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Today’s Office: Deutsch creative director James Cowie on staying positive in NYC

Today’s Office: Deutsch creative leader James Cowie on staying positive in NYC

Thanks to the pandemic, the world of work is changing – and it looks very different depending on where you’re based. In The Drum’s new series, Today’s Office, we ask individuals from adland to share what these new normal routines look like. This week, James Cowie, group creative director at Deutsch NY, shares how he stays positive in Manhattan with a little help from Spiderman.

I spend most of my days as James Cowie, group creative director at Deutsch New York. But often, and with little notice, I become Doctor Doom, or the Green Goblin, or the wicked Prince John.

I’ve gotten good at being a bad guy. I have a well-practiced vaudevillian routine. I bounce around my bedroom, laughing maniacally and threatening to foil the plans of Spiderman, or Robin Hood, or whoever else my four-year-old son is inhabiting at the time. Usually, this is all to the great amusement of his eighteen-month-old brother, who’s been typecast as the sidekick.

There are four of us living in our two-bedroom apartment, and we live on top of each other. As Australians living in NYC, we have become each other’s entire galaxies. When the boys are awake, it’s very loud: a hurricane of raucous laughter or raging tantrums, depending on the mood.

With practice, my sons have become more reasonable at allowing me to transform back into myself before the next Zoom call, or client meeting, or writing deadline. The door shuts as the meeting starts, I stop being a villain and my bedroom becomes a home-office once more. Occasionally, the door suddenly bursts open and Spiderman attacks everyone on Zoom. But there’s little to be done about that.

This is not a complaint about working from home with two kids in a slightly too small Upper East Side apartment. It’s really not. It’s just my version of reality in 2020: happy chaos, and a mostly functioning, never-ending juggle, where the lines between being a parent to young boys and being a creative director are scribbled over with a half-chewed crayon.

After the initial, brutal adjustment of trying to make things work, I quickly came to see that my domestic chaos is, in fact, a blessing. Even when you’re at the epicenter of a terrifying global pandemic, it’s hard to remain depressed when there’s a wriggling, giggling toddler in the same room.

It helps, of course, that I work with fabulous, empathetic people, and that we were a very close-knit team already. The way we solve creative problems together is a little different now than how it used to be, but no less effective. Equally, the sense of collective purpose that’s always been at the heart the agency is still there. Deutsch still feels like Deutsch, even if it is a weirder version of itself, composed of a collection of far-flung laptops in badly lit bedrooms.

Frankly, the writer in me prefers working remotely, but perhaps not enough to make up for the abject nightmare of tackling international film productions via Zoom. But hey, at least I manage to eat dinner with my family every night – a first for my advertising career. That’s no small thing.

As for my apartment, it’s new. I moved to the one that was directly above my old apartment just a few weeks ago. It has one extra bathroom and a washer and dryer. My wife and I tossed around the idea of moving to the suburbs (like everyone else in New York City, it seems) but, in the end, I guess we love Manhattan. No matter how loud and crowded it is, both inside my apartment and out.

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