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Creativity Squared: Living Life as a Creative with Jon Smirnoff

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Associate creative director at St. John on being a 'sponge' and the importance of 'Input. Input. Input.'

Creativity Squared: Living Life as a Creative with Jon Smirnoff

Jon Smirnoff has 10+ years of experience doing stellar work as a copywriter and associate creative director on brands including Rooms To Go, NASCAR, Total Wireless, Mayo Clinic, Antigua and Barbuda Tourism, Mohegan Sun Casino and Amica Insurance. Particular highlights for him include having worked with Cyndi Lauper, Cindy Crawford, Sofia Vergara and Julianne Hough in the process.

Smirnoff grew up in a small town in Connecticut and then graduated from Boston University with a degree in Advertising. He was pleased to live and work in NYC for three years, but is now happily in Jacksonville, Florida at St. John, the acclaimed full-service agency.

Outside of work, he really loves traveling (having visited 9 countries and 30 states and counting…so far.) And it’s no surprise that Smirnoff also loves live music since he’s played guitar for 20 years, and for 5+ years played in a band that took him up and down the East Coast playing shows.


Person

I never believed in 'work-life balance'. The idea that one ends where the other begins is a fallacy.

One informs the other…and vice versa. And honestly…it’s all life. 

I’m lucky I get to live life as a creative. 

As a creative, I often think about something illustrator/graphic designer Christoph Neimann said during an event I was fortunate enough to attend. 

“Creativity requires a great amount of input to generate great output.” 

For me, great input requires great curiosity. 

So while I do think of myself as a creative person…I more often think of myself as a curious person. 

A sponge.

Just ask my wife, who has thankfully grown to accept it. If we’re out at a restaurant or in line at the grocery store…she knows I’m paying as much attention to our conversation as the conversation the couple next to us is having. 

That’s input. 

Once you have great input…wring that sponge dry. 

Which leads me to the next question.

Is creativity innate or something you learn?

I’d argue it’s inspired. 

I think we all have creativity inside us. It takes inspiration to bring it out. 

What separates creative professionals from everyone else is the ability to bring it out on command. 

Bringing “it out” on command, at least for me, requires great input, great inspiration, and a sort of rotating routine. 

When I find something I like…I’m all in. Whether that’s a podcast, a restaurant, a T-shirt brand. I’m all in. 

And then it rotates. 

I think going all in on something is a way to make sure you’re getting maximum input. 

Soak that sponge before you wring it dry. 

Too much routine is boring. Not enough is chaotic. 


Product

When I look at creative work, I want to be surprised. 

I think that goes hand in hand with my belief that creativity is born out of originality. 

There’s a huge difference between inspiration and replication. 

When it comes to judging my own ideas…the good ones feel like getting a text from your crush in high school. They seem to come out of nowhere. And deliver a gut punch that’s half excitement, half fear. You don’t want to blow it. 

Speaking of my own work. 

This may sound cliché or insincere… but I mean it. My favorite campaign is always the next one.

There’s something about the possibility of what could be that continually excites me. 

And what excites me today is how we’re reaching people in new ways. On their phones. On their smart home devices. During their favorite podcasts. 

It can seem overwhelming at first. The idea of having to learn all these new platforms and technologies. But when you remember you’re still talking to the same people it becomes a lot easier. A compelling message is a compelling message no matter where it’s served.


Process

Great output requires great input, right?

For me the start of the creative process is always input. 

Input. Input. Input. 

Read the brief. Do a Google search and read everything there is on the subject. 

Find a relevant podcast. Look up relevant ads. Is there a documentary on the subject?

Be curious. 

Input. Input. Input. 

This is your clay to mold your creative idea out of. 

When you have enough clay, start molding. 

Then bring others in to help you mold. Hopefully they’ll bring their own clay and you can mold something really special together. 

One trick that’s served me well when I get stumped is as follows. 

If you’re at the office… get up and walk to the bathroom. Use it if you have to. 

If you’re at home… take a shower. You probably need one. 

Some people say it’s the movement that helps stimulate your ideas. Could be. Or maybe you’re just freeing your mind for a minute… allowing new ideas to rush in. 

Works for me about 8 out of 10 times. Give it a try. 


Press

My dad introduced me to Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind & Fire in utero. He would place headphones on my mom’s pregnant belly and let me soak up the sounds of these creative geniuses. 

Once out of utero, I continued to be enveloped by creativity and inspiration. 

Growing up, musical instruments littered the floor. Paintings coated the walls. And the great American novels lined the shelves. 

A young kid surrounded by input. 

To this day I’m still incredibly inspired by music and the written word. 

While creating I usually listen to instrumental music. I find it easier to write to. 

But when inputting… lyrics are more than welcome. So are podcasts. A line in a song or even a single word can inspire an entire campaign. 

When it comes to creating the best work possible, it all comes down to trust.

The client must trust the agency. 

The agency team must trust each other. 

And as an individual, you must trust in yourself. In your idea. In your vision. 

Trust that everyone in the room is there for a reason. And trust them to do their job. 

Hopefully they’ll trust you to do yours. 

Lack of trust breeds lack of creativity. 

Trust me.

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St. John, Wed, 09 Mar 2022 10:47:57 GMT