When the creative director John “JP” Petty was younger, he had elevated music biz goals. He embraced the dreams of many ambitious young men with a passion for hip hop of becoming the next Sean “P-Diddy” Combs or Jay-Z. “I didn’t know advertising was a thing, especially for people like myself,” says Petty. “I didn’t dream of being the Executive Creative Director at one of greatest ad agencies in the world.” As the youngest appointed and first Black Creative Director of Wieden+Kennedy, an international creative ad agency, the 34 year-old admits, “It still feels weird to say that out loud. It’s a huge honor.”
The Philly native may not have known his destiny but he did know that his future must include what some would describe as “cool work.” Wieden +Kennedy is the creative agency responsible for Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign. JP’s team led the collaboration of the McDonald’s Famous Orders campaign with Travis Scott and J. Balvin. The agency is currently partnered with Roc Nation School of Music, Sports & Entertainment at Long Island University—teaching leading-edge media classes such as Hood Marketing 101: How Blackness Is Bought and How to Be A Good Troublemaker.
Interestingly enough, Petty, by his own path, is doing exactly what Jay-Z and the men he admires do—he creates dope Black art, imagery and conversation that resonate and compliment our culture. Crediting God, his recently deceased mom’s prayers, and a little bit of luck, Petty observes, “It’s been an interesting trajectory.”
An alum of Lincoln University, Petty, an actively-involved student and Kappa Alpha Psi member, was surrounded by creatives who were trying to figure out how to get their ideas in the world. “I wanted to learn how to mobilize ideas; how to make them happen,” he recalls. After Lincoln, Petty attended Drexel University for Industrial Product Management, where upon graduation he was recruited to a firm that he describes as “kinda wack.” He was in a cubicle and hated it, so he decided to quit and search for work that leaned into his passions.
“I grew up with MySpace, Facebook and the introduction of Twitter,” shares Petty. “Leaning into these platforms, I began following conversations of interest and creating things out of those spaces.”
Petty explored freelance editorial work and writing with a Black-owned quarterly called Raine magazine, and it wasn’t long before a recruiter tapped into him . “She said I really like your work. Have you ever thought about advertising?” recalls Petty. He never considered entered the advertising game until then but decided to give it a shot.
Working with power player Steve Stoute’s company Translation, he learned how to think with a nontraditional approach to advertising. “At Translation, we were thinking about music, festivals, sneakers”—things JP loves. “There was a commercial that Stoute was partially responsible for that played like a music video. I thought it was the illest thing in the world because it was the first time seeing myself, my interest, my passions—our culture reflected on a stage like that. It makes for a more fair universe. It especially stands out when it’s between a Tide ad and a Gap ad,” says Getty. “It was the type of work I wanted to do forever.”
“So when I came to Wieden+Kennedy, the ask was not to make them Blacker or cooler, the ask was to be myself and bring my whole self to work every day,” continues Petty. “They know I’m smart. They saw my track record. And they know I have something to add.”
“I have a really supportive team at Wieden who makes space for my thoughts,” he adds. Petty is extremely protective of how Black people are seen and portrayed in advertisements. “First, our culture is not for sale. You have to earn your way in contributing to our space. So, an obsessive understanding of our audience is important,” asserts the executive creative director. “Another thing is filling this space with the right talent. By right talent I mean creatives of color. Hiring young people who fit that bill coming out of college, especially HBCUS. Getting brands to understand that we are the sauce is super important.”
As Petty and our community knows, when you come at Black people in the right way, you get the best results. “The best advertising doesn’t look like advertising,” explains Petty. “I want the ads that we do to affect group chats, DMs, barber shops, nail salons. I want people to see Wieden+Kennedy not just as an advertising shop but as a diverse company that understands culture thoroughly.”
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