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Creative Ops

Jeffrey Butterworth on being your own hero

August 15, 2023 · 5 min read

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?

Butter Co. has been around for three and a half years and it’s definitely changed how I approach the work. Before that I spent almost 20 years in agencies across California, Las Vegas, and Austin — so I was much more of a cog in a wheel. It wasn’t necessarily bad but I had limited control.

The only thing that has been consistent in getting better work through is forcing things to happen.

To be good as a creative director, you have to be at least decent at strategy, project management, account management, copywriting, and design. Good creative directors should do those things. That’s what I’ve always strived to be — a little bit of all those things. 

I think that that’s helped me. 

I also just try and be a nice person to work with. You definitely work with people who don’t value that as much, and it shows. They may make really good work but it’s not how I want to do things. 

I love to be in that team environment and just make it more of a pleasurable experience.

What’s the hardest part of shipping great work?

Having a vision and forging your way through.

A lot of people have really good ideas. A lot of people can even take that further and have great scripts or layouts. But the other part of this is that you just gotta force your way through to make those ideas or scripts a reality.

I think that’s where a lot of really good creative either dies or — more commonly — gets morphed into something that it wasn’t. And people go “Oh remember when it used to be so good!” There’s a lot of bellyaching about whose fault it was and who dropped the ball. I’m not saying those things are never the case but it’s also the job. 

You have to deal with that stuff and get through it.

You’ve got to be able to take the ball and run with it.

I remember asking a creative director named Tom Hamling, who’s a friend of mine, years ago what the turning point was for him. And he said it was when he stopped worrying about getting fired. 

When he would just do stuff without that being a concern.

I think that’s great advice. I try to do the same thing. You have to have the confidence to say we’re making this happen. You just have to keep going forward. That’s the biggest thing to actually making it, forging ahead.

What does success look like for you?

With success in the work, it has to be effective. 

At the end of the day, creatives get so in the weeds about making cool stuff and that’s great! But if it’s cool, effective stuff then it’s really great. If it’s just cool stuff it might be straight up bad. Bottom line, if it’s not working, it’s not working.

You have to remind yourself that what almost every client has in common is they‘ve got to sell something or earn some impressions. You’ve got to take that KPI seriously. 

That’s a straightforward answer of what success looks like on the work side.

But, success for me and what we’re doing at Butter Co. — the life component is a huge part of it. I openly am on the road, sharing pictures, doing hikes, on boats, you name it. 

You could look at all that and be like ‘that guy’s not working for us.’ I’m doing the opposite. I’m the proof that you can work hard and play hard. And for the right kind of partners and clients that’s actually attractive — they like the idea that you’re not just sitting at home by your computer. 

What are three things you couldn’t do your job without?

1. People on the same page. No matter what — if you’re working with either clients or especially co-workers and contractors on the agency side — it’s got to be clear that everybody understands what the goal is and how we’re getting there.

If you catch wind of something early on with a client where they don’t really want you to succeed, or they had something else in mind but they were hamstrung and went with you... You need everyone to understand: we have to be going after the same thing. 

2. Willingness to figure things out and try things. Especially when you’re a smaller business, it’s constantly trying to google how to do stuff, ask friends, just figure out the ways to get that thing done. Always keep that idea open about how you’re going to get to something. That’s huge. You can’t be in this place where you’re in the mindset of “I know what I know, end of story.”

3. Freedom. We opened our doors in February 2020, it was a strange time to open anything. For a month and a half, people on Zoom would ask where are you at, how many people, where’s the office, etc. After a month or two no one asked that anymore. The world changed. It really served us well. It’s also one of those things I’ve leaned into. Me and my family will be on the road. I’m always taking my work with me. It’s the same as everyone we’re working with. A lot of people buy into that: I can go to more places and take the work with me. I can experience more things by working where I go. Your freedom comes by being responsible for what you’re doing and delivering the goods. That part of it I’ve really bought into. It’s not for everybody but it’s literally one of those key things I don’t think I could do without anymore.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever got?

This feels Hallmark-y but it literally changed my life. When I was 20 years old, I heard Peter Coyote, of all people, say something really simple in a PBS documentary on the 1960’s. 

He said “be your own hero.”

That sounds like something you’d see on a cat poster but if you really take the essence of that seriously, it’s for real: if you can form what you think it looks like to be what you want to be — your hero persona — you can get there. 

The more you can form what you want to be by looking at people and what they’re doing as something really cool and aspirational but also of what you don’t want to do. I think that’s a really important thing especially in this type of work in advertising and marketing. It’s pretty loose. People think you can’t have a life. I realized really quickly, nope not me. I was hellbent on that not being me. And it hasn’t been.

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