It all started with a viral video. James Shani had already created a music video for Nick Cannon when he was in college in 2013, but he made a bigger splash with a Tesla spec commercial in 2014. He even found a way to get it to Elon Musk, founder and CEO of the carmaker, who then tweeted it out.
“The idea was to create a piece of content and advertising that didn’t feel like it was selling the car—it was just a really good story,” Shani said.
From then on, Shani created SAV Studio in 2015, which rebranded to Madison + Vine in 2016. The agency’s focus is meshing the advertising industry with the “artistic, story-driven nature” of Hollywood, Shani explained. To him, that also includes creating content for social platforms to “tell stories people care about,” instead of playing catch-up and figuring out how to change content for those apps. To do all of this, Shani said Madison + Vine cultivates and “nurtures” relationships with filmmakers.
For AT&T, Shani’s team crafted the strategy to drive awareness to the telecom giant’s Loveloud Festival in Salt Lake City earlier this year. Madison + Vine drove ticket sales, working with 10 social media influencers to come up with ways to get people to tune in to the livestream of the event on social. Shani also works with Lady Gaga. The shop crafted the creative work for the artist’s on-stage content as she performed at last year’s Coachella festival. “She’s just an incredible client, because everything she does is pushing boundaries, pushing creativity,” Shani said.
Down the road, Shani wants to continue to bridge the gap between Hollywood and Madison Avenue, working with brands “to add value to humans’ lives.” For the Los Angeles content studio that may include building a consumer-facing brand and investing in consumer products.
“To me, it’s really about production and content companies being able to speak the language of and understand what a brand’s objectives are,” Shani explained. “It’s a brand’s job to build it again, look outside the box and be comfortable with working with different people that think differently, approach things differently and try to find a harmony there.”
Shani said that Madison + Vine did try and become a full-service agency. It even considered media buying before ultimately deciding that “this isn’t who we are.”
While the agency did get clients in the areas in which it expanded, Shani said it wasn’t a good fit. It’s important to have the courage “to look yourself in the mirror and know that” before reorienting yourself and focusing on what is a good fit, he said.
How He Got the Gig
All on his own, Shani created a Tesla commercial that went viral, which opened doors for him—including creating his own agency.
Shani said that “having a laser focus” on your unique qualities and your “best-in-the-world” skill is essential. “[So is] getting better at that every single day, and continuing to grow and evolve on your own terms,” he added.