Keith Cartwright on Entrepreneurialism and Breeding Creativity
. . .and the funny thing Dan Wieden once told himBy: Ann-Christine Diaz, Published: Feb 23, 2012
AA/Creativity: How did you first get into advertising?
Mr. Cartwright: I attended Syracuse University with the intent of becoming a fine artist. I was going to focus on painting with a possible minor in printmaking. Right before I declared my major I had a brief conversation with a professor from the school of art and design who in about 10 minutes sold me on his program. I changed majors that day. He's been a mentor ever since.
AA/Creativity: How did your parents feel about you pursuing it?
Mr. Cartwright: My father's a minister and my mother's a speech pathologist. Their biggest fear was that I not become a stuttering atheist. They've always have been incredibly supportive.
AA/Creativity: Who are your heroes/role models in the business? Are any of them African American?
Mr. Cartwright: Well aside from Alma and Arthur Cartwright, I'd have to say Dan [Wieden]. You cannot look at that company, over the past 30 years, on so many levels, and not admire what they've created.
Now, Dan's not Black -- although he told me once he wanted to be.
AA/Creativity: How do you feel about the diversity issue in advertising today? Has it changed from say, five years ago?
Mr. Cartwright: I think the conversation has changed and people are much more aware than five years ago. That said, the numbers across the board are still anemic. I think The New York Times reported last year that minorities make up less than 5% of the industry. I don't think those numbers represent a fair representation of people we're marketing to. I think in order to breed creativity you need diversity -- a diversity of experience, a diversity of cultures, a diversity of beliefs. All these things bring valuable perspectives that change the way you think about a problem.
AA/Creativity: Have you ever worked at an African-American shop? Do you see those sticking around, or do you think the trend is toward smaller, "urban" or even "youth" shops?
Mr. Cartwright: I think there are some great cultural agencies popping up, but I don't necessarily see those as Black agencies. In a lot of ways, right now, Black culture is seen as pop culture. I think what we're seeing is a response to where pop culture is leaning. It's more of an overall sign of the times than a trend in my opinion.
AA/Creativity: Have you ever had any problems in the industry related to being African American? If so, what did you learn from them?
Mr. Cartwright: As a creative there's some solace in the fact that your work generally proceeds or even defines who you are. I've spent my career focusing on that. Have others had a problem with me, sure, but that's their problem…
AA/Creativity: What are your thoughts on African Americans and entrepreneurialism in advertising/marketing? Do you feel there's plenty of opportunity?
Mr. Cartwright: Reid Hoffman (the co-creator of Linked-in) just came out with a book called "The Start-Up in You." Great book that focuses on our times right now and how we need to stop looking at ourselves as labor and start building our own brands -- which doesn't necessarily mean finding office space. Entrepreneurialism is a way of thinking. It's an approach to life. There's so much going on right now in media and tech, I think it's a great time for anyone to start a company regardless of race.
AA/Creativity: What have you learned so far from your own entrepreneurial efforts? What's the biggest lesson you've learned?
Mr. Cartwright:It's been incredible, but I think a bit too early to get retrospective.