Every Collaboration is an Opportunity to Freshen Up Your Creative Palette
A conversation with ceramicist and marketing consultant Justin Reis.
Some people can look at raw space—or a lump of clay—and immediately see how they could make it beautiful, useful, tell a story. Good Friends has the honor of calling one such person, Justin Reis, one of our first clients. As Special Projects Director at Away he led numerous major initiatives, including our Above the Clouds holiday pop-up in Brooklyn. The trust he placed in us as a young company to create a new kind of immersive retail experience is something we’ll always be grateful for.
Good Friends connected with Justin over Zoom to discuss how he approaches creative partnerships, how he connects it with his own artwork—and his new country life raising chickens.
Good Friends: We loved working together and see you as a client that just ‘gets it’. How do you think about working with agencies—making them feel supported and guiding them to make great work?
Justin Reis: When I assess an agency partner, or any partner that you're trusting to execute your vision, yes, their past work is important. But to me that's table stakes. Their book is what gets them in the conversation. Every project, every marketing initiative, every activation should feel fresh and new—and ideally never been done before. As a client, you have to bring something new to the table and you might not see it one-to-one in their book.
Most importantly, I'm just seeing how we jive. How they mine inspiration. How they interpret a brief. It’s all about how they think, how they talk, and how they interact as a team, because these are the things that are important for the actual process.
GF: Do you have any tips for marketers, brand managers, or CMOs in how they give agencies the support and guidance they need to make great work?
JR: You only bring someone on because you can’t do the work internally. You're inviting someone from the outside into your world. I think sometimes people on the brand side get this attitude of, well I’ve got the budget, I've got the power, and it's my way or the highway. That’s not the right way to look at the relationship.
“So I ask myself, how can I support them in their work?”
Ultimately, you’re giving an external partner the resources to help them do what they do best. So I ask myself, how can I support them in their work? How do I make sure that we speak the same language or understand an aesthetic? You get to pepper feedback along the way, of course, but it requires a thoughtful brief and good communication. There should be no room for gray areas that could lead to misunderstandings.
GF: How do you keep your aesthetic tapped in and make sure there is a good flow of inspiration coming into your life?
JR: It's funny, I think that even though they are separate questions, they are tied together, in terms of how you get great work. Continue to support creatives that you look up to; creatives you find interesting; creatives you know you have a good relationship with. That may be a little bit of my editorial background coming through, but I always felt it was our job to uncover interesting artists and creatives—people that can bring something fresh to the table that you’re not seeing.
Also, looking back, some great successes have come from being able to work with friends. Early in my career I would think, how lucky am I? I get to work with all of my friends! But later I realized that it was largely because those relationships were starting at work, versus ending at work. Now, I try very consciously to separate that and say, OK, I’m going to find friends outside of work and try to weave them into my work.
GF: Let’s talk about your ceramics!
JR: I’m currently doing a series I call Small Batches. I tend to get in a headspace for a while, being inspired by nature, sand, the backyard, for example, but then I’ll do a 180. The next one will be very colorful and cartoony. Actually, one of the bigger insecurities I have is that I don’t have a defined aesthetic. I think about the ceramicists that I look up to and I think they have such tight product offering, or everything fits into a little world.
“I like to make creative pivots based on my interests of that moment.”
GF: In a way, it’s similar to how fashion houses are very seasonal.
JR: That’s a great point. I like to make creative pivots based on my interests of that moment. I get really obsessed with really niche things and never want to see them again!
GF: We have to talk about that chicken coop.
JR: Dream come true. I have wanted chickens for years. Part for the effect, part for the eggs, obviously. I was convinced we could take care of them on the weekends—at that point we were going back and forth from the city—but Mark, very astutely was like, we can’t do that... These are not weekend pets.
GF: It’s a commitment.
JR: Well, we’ve found hacks for when we travel, but now that we're here full-time, I knew it was time. We had no excuse. So we bought chicks and had a 6 week countdown to build them a coop. It needed to feel special and elevated, in a way that we weren't trying to hide, because it's very much in the focal point of the house. Mark really ran with it and tried to make the most beautiful chicken coop possible. I just bought us 10 more chickens.
GF: What is one of the most surprising things you’ve discovered about living in the countryside full-time?
JR: It’s been surprising how little I miss the city. I thought I would miss the people. I think a lot of the things I loved about the city, like getting to try new things with my friends, we haven’t actually missed out on. We still feel very connected! We’ve also really gotten to enjoy our neighbors. The crazy thing about outside of the city is that neighbors will just come to your door. I’ll be on work calls and be like, “ohhh hi!” out the window. We feel more connected to this place than ever. There are so many amazing stories in this little farm town in Connecticut!
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