The side hustles of agency creatives

Creatives don’t stop being creative when they clock out for the day. From selling handmade watches to owning a racing car company, the creatives we feature here stay true to their title with innovative (and often quite remunerative) side-gigs and businesses. A few of our favorites:

Neil Cox, senior interactive producer, McKinney

Cox and his friend and former Martin Agency colleague Eric Eisele own a racing company called Dirty Industries LLC, which they founded after working on the BF Goodrich account. They own a 1989 BMW 320i and participate in Rallycross races — having done more than 200 runs in 12 events this year.

“With Rallycross, it’s all about solving problems fast and efficiently — something goes wrong at every race and there’s no safety net,” said Cox. “At work, we build stuff for our clients. Away from work, we are building our own thing — always working on the car to make it better, run faster. That’s what clients want too, right?”

Erica Schlaikjer, creative strategist, Huge
Schlaikjer started her career as journalist writing about environmental sustainability and social justice and decided she wanted to have a direct impact on those issues. So she co-founded Media Rise, a nonprofit that encourages people to create media promoting compassion, empathy and respect.

“As a community builder, I’m always thinking about what it means to build authentic relationships with people, how to create a sense of shared ownership and how to incorporate social good into the marketing, advertising and communication work that we do,” she said.

Vin Farrell, global chief of content, Havas Worldwide

Photo by @thewilliamanderson |

A photo posted by nyonair (@nyonair) on

What started as a side project for Farrell and colleague Jason Peterson has evolved into a business. Farrell sits on the board of New York on Air, which licenses aerial photography taken from helicopters over the city. The business leans on Instagram to promote itself.

“For a long time, the advertising industry has treated digital as a checkbox item, but in this, digital takes center stage — it’s the new way of storytelling,” he said.

Bill Bayne and Kris Wixom, group creative directors, GSD&M










Bayne and Wixom’s band The Cold Irons is made up of creative directors, and it’s not only a creative outlet but a stress-reliever.

“Advertising can be stressful, so when we play or practice we consider it a form of group therapy,” said Bayne. “And being on stage in front of strangers, trying to get a new song over, is not unlike sitting across from a client asking them to get excited about an idea. It is tremendously rewarding for all the members.”

Dan Linstroth, account manager, GoKart Labs
While teaching English in Latin America for three years, Linstroth learned a lot about coffee, and came to appreciate its place in human history. The result was a coffee subscription company called Kindly Coffee that partners with organic farmers across the world. And lessons from the business carry over to his client work.

“My experience running my own businesses, with limited time and resources, has taught me to focus on the most important tasks first, those which will make the biggest impact,” he said.

Aaron Grando, tech lead, Red Tettemer O’Connell and Partners

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Grando started building custom watches when he lost his own watch earlier this year. He started by buying parts online when he discovered some online communities for watch enthusiasts. That led him to modify his own watch, after which he started making and selling them.

“Building the watches has let me scratch creative itches that I’d never be able to satisfy at work,” he said. “I’m on a computer all day, so building something delicate, with my hands, stimulates an entirely different part of my brain.”

Jeremiah Johnson, senior creative technologist, The Barbarian Group
Johnson produces and performs live electronic music under the name “Nullsleep” — using modular synthesizers and obsolete consumer electronics. He spent the first 10 years focusing almost exclusively on the synthesis and sound design capabilities of the original Game Boy and Nintendo Entertainment System. His approach is influenced by his computer science background as well as his interest in putting technology to use for creative, not just practical applications.

“I believe that working within limitations can enhance focus and actually foster creativity,” he said. “This self-imposed handicap on my approach to electronic music composition carries over into the work I do across a number of different fields.”

Homepage image courtesy of Shutterstock

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