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D&AD Leadership Interviews – Jason Campbell of Translation

The Executive Creative Director tells us about growth and development through the pandemic

Illustration by Alysa Browne

Jason Campbell is the Head of Creative at the independent creative agency Translation, and throughout his storied career has worked with the likes of Impossible Foods, Nike, Verizon, Airbnb and perhaps most famously Beats, for whom he made the eight D&AD Pencil-winning You Love Me. Directed by Melina Matsoukas, written by Lena Waithe and scored by Solange Knowles, the film – which addresses the disparity between the love of Black music and the treatment of Black people – featured stars including Naomi Osaka, Lil Baby, and Janaya Future Khan.

Jamaican-born Campbell originally aspired to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and become an artist, but emerged from the School of Visual Arts in New York with a BFA in Advertising and a passion for the craft. After getting the bug at college, he entered the industry and worked with many big names before taking on his current leadership role at Translation in the summer of 2020. 

We caught up with him about a game changing year in an already sparkling career.

The deep end can be just what you need

Campbell took up the reins as Head of Creative at New York agency Translation in the summer of 2020. Out of the many job offers he received last year, theirs struck a chord. 

“After the social and racial reckoning we had last summer, the industry had a knee jerk reaction to seek out black and brown talent and it was transparent on many levels,” he explains. “Translation didn't need that, it felt like it was already diverse at its core.”

Although it immediately felt like a good fit, the transition was not easy and Campbell was straight in at the deep end while having to get to know his team remotely. 

“Ultimately, starting any new position during the pandemic meant closing a laptop and opening a new one at the end of the day. It forced me to get deep, quickly and to earn trust and belief by aligning on the important values first. Being able to do that becomes the source of the momentum for everything including the success we're having now,” he added.

The long game allows you to expand your repertoire

Campbell graduated to applause. He was named one of the ‘Top 5 Ad School Graduates’ by Adweek and the One Club awarded him the Patrick Kelly Scholarship. Following these early plaudits he started by interning at Wieden+Kennedy New York before joining J. Walter Thompson as a writer and an art director. He then moved on to Goodby Silverstein & Partners where he excelled and created award-winning work before returning to Wieden+Kennedy in Portland. All this took place before Campbell was brought in to head things up at Translation, which he sees as a place where he can make use of the full breadth of his experience.

True diversity strengthens a business

Extremely proud of his team, Campbell speaks of their focus, talent and mission that gets through the dream projects and the tough tasks. “On a very hard day, it's easy to make business choices or creative choices, because we know where we're headed,” he says, explaining that the people are everything. 

“This is gonna sound very ambitious, but I want to embody the Harvard Business Review case study: ‘What happens when you unleash diversity and creativity on business.’ I've been able to build a team that doesn't look one way or sound one way; it's a team of differences and I think what that allows us to do is to keep each other honest on many things. We don't assume the right answer, there's a lot of debate and a lot of conversation about what's right.” 

Through taking the time to communicate and fostering an environment of care and creative safety Campbell has managed to build his team through the pandemic, despite the distancing.

Tackling conversations on race as a creative leader of colour

Heading up an agency through a pandemic was a challenge in and of itself, but living and working in the United States during resurgence of Black Lives Matter brought with it a swathe of other issues.

“It was interesting, because I think two or three years before the murder of George Floyd the country had gone through a similar sort reckoning,” he recalls. “I remember that it centered around Michael Brown and protests in Ferguson – again the conversation spiked, hope rose, but then it died down, and everything went back to how it was.”

This left Campbell feeling disillusioned, so to see it all happening again with brands wanting to co-opt the conversation felt like a repetition of history. “The easiest thing to say is that it was difficult and it was challenging,” he explains. “A lot of brands were saying they wanted to do something or say something. And it was like, ‘No, you're not supposed to do something, and you're not supposed to say something, just back off’.”

Through stepping back Campbell was able to produce the project of his career with his team, the game changing, poetic ode to Black culture, You Love Me.

You Love Me for Beats

You Love Me for Beats seeks to unpack the world’s fascination with Black culture. Affecting and enlightening the film explores a superficial embracing of a culture twinned with a rejection of its people. “I consider it to be probably the best thing I've been a part of because of its impact, because I know now anytime a brand decides they want to enter a conversation, that's the benchmark.”

Campbell and the Translation team decided that rather than try to simplify the conversations being had around racism they would embrace and amplify their complexity. “It wasn't simple, it was very complex visually and verbally and I think that that's what resonated with a lot of folks.”

When you realise your goals simply raise the bar

We have all heard the term impostor syndrome, this spectre of the mind is something that can strike at any time but seems to rear its ugly head after a big win. Campbell, knowing he has made the best work of his career, addressed how to move on with his team. 

“I was talking to the team, and I said, you can't repeat that. I think you must measure its impact and your goal should always be to have that level of impact, but the way that you do it can be different. Whether you're talking about something light or serious, it should impact the world, that’s a very hard task, but that's the one that I've given them.”

By setting the standard in a gentle way he raised the teams’ expectations of themselves which he believes will get results. “I think if you just hold the bar high and let them know where they need to go, they'll dig as deep as they need to get there and if they don't get here, they'll get close to it.”

Viral tips from a master

A master in going viral having had online success with You Love Me, LeBron’s Answering Machine for Nike and many more, Campbell understands how to negotiate the tsunami of information on the internet and avoid the pitfalls of being the focus of the conversation. 

His three tips for going viral are as follows:

  •  “Be curious about subcultures and things that you don't know – this avoids alienating the community you are speaking to.”
  • “Say something that is going to mean something to someone, make them laugh or shed a tear or whatever emotion you're trying to elicit. It has to actually matter.”
  • “The last thing is, I'm a firm believer in craft. Whether it’s highly crafted or stripped back on purpose, every choice should be considered.”

Interview by Amah-Rose Abrams

For more insights on how the way we work has changed, Asana surveyed over 13,000 global workers to explore how issues brought to bear over the past year have affected creatives and other knowledge workers. The findings and solutions are designed to help organisations thrive in a hybrid-working future. Download Asana’s Anatomy of Work Index 2021 here.

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