What I've Learnt: James Cross, BBC Creative

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James Cross

James Cross has been Creative Director at BBC Creative since 2017, along with his long-time creative partner Tim Jones. For 2019's first What I've Learnt, he told us all he'd learnt about making it in the sector, strokes of luck, and his plan for doomsday.

Before moving to BBC Creative, James and Tim worked at McCann Manchester. They've created many groundbreaking and imaginative creative campaigns, namely the BBC's popular advertising campaign for the 2018 Russia World Cup.

We got some more insight into his life and work.

Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?

A shower. I stink without them.

What's been your luckiest break?

Tim and I wrote an ad in 2007 for WKD which was rejected by Clearcast for being too juvenile. Our CD told us it was game over and gave us the rejection email. However, we wrote an really long and whingeing appeal letter, against the wishes of said CD, and sent it back to Clearcast, and got the decision somehow reversed. It was our first bit of proper TV and secured us a move to McCann, which is where our career really took off.

That’s the thing about luck – really, you have to make your own.

What's your best failure?

We had this idea for an April Fool’s Day campaign called ‘Domicopter’ for Domino’s Pizza - think drones delivering pizza, very original at the time - but it took so long to organise as nobody seemed interested (the agency had just been put on notice), that we missed the deadline. So we forgot about it.

Then it was randomly uploaded to Domino’s Facebook two months later. That weekend it was featured as a legitimate news story on Jay Leno, Stephen Colbert, NBC, BBC 5 Live and every major newspaper. Global success, £3k budget, shot on Tim’s wife’s camera.

What is the best investment you've ever made, either financial or time?

I’ve cultivated my ‘nerd’ religiously since 2003. For some unbeknown reason, the advice “today’s readers, tomorrow’s leaders” really stuck in my head from school. So since I was a junior I bought every D&AD annual and industry book, subscribed to Campaign, and kept myself educated on how the industry is developing. And to this day, I can still draw upon that knowledge and occasionally impress people with how much I know about the history of adland, or who was the copywriter on an obscure Prince’s Trust campaign in 2007 – it was Paul Belford, by the way.

How would you describe your work/life balance?

Precariously balanced. When it comes to organisation I’m a bit of a disaster zone. Emma (my better half) probably does more to keep my personal life on track, whilst Matt Totterdell, Harriet McHugh, Michelle Papka and Tim all curse me daily for not quite ever getting to grips with my calendar. But one missed appointment or change of plan usually results in chaos.

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

‘Shoe Dog’ by Phil Knight is my current read and as business books go, it’s bloody great for anyone. Really inspiring.

What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

“Stop eating kebabs and do more exercise, that graduation photo will never get taken down.”

Who or what has had the single biggest influence on your working life?

The 1992 recession. Seeing my parents struggle through that (my Dad owned a car engineer business) drives me to this day. Never rest on your laurels, have a plan for doomsday, enjoy the good times, and remember that however bad things may get your family is really important.

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

I was one of the last paying customers to visit the observation deck at the World Trade Center on September 10th, 2001. Spooky.

What does success look like to you?

I used to think success was a financial thing, or fame. But it’s not. Success is measured in your own personal happiness. The day I dread going into the office is the day I look for something else to do.

If you'd like to nominate a senior creative figure to share their advice for a What I've Learnt feature, please get in touch with Charlie.