Amelie: Tell us a bit about yourself. What do you do at Amelie? How long have you been with us? What do you love about being an Art Director?
Jesse: My name is Jesse James Cunningham, and I am from Kansas City, Missouri. Not only am I named after the outlaw and historical figure from my home state, but coincidentally I was born on the same day that his body was exhumed. I am an art director and my one year anniversary with Amélie was July 13th.
I love the challenge of an Art Director, being challenged to think in unconventional ways and ultimately be a problem solver. I know it could come off sounding like a lot of pressure, but I like it, I think it really feeds my motivation. I love being in a position where I’m encouraged everyday to think about or envision something in a way that no one ever has before, and hopefully make some change for the better.
How would you describe Amelie to someone at a cocktail party (pre-COVID-19, of course)?
That entirely depends on how many cocktails deep we are haha, but I definitely would describe Amelie as a team, and I really mean that. I know the term family is overused in describing company culture, so I won’t use that, but I’ll say a team.
At Amelie every individual is brought in to play a specific role, and like myself, everyone here wants to perform at the highest level and have fun doing it. Like a team, we’re all just pushing each other to do better, and it’s refreshing to feel like you’re in a safe space where those conversations can happen daily because everyone understands that the goal at the end of the day is to keep improving the work.
Also, I just genuinely enjoy spending time with everyone, especially now that we’re back in the office, but even outside of the office. Many of my friends who work in other industries hardly spend time with coworkers outside of work, so that’s how I know I’ve landed somewhere special that I can be myself at all times and know I’m in good company.
What do you give a damn about? What does “Built on Purpose” mean to you?
I give a damn about a lot of things, but it’s probably easier for me to talk about what I don’t give a damn about. Three years ago, I would’ve considered myself a pretty materialistic person, where I thought things, objects and ownership kind of defined you as a person and were considered “important” to those around you and it’s what made you “valuable” in the eyes of other people (definitely advertising’s fault).
While I still have possessions I hold near and dear, certain life events led me to realize that it’s all just stuff and it doesn’t mean anything. It’s temporary and it’s replaceable. I give a damn about experiencing as much as I possibly can in the time I have here on this Earth, which is part of that spark that led me here to Colorado. I give a damn about my own wellbeing and the wellbeing of others, I give a damn about personal and interpersonal growth, conservation and preservation of wildlife and nature, and most importantly I give a damn about making an impact.
At the end of the day we’re talking to real people, and they just want to feel heard. I’ve always been an honest person, and in the advertising world I feel like I’m obligated to the truth and being as real and as authentic as I can possibly be. Advertising should be a direct reflection of our reality, and it can still be done in fun and creative ways, but I think the more we can normalize real reality, the more we can start to open minds and create new thinking. I think purpose-driven varies from person to person, but I feel like that’s my purpose and Amelie is a place where I have that.
What do you think is an exciting current creative trend in the advertising world?
I really try not to pay attention to a lot of that stuff. I want to do things no one has ever seen or done before. I want to make every project better than the last and I really want to put people on their toes. I really want my work to have a piece of me in it, rather than pieces of a hundred different creatives. And it’s tough because we consume so much everyday, so it’s really hard to not be completely influenced or inspired by something but when I do I always like to ask myself “how can I do it better?”
I really admire the advertisers who are doing work that challenges traditional ways of thinking. If you can get me to look at something from a new perspective then in my eyes you’ve won. If there is something, I’d have to say I really like to follow all the cool, new opportunities that are happening in digital spaces. I hate to say it because I’d like less screen time, but I love the kind of creative a person can interact with that almost feels tangible, which can be said about print and I don’t know many art directors/designers who don’t love print.
Conversely, what do you think we should all stop doing?
As an industry, I think there is too much focus on awards and recognition. I appreciate all the outside-the-box thinking that goes on around the ad industry, but going back to authenticity, I see it as agencies just serving their own self interests and not really that of their clients or more importantly, their audiences. That is the reason we’re here right?
