Don Draper spent silent hours thinking on his iconic sofa, drink in hand. Jason M. Peterson, chief creative officer of Havas Worldwide, spends hours alone as well but you’re as likely to find him on a rooftop as in his Chicago office.
And instead of an Old Fashioned, you’ll find him wielding his iPhone.
If he spies an alley with a perfect shaft of light shining down, “I’ll sit there and I’ll wait … right for that person to walk through,” he said. “Boom, I got it.”
His creative efforts on Instagram have netted him 719,000 followers and personal fees for promoting brands in his stream of dramatic, black-and-white shots of city life and architecture. In his advertising career, his personal use of social media has fueled pitches to major clients.
Peterson joined the platform about four years ago, after moving from New York to join Havas, whose clients include Coca-Cola, Virgin Mobile and Sony PlayStation, and committing himself to becoming better at social media than anyone in his field.
Shoutouts from celebrity fans such as skateboarder Tony Hawk and exclusive opportunities such as shooting A$AP Rocky from onstage during Lollapalooza last year boosted his presence. Now, his sizable following — he has more fans than some of the products he features, but less than half as many as Marnie the Dog — and ability to curate an image give him a boost in the boardroom as well.
“I’m talking about it through practice,” Peterson said. “I know how all these things work.”
Peterson said he sees social media as a party — and he’s not about to be the guy yelling about how great he is. He prefers to be cool and engaging, and hopes others will like what he has to show off.
In between cityscapes shot from helicopters and rooftops and isolated figures captured midleap at the Grant Park Skate Plaza, Peterson includes paid endorsements for brands such as the Volvo XC90 and Perrier.
He tells clients, “Let me show you how to show up at this party and have a conversation.”
At Havas, Peterson oversees creative for brands including Reynolds consumer products and Dos Equis beer, whose “Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign spawned a popular meme.
He taps into his staff, many of whom have large social media followings of their own, to launch or support campaigns from time to time.
Peterson’s last 12 hires have been “kids off of Instagram and Vine and Snapchat that are really great at it,” he said. He finds them by running social media contests to hire interns, 80 percent of whom he brings on as employees.
Those interns create so-called “insta-content” — thousands of smaller-scale posts and videos — for brands such as Craftsman and Kmart, Peterson said.
“That work is the most important work in our agency,” Peterson said. “Not like the TV commercials and bigger kind of stuff we’ve done. That’s the dying age of our industry.”
A creative team stacked with social media naturals could be a competitive advantage, said Derek Rucker, who teaches advertising strategy at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
In Peterson’s case, brands might consider his social media endorsements or behavior before signing with his agency, looking for conflicts or red flags, Rucker said. But they’re likely to look more at his overall portfolio and success.
“He’s basically living the media, as opposed to being someone who’s using it,” Rucker said. “That might be providing him his own expertise in and of itself.”
Peterson said he sees his social media work and Havas’ work as one and the same.
“You can think about it like, ‘Hey, you do all this other stuff. That’s your side hustle,'” Peterson said. “No, no, no. This is my hustle.”