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Dream Teams: Never a Bad Time for a Good Time with Jeph Burton and Hunter Hampton


Group creative directors at Johannes Leonardo and married life partners speak to LBB’s Addison Capper about hitting about the joys, intrinsic nature and healthy disagreement of working with their “best friend”

Dream Teams: Never a Bad Time for a Good Time with Jeph Burton and Hunter Hampton

Jeph Burton and Hunter Hampton met, they say, as ‘most teens in Texas do’ - at a warehouse rave. 

It was a different time. Jeph’s fishnets fit him better - though he tells me his choice in eyeliner has remained much the same - and Hunter managed to track his future life and work partner down via some nostalgically early-noughties stalking using AOL instant messenger and T-Mobile Sidekicks. 

“My first impression was that his eyes were awfully dilated,” laughs Jeph. “My second impression was that he was interesting. At the risk of sounding like a total romantic, I was fascinated from day one. All these years later (we’ve been together for half our lives now), I can still say that I feel the very same. Surprised by the dilation of his pupils, and fascinated by his demented brain.”

“Jeph has always really exuded a sinister-fun, chaotic energy,” adds Hunter. “With insane wit. It’s super alluring and makes for a really entertaining time. I definitely have more fun than anyone else because of it. That impression hasn’t changed. But honestly my first impression specifically was terror because he was trying to get me to dance publicly. The following impressions were about how smart and proper nerdy he is.”

Jeph and Hunter are now married and located in New York City. They are also creative partners and ply their trade at Johannes Leonardo as group creative directors. But working together wasn’t always the plan. “I started out at Ogilvy,” says Jeph, “where I somehow managed to con my way into a writing job I had no business doing. Hunter was at Droga5, back when it apparently used to rain indoors on occasion.” 

They weren’t married at the time but were dating, so when they’d come home, inevitably working late on different projects, they’d end up helping each other. “It felt an awful lot like we should be getting paid for it. Especially because it was more fun than it was doing our day jobs. So we both hitched up our skirts and hightailed it to a start-up called The Bull-White House, and from there, Johannes Leonardo.”

“[It] happened a bit more spontaneously,” says Hunter, “when he [Jeph] found himself itching for a change and got connected with a recruiter who mentioned a start-up that’d be an ‘intense industry bootcamp run by a slightly megalomaniacal, but brilliant creative leader’ that had a team opening.

“I was a designer at an agency, itching to transition into an art director role (surprise) but knew the difficulty in that without switching shops. This was years into our relationship, so we knew we’d have a good time if we were to team up. Both of us are masochists, so we went for it.”

“We hit it off immediately,” adds Jeph, “because we had had five years’ practice getting along. Also, nobody else was as pretty.”

The first project that they officially worked together on as a duo was called ‘The Cancer Sutra’. “You can imagine what it’s about,” says Jeph. “But it came from a very real place, that unfortunate wording notwithstanding.” Most people don’t check themselves regularly enough for signs of cancer, but people are all more than eager to check somebody else. “So we made a book designed to help you detect cancer while in the act,” says Jeph. “A squeeze here, a closer examination there. You get the drift. 

“The process was simple, because it was proactive.  Hunter would draw a position. I’d name it something punny, like ‘Check, Please, Please, Please’. It was all very fluid. And I’m totally regretting all of my wording choices with this whole answer.”

‘The Cancer Sutra’ is actually the project chosen by Hunter as the one he’s most proud of from their years as creative partners. “We were a throuple at the time,” Hunter remembers, “with Madeline Malachowski, who’s amazing, and we managed to create this beautiful series illustrated by John Solimine of Spike Press complete with stellar, hilarious writing by Jeph all under our little start-up roof. It was our first Cannes win and the collaboration to get there was just so tangible and energising. We had sketches everywhere, and everyone sketching on the sketches of all these revisions to these sex positions while specialists were having to fact-check our ridiculous writing… it was just a hoot.”

Jeph’s choice is something a little more recent, ‘Remember the Why’ for adidas Basketball. “It manifests as a reminder to athletes to remember why they started playing in the first place - for the love of the game itself, and not everything that comes after. But it started as just a deeply ingrained belief we have in why we do what we do every day. Funny how that happens.”

