Wieden + Kennedy’s Jacobi Mehringer on putting out work people want to steal
This is part of our 100 Creative Directors interview series. It has been edited for length and clarity. To return to the series homepage and browse other interviews, click here.
What kind of creative director are you?
A really bad one.
No, but what kind of creative director am I? That’s a tough question. I’d like to be considered a leader who lets others shine (contrary to me doing an interview with you right now about myself).
That's the ethos behind Eyecandy and so much of the work that I do. I was lucky enough to have creative leaders above me when I was younger who practiced that ethos and passed it down to me — people who tried to let me shine and find my own footing. I’ve always respected that, and it’s something I’ve always tried to emulate as, albeit to various degrees of success.
There's an incredible Dan Wieden quote that I'll butcher, but he essentially said that ‘it's ok to not understand the work if you trust the minds behind it.’
That’s how I look at the people I work with. The way you approach something might not be the way I would do it, but if I respect you as a creative, and I see your vision, I'm gonna go for it and trust you. That applies especially to the way I like to work with partners: directors, editors, colorists, etc. There’s no way I am better at your job than you are, so I’d rather you lead versus me force you into a creative corner.
This goes hand in hand with the fact that I am a very bad artist. I don’t know how to draw. I don’t know how to write. I don’t like to make stuff. I like to think of things and have other people actually make it. I think the best creative directors are the ones that get out of the way a bit and let others add their own voices to the mix.
I can’t do it on my own. I have no idea how I would. If I respect you and like you then I’ll work with you, I’ll trust you, and you’ll make the thing.
What would you say is the hardest part of shipping great creative work?
Just making it.
I always tell people: “Don't let perfection stand in the way of creation.”
Everybody wants the perfect product, ad, film, spot, the perfect stunt. But realistically you're never going to get that.
By standing in the way of that and not releasing it, you're just preventing creativity from coming out in the world.
Eyecandy has gone through so many iterations in the last five months it’s been around. The designs changed, the URLs changed, everything about it is completely changing, constantly. It started as a humble library and now it’s hosting director panels and AMA’s, it’s accountable to a social following of over 70,000. And there’s talks of doing film festivals, classes, and more. I think that’s the most challenging thing: just making the work and understanding you’re going to make changes the moment it’s live. And that’s ok.
What does success look like for you?
My metric for success is whether or not people are talking about it, or — even better — trying to steal it.
I had this really cheesy tagline on my website a long time ago: People think things about the things that I think of. That’s my barometer for a good campaign.
The worst thing I can do is put a project out in the world and have no reactions to it. That's the absolute worst thing.
What are three things you couldn't do your job without?
When you're a junior creative and you’re younger, you end up hitting your head against the wall until three in the morning. You’re thinking, “I have to solve this tonight. The older you get, you’re going to go to bed at a reasonable hour. You quit at six. You walk your dog, have a workout.
You have to live your life and trust you’ll solve the thing the next day. Or maybe you won't. But you won’t have done any worse than you would have if you’d kept banging your head against the wall all not.
More often than not, you wake up fresh, and you come in with some amazing ideas that would have taken you five times longer to arrive at had you tried to solve them when you were tired.
Coming into the office.
I really like being around people and I'm pretty introverted. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was like ‘this is great’. I was in New York. I had a Soho House membership at the time and I was trying to avoid going into where I worked at the time. I just worked better by myself.
I now have completely changed course. I enjoy being around people. I enjoy going up to people at random desks and asking what they think of some idea. Or the inverse, people coming up to me and saying, Hey, what do you think of this idea?
I don't just mean client deadlines, I mean personal ones too. People underestimate the power of sticking to a set schedule. Maybe I like that because I procrastinate. So if I’m gonna get the new website out by September, I think that’s a really powerful motivator.
I don’t know if I ever make the deadline but it’s helpful as a creative to have that kind of constraint. Knowing you have this date looming ahead of you — like, ok, let’s make this happen.
What is the best piece of advice you've ever received?
Best piece of advice I ever received was from a Creative Director of mine when I was just starting out, Omid Amidi.
He said, “your talent should always be chasing your taste.”
In simpler terms, it's about growth. It's inherent that you're going to see work around you that is much better than your own, work that inspires you. That's good. That means your taste level is higher than your talent level.
You should want to look back at your work from 5 years ago and start to tear it apart. "Why did I do that? We went with that track? It ended on that line?”
If you ever look back at your work from a while ago, and you go, “fuck that was really good.” That means one of two things: either you need to reevaluate and continue to grow your tastes, or you’re succeeding and doing a great job.
I have never never come close to hitting that.