It’s great for getting your name out there, but for example, I don’t think advertising a Moldy Whopper isn’t really going to pack them in at restaurants, especially when the ultimate goal is really sales. While it’s sure to get attention at Cannes, I don’t think it really leaves anyone craving a hamburger, so who is it really benefiting?
That’s not to say I would turn down an award for award winning work, but I think too many agencies have shifted to a focus on winning awards, instead of focusing on building great teams and producing real creative solutions. Growing up, I won a bunch of awards playing sports, and those trophies are all collecting dust in boxes now, but the connections and the impact I made in those experiences still make a difference in my life to this day.
What do you think makes a great Art Director?
I think what makes a great art director, or creative for that matter, is the ability to be decisive. As mentioned before it’s easy to be influenced by so many things, and really easy to get inside your own head and be critical. Especially when almost everyday is spent listening to people give feedback on your work.
I think it’s going in and knowing the kind of work you want to do, then executing by making those decisions that can ultimately get you to that goal. If you’re ever in a headspace where you’re back and forth on something, that’s when you know it’s time to step away for a moment. Just trust yourself.
We know you’re not just your resume, where are we most likely to find you outside of work?
You can always find me out and about in Colorado, hiking trails, chasing views, paddle boarding, camping, riding my bike, snowboarding. I’m a huge sports fan, so in-season I’m usually somewhere cheering on the Chiefs and the Royals, but even when my teams aren’t playing I’m taking in some sort of live competition. Also, playing some sports of my own like basketball, softball and tennis.
With the COVID regulations recently loosened, I’ve also just been trying to get out and experience Denver, mostly trying to find the best places to eat and drink in town. I really enjoy experiencing new things, so I’m always looking for that next opportunity.
What are you most proud of?
Right now – Myself. A little over a year ago I had planned to move away from my home of 25 years, arriving in a new state the week the entire country would go into a lockdown. I was living with my sister and her boyfriend till I could land on my feet, which ended up being longer than expected because of the state of things, but I’m so grateful I had their support during that time.
But, now I have a place of my own. I worked graveyard shifts loading trucks with FedEx because during the height of the pandemic shipping and freight was the only thing still fully operational, and it also allowed me the time to job hunt during the day. Plus, I got to meet some really inspiring and awesome people. I’ve slept outdoors, hiked mountains, and learned how to snowboard.
I just completely leapt out of my comfort zone. I decided to leave Kansas City because I wanted to challenge myself, and had no idea that it was going to present me with the greatest challenge of my life. Everything was different and everything was hard, but I still knew there were people out there who had it much harder than me, and that really motivated me. It was the opportunity I needed to get some of that motivation back that I had felt like I lost. And now anytime things seem “difficult” I think back to that time and am reminded of how much I’ve grown, and if things are “difficult”… so what, it’s a perfect time to be great.
Where do you draw your creative inspiration from most often?
Music. Music might be my greatest passion, but unfortunately I can’t play any. My parents have always had such an amazing collection of music and they never hesitated to share it with me. Even before I could comprehend any of the lyrics, I remember laying on the floor of our basement going through all of their albums, admiring the artwork, trying to understand the connection between the visuals and the sounds, listening and comparing patterns and repetitions.
And now, I have a pretty impressive collection of my own. But also, when you come from such a diverse place like I do, it’s a great way to make connections with people. For as long as I can remember, my friends and I have always been sharing music with each other learning and appreciating our individual tastes. It’s like you’re sharing a piece of yourself, it’s a way of understanding one another. It’s a place where you can always find common ground, and for that I have such a broad range of influences.
Music is for everyone, like all things should be.
What’s your favorite movie and accompanying movie snack?
I love a lot of movies, but one movie that really blew me away when I saw it in theaters and to this day still entertains me is Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. I love the historical-fiction, cast, comedy, drama, action, it seriously has everything I like. That was the first time I remember seeing this kind of non-linear storytelling in film and using chapter headings to navigate it. As an audience it’s a really cool way to feel involved in the screenplay.
And the candy is always Cookie Dough Bites.
What’s the best piece of advice, personal or professional, you’ve received?
“Be resilient.” – Baseball Coach