What’s more, they were both up against it with “every challenge you can imagine” on that campaign. Time was not on their side, and there was a film shoot, stills campaign and rollout all to crack with their “incredible, incredible partners” from adidas Basketball. “It was the most challenging shoot we’ve ever been on,” says Jeph, “as we fought against time, fought for light, and fought for a shoot that was happening in truly a matter of days’ time. Being able to anticipate one another’s reactions, knowing that either of us could make a call on something when the other couldn’t — that’s when the trust in one another truly showed.”


Jeph and Hunter tell me that a lot of people wonder how they can work together, live together and hang out together. “The trust is,” says Jeph, “Hunter is my best friend in the world. There’s no one I’d rather spend time with. I’ve never taken for granted how lucky I am in that regard — or in regards to how lucky we are to both be working in a creative industry, surrounded by so much talent, energy and ideas. As many hours as we put in, as hard as we go—what we do rarely feels like work. So truthfully, I’ve never felt like I needed to ‘split’ both sides—they’re one and the same. That said, it isn’t like we’re talking about work all the time.

“So here’s a novel idea for anyone who needs to hear it: Just say that. Just tell your partner you’re not down to, as it were, clown at the moment. Talk. Groundbreaking, I know.”

People are also often inclined to think that Jeph and Hunter will automatically spark to the same things, but that is not true. As Jeph succinctly puts it, the best and truest partnerships are so due to a respect of each person’s individuality. So, when it comes to a brief, no matter how big or small, they air every question they can think of - the things that would interest them and they might chat about over coffee, dinner or a video game - then they go away and do their own thing. “By the time we come back to one another,” says Jeph, “almost without fail, we’ll have come at the thing in entirely different ways. Entirely different!

But then we get to talking. Surprising one another. Making fun of each other’s bad ideas, and then pausing in stunned silence when something surprises us, or when one of us sits and changes the others’ mind.”

“We both have opinions on all things,” adds Hunter, “and bring 'em to the table to craft the work holistically vs. any real division between art/copy/articulating the logic behind it all. Jeph’s drawings are actually really amazing to me and I prefer them or his handwriting in a presentation over mine. We have our strengths, but it’s more of a mind-meld in getting everything together.”

As in any partnership, there are naturally also moments of disagreement. “The only unwritten rule in place is to not be an asshole about it,” says Hunter. “There’s a lot of respect between us, we’ll try to support each other if one of us is more passionate about something the other might not be seeing yet… And then we’ll laugh about it when the realisation hits that it’s not the way to go. ‘Told ya so’s’ are common, but in good fun.

“Emotion is inevitable! It comes with the territory of caring and viewing this work as our art. Not everyone looks at what they do in this industry that way, but we really do, so yeah, there’s passion and a level of sensitivity and respect necessary because of it.”

“There’s a really nihilistic tendency of a lot of creatives in advertising that throw the phrase around, ‘it’s just advertising’ when things get tough,” adds Jeph. “Dogshit. It’s a reflection of who you are. And in the case of someone you’re married to, it’s a reflection of who they are, and who you are together.

“Now, the thing about a creative environment is, it’s tough. And when you care about it—when you care about who you’re making something with, what people will perceive, what you’ve established already together—emotion is always going to be part of it. It’s a piece of you you’re exposing to the world. It becomes doubly so when you’re extremely protective of your partner and want the world to see their brilliance, too. You just can’t help but sometimes get heated.

“You have to be really good at talking to one another, and especially good at being humble.

“And learn how to apologise and mean it.”

“People always ask how we do this,” says Hunter, “but I think it’s the same indescribable reason you’d give if someone asked why someone’s your best friend, or life partner, or any sort of coupling. You can grow into something unexpected sometimes as you get to know someone and somehow this is the monster we’ve become over the years.”

Jeph concludes by offering up two rules for a successful relationship that he believes to be true of both creativity and marriage:
“1) Never go to bed angry.
“2) There’s never a bad time to have a good time.”

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Johannes Leonardo, Tue, 07 Mar 2023 15:31:53 GMT