is the shared recognition that they should.

Creativity for creativity’s sake is not good for our clients’ businesses, but creativity for creativity’s sake is good for the soul of an agency. So when opportunities for that kind of expression arise at Arcana Academy, we like to think that we don’t miss them.

One such occasion came up when a writer at the agency who has a passion for making music under the pseudonym “St. Agustin.” had gathered a small group of people at the front desk who were interested in hearing his latest track, cheekily entitled, “Bad Bitch.”

As the song played, people expressed their favorable feelings about it. People said they could see the song playing in a Vegas club. People commented on the simple banality of the lyrical hook. And somebody, casually said, “We should make a music video for this.” And that was an idea that seemed to electrify everyone. Instead of continued compliments, the conversation suddenly turned to figuring out the logistics of actually making a music video for it.

Soon, it was no longer a hypothetical. The case for our ability to accomplish it was laid out, associated unavoidable hard costs were approximated, and the only question that remained was, are we going to let this opportunity pass?

So we outlined a planning, shooting, and finishing schedule that involved a few evenings and a couple of weekends, and we made a music video for Bad Bitch. A provocative story of a young woman’s sexual awakening and empowerment as a central consequence of her spiritual metamorphosis.

Another opportunity that came up was under the sad circumstances surrounding the death of an artist friend of the agency. His name was Victor Antonio but his friends called him “Jun.” He was a brilliant but tortured artist, and sadly, he passed away too soon.

It was a natural idea to want to commemorate him by making book about his life and work. With the support of his parents, we photographed hundreds of plates of his art in our in-house studio, designed the flow of the book, and wrote his story.

Jun was half Italian and half Taiwanese. He was a big proponent of symbolism and recognized that forward movement was the product of the struggle between opposite forces. He rejected the idea of Cartesian Dualism and preferred the Eastern view that mind and body were part of an integrated whole.

In line with this, and following the pattern of perhaps one of the world’s oldest symbols, we divided the book into two sections reflecting his two most prolific periods. A white Yin section at the front of the book, and a black Yang section at the back. The grey area in the middle is the biography section. This is where Jun’s life played out. In the area straddling the worlds of darkness and light.

Instead of page numbers, we marked each of the 128 pages with 64 symbols of the iChing. In the center of the book is a table that allows the viewer to contemplate each art piece in the context of that iChing symbol’s meaning.

The title, “Cancl This And Rest” is taken, verbatim, from one of the posters in his later works. The symbol on the front, a heart crossed out with an X, is a visual pneumonic that repeats throughout Jun’s work. Which is hauntingly symbolic when one understands that Jun died of heart failure in his mother’s arms. He was 34.

Ultimately, the book is something we believe Jun would really love. And to date, one of the things we are most proud of as an agency. There is no financial compensation that can best that feeling. It was worth every ounce of the effort.

A third opportunity that comes to mind is the Arcana Academy Store. While seemingly a tad self-serving on its face, the important piece is that it’s an online boutique that anybody at the agency can design swag for. We have iPhone cases, t-shirts, cardigans, Yoga pants, pillows, all kinds of things.

The store was inspired by the agency uniforms that won us the honor of Best In The Region for the Far West by Print magazine in their Regional Design Annual. Something that we designed to wear for formal meetings and occasions slowly became something people wore a little bit of every day. You might not wear the whole uniform, but you’d wear the pin, or the cardigan, or the shirt.

Over time, the iconography and aesthetic of the uniforms expanded and incorporated different forms. Eventually, with so much expressed design populating the agency, it was natural to start looking for a repository for it all. And one came when Society6 approached us for some thinking around their brand. We didn’t get the project, but we ended up with our store, so in a way, we still feel like we won.

In the end, the bottom line we learned from doing these things is to follow your own voices. Foster an environment that encourages them. And pursue the ones that feel natural.

Some of your best ideas may not be for sale. They are simply yours. And it is a choice what you want to do with them. File them in a drawer, or bring them to life?

When you bring them to life you will discover that they begin to form a virtuous circle. When people see that sharing can lead to interesting things, they are more apt to share. The more people sharing, leads to better opportunities. Successful projects foster a feeling that together we can accomplish anything. And that leads to friendships that transcend the workplace. Those sorts of bonds continue even if the working relationship changes. They move through time.

And one day, instead of the looking back at the “imagine if” category, you can look back at the “remember when” category. And there is incredible power in that.

As Mark Twain once said, “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

We’ve been told we have a way with words at Arcana Academy, but we don’t think we could ever say it better than that.

Shane Hutton is co-founder and ECD at Arcana Academy

Independent Influence is supported by Choozle, an independent digital advertising platform.

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