A longer than usual post, but this email interview with GMD alumnus Sam Jackson, Global Narrative Director at Nike, is well worth the read, so we are publishing it in its entirety. Lots of good tips for students and links to visit, so keep scrolling!…
When did you graduate from GMD?
I graduated in the summer of 2013.
What are you doing now and where?
Currently I work at Nike in their world headquarters in Portland, Oregon, USA. I am the Global Narrative Director within the Brand Creative Department. Lots of different words but essentially my role is a storytelling role. At Nike specifically, my team and I find amazing stories of real everyday athletes such as you and I, travel and tell their story in multiple different ways. For example, recently I got back from a bit of an around-the-world tour, shooting 4 short documentaries with 4 different, but all incredible, subjects. These ranged from an online sensation dancer in China, to the first female Muslim referee in the UK, to a group of 80 year old grandmothers from Mexico who have been playing basketball together for 60 years (in the same team…!). As you can imagine, meeting all these amazing people is one of the best parts of the job. At Nike there are a lot of jobs focused on selling shoes, however, my department is one of the only ones that is focused on inspiring athletes all over the world to get up and give sport a try. A truly inspiration role.
The role itself is a lot like a Creative Director, but more focused on leading with story first. It encompasses a lot of conceptual, strategic and up-front thinking, a lot of empathetic research and then moves into more of an Art Director role.
What has been your career path (previous jobs/stepping stones)?
After I graduated, I landed a freelance Junior Graphic Designer role at Jack Wills. I worked as a sales assistant in one of the stores, got an email address of the design manager there and straight up asked for a job. My role comprised of designing lots of different digital material for the website, for advertising and social media (mainly Facebook and Instagram).
Around 9 months in, I heard of a paid internship at MTV in their art department, which sounded too good to miss, so I applied and got an interview. On interview day, I turned up and it was one of those dreaded group interviews, around 50 people there on one day. There was only 2 internship positions available. I managed to snag one (Don’t ask me how).
Started at MTV a few weeks later and loved it. Amazing team. Awesome offices in Camden. Viacom, who own MTV, also own Paramount Pictures as well as Comedy Central, so as you can imagine, graduating only 9 months ago, I was in heaven. I worked in the new editorial team for MTV Style – a more style and celebrity orientated part of the website focused on daily storytelling. My role was concentrated again on digital design of a number of assets but mainly focused on social.
After working at MTV, I was approached by a friend who worked at Topshop for a Junior Digital Designer position there, in which I took (as it was a full time job) – and started working in their editorial team – responsible for looking after the more editorial side of the website. The role comprised of designing landing pages, advertising, and a lot of social media assets. While I was there, I noticed a lack of bespoke-for-social assets, so pitched for some money to build a tiny studio at the end of the hall that we would shoot product specifically for social assets. This helped me land my next role which was at Burberry.
I started working at Burberry as a Digital Designer in their Creative Media Department, and specifically my role was tied to bespoke digital advertising. At first this doesn’t sound exciting, but it was one of the best roles there. My team and I partnered with all of the social media companies, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest to deliver bespoke and interactive experiences to the consumer. As we were Burberry, we got hold of all the BETA access to the new digital products they were coming out. For example, I designed one of the earliest Snapchat AR filters which back then got around 60 million uses. By the time I left Burberry 3 years later, I was running a small team of 4 Junior Digital Designers all working on some industry defining work.
2 years ago this month I started at Nike. I had been contacted on LinkedIn by one of the American recruiters, and put through a number of stages of interviews with both the UK and the US team. At the time there were no specific jobs going, but the recruiter liked my way of thinking so had wanted to get me in one way or another. They flew me out to meet a number of the Creative Directors in Portland in November 2017 at which I met my to-be boss, a Creative Director in a new team being formed to inject some digital thinking into Nike Campaigns. I accepted and started over in the USA in March 2018.
Since then I have worked in a number of different roles at Nike. From Creative Digital Specialist, where I led campaigns such as the Martine Role x Nike Craigslist campaign, to Video Art Director in the newly formed Editorial team there – working on and leading 25 video productions last year. My new role is an amazing challenge – the Narrative Director for the @nike channels – Instagram (with over 104million followers), YouTube (with over 1.2 million subs) and the newly formed TikTok.
Any reflections on your time studying GMD?
I remember the first year pretty vividly. I didn’t do very well! I had recently moved to London from Brighton, had a whole new life, and found prioritizing studies really hard. I remember, at the end of the first year, sitting down with Grant (one of the course tutors at the time) and Siân on separate occasions, explaining to me that I had potential but needed to work more/harder. Which I did. The next 2 years were a blast – and 100% set me up for success in the last 7/8 years. Although I don’t actually design anything now, having a strong base or foundational study in a skill like graphic design, definitely made my path much easier.
I loved studying at LCC, thought it was one of the coolest places I had ever been – the inspirational people, the amazing tutors and their stories – really helps get you ready for what is to come.
How has your work/approach evolved since leaving college?
My role and duties have changed so much over the last 7-8 years and even though I studied in graphic design, my skill set has evolved into a more rounded creative. My strengths now lie in strategy and art direction – but starting a foundation in graphic and media design made transitioning into those skills much easier.
I also lead with a number of principles which I use for every project, including; making sure that I have equal gender representation on set/in projects, making sure creative partners such as photographers or directors are a spiritual cousin or have some sort of cultural tie to the subject we are telling the story about, making sure that all ideation and decisions are based in fair, unbiased, empathetic research – to many more. These principles, to me, are some of the most important parts of my job right now. Especially in an industry that can have so much influence on perceptions around the world.
What are your plans for your career in the future?
To be honest, I have never really been one for planning – most of my career decisions have been spontaneous or have come really naturally. However, I am now turning to planning and trying to figure out a plan for the future. Living in a different country also has its pro and cons. When you are on a working visa, you never know what will happen! For now, I am happy progressing where I am. Ask me again in a year!
Any tips for current GMD students?
- Relationships. Never burn any bridges. Become everyone’s friend. Do people favours. You never know who you will meet. My whole career has been improved by strong relationships.
- Visibility. In your industry roles, go for coffee with as many people as you can. Internal visibility and self-PR can really help get your name heard.
- Work hard. It will go noticed. Trust me!
- Be open minded. Some things that at first seem like they may not be of interest to you, turn out to be some of the greatest things.
- Research constantly! Keep up to date with trends. Visual, Technological, Digital, Social. The more up to date you are the more relevant you will be
- Have fun! You are about to enter the BEST industry in the world. You will meet some insanely talented people which you will learn so much off.
Any tips for working from home!?
- Set a routine.
- Work somewhere with some natural light.
- Set realistic goals.
- Get a cat 😼
Recent work examples:
- Film IGTV – https://www.instagram.com/p/B6YdFIJnnTi/
- Film YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kqjneq0ZMMk&t=4s
- Images – https://www.instagram.com/p/B6YeDiFAhrD/
- Images – https://www.instagram.com/p/B6dntWRn5ux/
- Images – https://www.instagram.com/p/B6lVz7qHdzT/
Latest Nike Campaign
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/samalexjackson/
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/sjacksonn/