Last December, Keith Cartwright left 72andSunny L.A. as the agency’s executive creative director. It was another high-profile creative departure from the agency (Justine Armour also moved from the MDC shop’s New York office to Grey New York to become CCO).
Today, Cartwright announced the launch of a new agency bearing his name. The eponymous shop has the backing of WPP and will tap into the global creative network of Grey Group. Initial clients include P&G—which Cartwright and his fellow Saturday Morning co-founders worked with last year on “The Look,” a powerful ad for the brand—Facebook and LVMH brand Loro Piana.
According to Cartwright, the attention economy demands different approaches to the work and has to be “audacious enough to cut through.”
“The most successful pieces of work that I’ve done in my career have been audacious, and that principle forces you (and brands) to be unignorable,” he said.
Cartwright (the agency) also hangs its hat on its process, keeping nimble but also constructed to scale. The shop currently has 20 employees with it set to grow with future clients wins and work. Cartwright (the founder) believes the WPP investment and access to Grey’s global talent pool, when needed, is an agile, entrepreneurial model.
“You have to be lean and move quickly,” Cartwright said. “This model creates very high-touch leadership, including myself, where we work more directly with clients and their leadership to engage constantly.
“What slows things down in the industry is resourcing and process. But how do you do that in a way where you can still scale? Part of Cartwright’s uniqueness is our ability to lean into that network and the people there we trust. And then, we can adapt and move out when we don’t need those resources,” he said, noting that the agency will still engage freelancers as another pool of talent.
Michael Houston, worldwide CEO of Grey Group, said, “If there’s one consistent theme today amongst our clients, it’s that they want new models that provide supreme flexibility relative to how they work, and the closer they get to the actual creative minds, the better.”
Part of Cartwright’s motivation to leave 72andSunny wasn’t about the work—the agency continues to crank out strong work—but rather a chance to build something again. In 2012, he founded Union Made Creative and worked with the likes of Nike, Lego, GE and others before the shop was acquired by Butler Shine Stern and Partners, where he served as executive creative director for two years.
“Like any entrepreneur, you are burdened with a vision,” said Cartwright, a Texas native and 2016 Adweek Creative 100 honoree. “I believe that I have something unique. I believe in doing work in a way that I think is attractive to clients. And I want to build something. Building something is so rewarding, and seeing how it grows, helps brands thrive and employs people is remarkable.”
Unlike his run at Union Made, Cartwright’s decision to put his name on the door is purposeful. It’s not lost on him that, as one of the industry’s most well-known Black creative leaders, it is a critical moment and statement.
“This could be a symbol to inspire other people who look like me,” he said. “I have a responsibility in that space and place, too. You can go down the line of business leaders and activists and people who may look like you regardless of whether you’re black or brown or yellow. Those people are symbols, and even though they may not talk to you or interact with you, what they’re doing and how they’re doing it becomes motivation. And that motivation is to say that don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can’t do something. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you’re not capable. And if they do tell you that, prove them wrong.”
Cartwright, along with his Saturday Morning co-founders, Jayanta Jenkins, Geoff Edwards and Kwame Taylor-Hayford, will continue to build on the momentum of the group’s lauded film for P&G that launched a year ago at Cannes and addressed bias against Black men.
Without naming brands or projects in the works, Cartwright acknowledged that the current situation around racism in America compelled the collective to move faster.
“It’s time to do things,” he said. “So we’re very conscious of that, especially with our place in this business and world. We want to make sure that we’re doing things out that are tangible that people can touch, and that will help. We have some things that are going to come out very quickly and soon. And that will build up to some projects that will need more lead time.”