Tools of the Trade: Jeff Graham of Cactus

By Kyle O'Brien 

Tools of the Trade is an AgencySpy feature to help highlight the many tools that help make advertising and marketing folks successful. The tools can be anything that helps you perform at your top form, from your favorite drafting table to your best software program to a lucky pen, a vintage typewriter or a pair of headphones.

Next up is Jeff Graham, president and CMO of Denver agency Cactus.

Jeff Graham from Cactus values his art print from the WK12 internship program.


What is the name of the one tool you use all the time at work, and how does it inspire your work? 

A framed, limited edition art print from the WK12 internship program, which back in the mid-2000s was a groundbreaking school-within-an-agency program where Wieden+Kennedy selected 12 creatives from applications nationwide for the chance to work in the agency for a year on their client accounts. For young creatives at the time, it had to be like finding Willy Wonka’s golden ticket.

Why is it your favorite?

It’s filled with 13 little bits of wisdom, inspiration and illustrations from the greatest agency of my lifetime, so that’s pretty cool. It’s pink and beautifully punk rock in its aesthetic—it demands your attention when you walk into the room. So I find myself looking at it over and over again every day.

How did you acquire your tool or hear about it for the first time?

I probably read about it in one of the trades back in the day, bought it online (in the early days of ecommerce). While I’m sure there were many printed up, there were only 13 signed by both Dan Wieden and David Kennedy. I immediately bought one of the 13 prints.

How does it help you be successful?

In a business where it’s easy to overthink things, it helps me refocus on the basics: “Be Here Now,” “What Is A Brand? A Good Story,” “Ask A Lot Of Questions,” “Solve Problems With Ideas,” “Don’t Say It, Be It.” Truisms like that, are nuggets of inspiration from an agency that has been the standard bearer of creative excellence for my entire career in advertising.

Does it have sentimental value?

Dan Wieden’s recent passing certainly got me paying even more attention to that poster than normal. I can’t think of a single person who has had such a profound and sustained impact on our industry than Dan. I never worked at W+K, but throughout my 30-year journey in advertising, he was just there, quietly in the background as this powerful spokesperson for agency independence and doing game-changing creative work. So every time I walk into my office, I’m reminded of the relentless culture of creativity he presided over for so long, and that inspires me to keep going, work harder, dig deeper and be a little better than the day before.

Do you think your tool could go TikTok viral?

While I think the wisdom contained in the poster is timeless, it’s a decidedly craft-era, analog tool, and I like that. But I think it could absolutely work in the digital world. If it were an NFT I’d buy it all over again.

We want to know what tools you use to make you successful. If you’d like to contribute or know someone who would want to be featured in Tools of the Trade, contact and fill out our survey.