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john st. Founder Stephen Jurisic on Becoming Creative Chairman at Miami Ad School Toronto

Stephen stepped away from his agency in January to head up the advertising school’s operations – LBB’s Addison Capper picks his brains

john st. Founder Stephen Jurisic on Becoming Creative Chairman at Miami Ad School Toronto

Over the course of more than 16 years, Stephen Jurisic nurtured john st. - the Canadian agency of which he is a founding partner - into one of the most creative and successful shops in the market. But in January of this year Stephen stepped away from the business that he built to join Miami Ad School Toronto as its creative chairman (he had previously taught some classes there), tasked with maintaining and elevating the creative standards at the school. He’s essentially the ‘Dean’ of the school, he tells us. 

So, what was it about Miami Ad School that was such a lucrative opportunity that it could tempt him away from both john st. and advertising agencies in general? LBB’s Addison Capper caught up with him to find out.


LBB> Why was joining Miami Ad School too good an opportunity to pass up? 
 
SJ> I’ve always admired the Miami Ad School and their presence internationally so to be a part of leading the school here in Toronto was a dream come true. Plus, they have some pretty cute office pups here.

 
 
LBB> When did you join Miami Ad School? I think you were there for a period of time while still at john st?
 
SJ> I officially joined this January as the creative chair. Last year, while I was still at john st., I taught some classes at the school and helped to connect the school with creatives I admired for instructor roles. 
 
 
LBB> You’re one of the founders of john st. - how have you found the experience of stepping away from something that is ultimately yours?
 
SJ> It’s never easy to say goodbye to something you’ve built. But that being said, I left the company in amazing hands. Over the last couple of years, we brought up and brought on some exceptionally talented people who I trust to keep the john st. vision strong and vibrant.

 
 
LBB> While you’re still within adland, it’s a very different role and organisation than an agency. What spurred the change? Was it something that you were thinking about for a long time or more a spur of the moment type thing? 
 
SJ> I’ve been thinking about teaching for quite a while and, during the early days of john st., I was actually a portfolio teacher at the Ontario College of Art & Design. That experience taught me that being a teacher is a lot like being a creative director and I think it helped me become a better CD overall. I learned that the best way to help someone improve is to give them a constructive critique. Of course, you always have to ensure that your feedback leaves the person inspired, not defeated. 
 
 
LBB> What were your main aims and ambitions for the role when you took it and how do they stand today? 
 
SJ> When I first took on the role, my main goal was to help the school build stronger connections to the industry and create a curriculum that is more relevant. These same goals are still important to me, but currently I’m most excited about our bootcamp programs, which help working professionals boost their careers. Our strategy and social bootcamps have already been a huge success, and we just launched a new UX bootcamp with SapientRazorfish.
 
Bigger picture, I’m also meeting creative agency leaders in Toronto to see what we could do to make the industry better overall. Toronto is one of the creative hubs of North America, so I’ve made it my goal to tap the younger generation here and help them find their calling.

 
 
LBB> Your title is ‘creative chairman’ - what does that entail exactly? 
 
SJ> It’s kind of a pompous title; a more accurate description would be Dean of the school. Basically, I’m responsible for maintaining and elevating the creative standards of the school. This means finding the best teachers, speakers and leaders from across the industry. I also work closely with the students to ensure they are set up with the right skills and great portfolios.
 
 
LBB> Now that you’re not on the front line making ads, how do you ensure that you’re up to date with the trends impacting the industry and its output?
 
SJ> I read LBB everyday – seriously! I’ve always been a junky for advertising, design, art and pop culture, so it’s in my nature to stay on top of the latest news. It also helps to be surrounded by a group of millennial students – they’re always looking at the coolest shit. 
 
 
LBB> Canada killed it at Cannes last year with 44 Lions - must be great to see work from the country recognised on that global stage? But how do you see the Canadian industry at the moment? 
 
SJ> Having grown my own agency here, I’m not surprised to see some of the most creative work coming out of our country. We have the most talented minds with unmatched hustle, which has positioned Canada to continue to do well on the world stage.
 
 
LBB> What are you most going to miss about working at an agency? 
 
SJ> It sounds cliché but I miss the people – especially my partners. We built john st. on our terms by creating a culture of mentorship, respect, office dogs and working with like-minded clients. Of course, I’m also going to miss making the videos that poked fun at the industry
 
 
LBB> And what won’t you miss? 
 
SJ> The stress.