James O’Sullivan | Ad-Agency Golden Boy Loving New Freelance Life in Mount Maunganui
For the first half of 2018, ex ad-agency golden boy, James O’Sullivan, had one foot in Auckland and one in Mount Maunganui. In August, he took the leap and landed with both feet firmly in Tauranga where he is now “one of those happy ex-Aucklanders you see chasing seagulls on the beach.” After years of working for top ad agencies in Auckland and Melbourne, he is following his heart (read his Tauranga born-and-bred girlfriend) and the exciting freelance opportunities this growing city-by-the-sea offers a young, talented creative like him.
This is his story.
James, what drew you towards the creative industries?
Explaining what a “creative” does is like trying to describe what the colour blue tastes like. My mum thinks I work for Google, which is sometimes true. Put simply – if the right side of your brain is a muscle, I spend all day at the gym on the right brain treadmill. This can mean coming up with ideas for brands, writing descriptive copy, designing print layouts, inventing social media campaigns, and creative directing photo and film shoots.
When you boil it down, it’s all about these strange little things called ideas. Having an idea (preferably a good one) is what floats my boat. A great idea, whether for commercial gain or not, can be a powerful thing. It triggers an emotional reaction in people that changes behavior. And, in a world where social media saturates our eyes with images, I believe a few well-crafted words can cut through the visual noise. You just have to look at TV ads like ”ghost chips” to see how words can stay with us for years and even become part of popular culture.
Can you give us a highlights reel of your career to date?
I have a Bachelor of Communication Studies degree from AUT, majoring in Advertising. From here I won placement as a junior creative at Ogilvy and shared a desk in the hallway for 11 months. After making my first TV ad for L&P about “Nothing Much” it leads to something much – an intermediate creative job at DDB. At DDB I learned from some of the nicest and most talented people in the industry, writing ads for SKY TV, Lotteries NZ, and nearly setting a lamb on fire for STIHL chainsaws. After 3.5 years I made the move to Clemenger BBDO Melbourne where I created campaigns for Mercedes-Benz, anti-drink driving, and wrote a short film.
What was your Melbourne chapter like?
Melbourne had a big influence on me creatively. Being a city built around the arts I was like a sponge, soaking up all the creative juice I could, from film to food, music, and architecture. This provided endless inspiration, which I put back into my ideas.
In 2016 I wrote a short film to encourage Australian’s to invest in solar power. ‘Solar Stealers’ was a comedy about an Australian couple traveling the country in their modified campervan stealing people’s sunshine from above their roof. The nationwide campaign was well received by the Aussie public (little did they know we cast a Kiwi as the main actor.) It won awards internationally for its creativity, namely Young Guns in New York, which recognizes the best advertising talent in the world under 30. I snuck in, just.
Did living in Australia give you any fresh perspectives on New Zealand?
Australia is a great country and I occasionally miss it, like an old pair of jeans. I think living there cemented that old cliché of how lucky we are back here in good ol’ Aotearoa. We have an incredibly diverse make-up of people and a culture that welcomes difference rather than shuns it. Our access to the outdoors is unparalleled anywhere in the world. I think we take these things for granted sometimes because we’ve grown up with them.
What brought you back to Auckland?
In 2017, the home was calling and it felt like the right time to close the Melbourne chapter. I have been working as a freelance Creative Director ever since. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that for all the stick Auckland gets it’s a fascinating city if you spend time in the outer suburbs. The unique mix of people, food, and culture keeps me coming back. And the Vietnamese Pho on Dominion Rd is life-changing.
How did Tauranga end up on your radar?
After six months of doing long distances, I followed by heart to be with my beautiful girlfriend, Liv, who grew up in the Bay of Plenty and is therefore automatically more of a local than I will ever be. Although, she still won’t let me have a Sex Wax car air freshener as I’m not “salty” enough apparently. She’s better than me at Last Card, which is tough for me to admit. She means the world to me.
We’ve recently moved into a renovated bach at The Mount and adopted an Australian refugee called George. He’s our flatmate who likes investment algorithms and bacon.
Why did you decide to launch out on your own as a freelancer?
Advertising agencies tend to keep their creatives locked in a room like monkeys, away from the clients they’re working for. My decision to go freelance was born from wanting direct contact with marketers and business owners. I’ve always preferred to build a rapport with clients as I find it’s better for both parties. Working directly allows me to fully understand their ambitions for a project and they can see who is working on their business. Losing layers of people means a smoother, faster process and fewer overheads for my clients. It’s a win-win.
The Mount is a fantastic base that ideally positions me to work remotely anywhere in the Bay of Plenty and beyond. I’m currently working part-time with clients in Auckland and Te Puke so am very lucky to be able to return to our house by the beach and recharge creatively.
What’s been keeping you busy lately?
I have been working on a campaign to advertise the re-opening of the KiwiRail passenger train between Piction and Christchurch following the Kaikoura earthquake in Nov 2016. My idea and copy take the same newspaper headlines that ran during the earthquake’s aftermath and turns them into a tourism campaign for the area. When paired with journalist’s photography, the ads show how the landscape in the region has dramatically changed, creating a “New New Zealand” for tourists to discover. The ads are appearing in the respective newspapers and publications where each quote initially ran.
What’s your take on Tauranga’s creative and business scene?
Everywhere I look I see new start-ups and clever people with smart business ideas who are looking to grow the region’s economy. A food truck selling shuck-your-own oysters by the beach. A container city built by young entrepreneurs. The world’s first electric utility bike. A new craft brewery space. I’m trying to get around and meet as many of these people as I can.
Maybe it’s the salt air that sparks good ideas but with the ports on our doorstep, you’d be hard-picked to find a more ideal place to launch a world-class brand. I think the next 5-10 years are going to be really exciting for the region’s growth in the creative and entrepreneurial space.
How have you made connections as a newbie in town?
Priority One has been incredible at connecting me with local businesses in the region. I’ve been doing ongoing work for a local artisan pet food company to re-brand their family of wet food and treats. So far this has included formulating a brand strategy, crafting a tag line and brand story, developing headline copy and shooting images for print, plus creating social media campaigns and promotions.
What happens next?
I’m still a pretty fresh face on the scene so over the next few months I’ll be spending my time getting my name out there and meeting any marketers, business owners, or agencies who need creative assistance, brand consulting, or help with advertising or photography-based project.
What do you love about living in Tauranga?
With its unique location here on the North Island, Tauranga gives me the best possible combination of freelance and remote working capabilities throughout the Bay of Plenty, and all within casting distance of one of New Zealand’s best outdoor playgrounds. The dream. I’m living it.
Gets You Thinking Doesn’t It?
No one can tell you when you’re ready for a change of lifestyle…but when you are, we’d love to have you in Tauranga!
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