Mon, 09 Jan 2023 09:32:00 GMT
John Mathieu and Cristin Barth are both creative directors at creative agency GYK Antler, but as John says, they are “friends first and foremost.” Working and socialising with their shared network of creative partners across the city they’re based in, Boston, for the pair, it can be hard to tell where work ends and ‘drinks after work’ begins. Outside of their professional relationship, their friendship has taken them on holidays together, they’ve attended each other’s weddings and they generally share inspirations and new influences with one another.
This strong and lasting dynamic began around a decade ago, when the two met at Arnold Worldwide. John, an art director, and Cristin, a strategist at the time, only knew each other socially before being put on several concepting jobs for the likes of Jack Daniels - discovering how like-minded they were in the process. “At first, I really wasn’t sure what to make of Cristin,” says John. “She wasn’t a traditional ad creative. Not an art director, and not a writer. She just had a fresh, non-traditional way of solving problems. I still feel that way.”
Cristin shares that she had admired John’s work and believed they could learn a lot from each other prior to working on their first joint project in 2015: a live stream activation for Avocados From Mexico. “Periscope [Twitter’s short-lived streaming platform], had just launched, and that client was particularly keen on being first-to-market on emerging social technology,” says Cristin. “I was the resident social media expert, so I was put with the traditional art and copy team to launch something that very day. We developed ‘Avocado Cam’: a live stream of an avocado doing absolutely nothing. We had an illustrator friend of ours at the ready, drawing scenarios for the avocado to be in as viewers commented their suggestions. It was a real ‘dawn of the social apps’ execution that we both think back on fondly.”
With John coming from a more traditional ad background - portfolio school and an internship at Goodby Silverstein - Cristin’s social media expertise and an alternate approach to problem-solving meant the pair complemented each other from this very first project. For Cristin, it’s their differences that bring them together. “I don’t believe that being the same is a complement,” she says. “The things that may frustrate us at times are likely the things that also complement us… I think it’s simple. We’re always aligned on the same goal or end result and we often think about how to get there in different ways.”
John adds, “We disagree on lots of things. That’s why it works.” And when these disagreements come up, the duo likes to get everything out on the table - which Cristin says is one of her favourite parts of their dynamic. “We don’t hold back but we do hear each other and we always end up learning something new.”
After leaving Arnold Worldwide to pursue separate creative ventures - and discovering it wasn’t the right move - the CDs soon reunited at Allen & Gerritsen’s Philadelphia office, where they lived out of a hotel for a summer, pitching new business. Not long after, however, former president and CEO of Arnold Worldwide, and an influential figure on their careers during their time there, Pam Hamlin, announced she had joined GYK Antler in Boston. Within a few months, the pair had joined the agency as well. “I started as a creative strategist and quickly moved into a creative director role,” says Cristin. “John and I run several accounts separately and a few as co-CDs but we play a major role in each other’s work daily, as a sounding board or a second set of eyes.”
Other than simply making work life more interesting, they both agree that having a close creative partner improves the quality and ease of their work, which Cristin says is often inspired by “a good conversation” between the pair. John adds, “Coming up with creative ideas is easier when you know the person you are working with. I can confidently predict what Cristin will think of a certain idea. It’s gotten to the point where I can almost give feedback on her behalf.”
Still as like-minded as ever, the pair agree on which collaboration they are proudest of so far: their work for consumer banking corporation, Sallie Mae. “The client continues to deliver assignments that fit squarely in our collective skillset,” says Cristin. “Everything needs to be highly strategic, educational, content-based marketing with a tone and aesthetic designed to attract gen z. We believe in the power of the work and the impact it can make. In fact, it’s the impact of the work that drives us most.”
Recently, this account brought them to create an animated series of financial aid infomercials called ‘Hacked’. Based in “bulletproof research and strategy”, Cristin says that the episodes provide valuable answers to important questions regarding student finance - without appearing to be traditional ads that could turn gen z viewers away. “‘Hacked’ is a triumph in the demonstration of content over advertising,” she says. “It’s written and executed beautifully, and it’s designed exactly for the platform it’s meant to live on. It’s everything we both believe perception-altering brand work should be.”
Outside of their time in the office together, the pair draw inspiration from all forms of media, according to John - constantly sending each other articles, album covers, new songs, podcasts and more to prompt discussions and new ideas. “We work hard to bring those outside influences into our work,” he says. This constant flow of sharing creativity and asking ‘have you seen this?’ means that the duo are forever learning from each other, and widening their range of influences. As Cristin describes it: “We’re students of the industry for life.”
In an effort to keep learning and never graduate from this school of thought, she says that getting “stuck in your ways” is simply not an option for them, especially in the world of marketing where there is no longer just one way of doing anything. And while the creative directors are taking in as much in as they can, looking ahead to the industry’s ever-changing horizon, Cristin says that they’re thankful to have both found the right person to navigate it with together.
“I’m inspired by the future of this industry every single day. Marketing has become somewhat of a ‘Hogwarts’ with all its moving staircases… I’m lucky to be lost without a map with someone like John.”