Two Heads Are Better Than One: Dan & Pete, Creative Directors, George P. Johnson

We share the same ridiculous and twisted sense of humor which helps relieve a lot of the stress of working in this crazy-ass industry.

Tell us about how you met and how long you’ve worked together?

Dan: We met when I started freelancing at GPJ in 2017. Pete was already a full-time CD. We were put together to work on an IBM/US Open project and have continued to work as a team for about two years now.

How would you describe the relationship between you two? In what ways has the dynamic changed since you first began working together?

Pete: Very supportive, both personally and professionally. There’s lots of respect there, not only in terms of each other’s talent and work ethic, but also respect for each other’s time since we all have lives outside of work.

From the get-go, we’ve had a great dynamic where ideas really flowed back and forth. We’re very comfortable throwing ideas at the wall and challenging each other’s thinking. And often get each other amped up as an initial idea gets layered with better and more focused thinking. We quickly reached the ­confidence level that no matter how big the challenge or quick the turnaround, together we will always deliver the goods. This takes a lot of stress and anxiety off our shoulders, which is priceless.

We’re also friends outside of work–we have similar interests and share the same ridiculous and twisted sense of humor which helps relieve a lot of the stress of working in this crazy-ass industry.

We’re both terrible at keeping on top of exercising given our unpredictable work schedule, so about a year ago we started playing Paddle tennis (sort of a ping pong meets tennis meets paddleball Frankenstein) which has become our fun, low-commitment attempt at getting back to our fighting weights and fending off Dad bods. 

The dynamic hasn’t changed much since we first started working together. We never argue or get into any petty creative disputes. The biggest change is probably that Dan started full time in late 2018, so there’s been a lot more “divide and conquer” in terms of projects. 

Tell us about the first campaign you’ve worked on as a duo.

The first ‘campaign’ was probably the launch of Jaguar’s first all-electric vehicle, the I-PACE.

We created a brand experience launch tour (San Francisco, Miami, LA).

This included:

The World of I-PACE – an abstract representation of modern life, with vignettes focused around different I-PACE innovations. Including an augmented reality wind-tunnel, showing off the car’s amazing aerodynamics.

The Smart Cone Challenge Course – a real-time algorithmic driving experience that allowed people to test their driving skills and the I-PACE’s capabilities.

The I-PACE Theater – a first-of-its-kind, bullet-time infinity room experience allowing people to capture their new connection with the I-PACE and share their experience on social media.

The Electric Lounge – The last chapter of the attendee journey was the ‘Electric Lounge’, an engaging space that celebrated technology. From an exhibition of new lifestyle gadgetry curated by Wired magazine, to a Jaguar Racing VR experience. As well as an introduction to the brand’s electric race cars, which included the E-Trophy, a new race series composed entirely of modified I-PACEs.

Aesthetically, the design for each city was connected, but there was some local flair introduced through music, food, culture, etc.

Do you have a favorite campaign you’ve worked on together? What makes it special?

Probably our “Watson the Superfan” IBM fan experience that we created for the US Open in 2018. It’s special because it was the rare opportunity to create awareness in the public of the brand’s impressive technology, as they are historically a B2B brand that focuses primarily on its business customers.

Although there are a ton of brands that sponsor the tournament, IBM is actually integral to the US Open, providing scores, stats, highlights and more through Watson, Cloud and other technologies.

We were able to create an experience that was not only beautifully designed, playful and interactive, but one that highlighted the tech in a way that was relevant to fans. Giving them the opportunity to actually interact with Watson, IBM’s proprietary AI technology, responsible for all the great tennis content produced at the tournament.

Creating an experience with AI was definitely a milestone in our careers.

We are following it up this year with another fan-facing experience, so come on down to the tournament to check it out. (wink, thumbs up emoji)

What has been the hardest part of working together? How do you resolve creative conflicts?

Honestly, it’s a pretty boring answer but there aren’t any real “hard parts” of working together. It’s probably the best creative partnership either of us has experienced in the industry. And it all happened by chance, meeting through a freelance opportunity on a project. 

We rarely have creative conflicts, and we both defer to the other person if that person feels strongly about an idea or a particular direction. We always voice an opinion if we feel it’s not quite right, but it rarely gets heated or tense.

Is there any advice you’d give to young creatives looking for a partner, or a duo just getting their start? 

The obvious answer is that you have to find someone you really gel with–someone you respect both creatively and personally. Everyone has their own quirks and things that might irritate their partner, like in any relationship. But just like in any relationship, you should pick your battles.

Most importantly–try not to let your own ego get in the way of the creative process. Everyone falls in love with their own ideas, but having the right partner to bounce concepts, validate thinking, or even to play everyone’s favorite “devil’s advocate” is incredibly beneficial.

We totally agree in the notion that two heads are better than one; our individual ideas always get elevated when we work together on them.

And like in any relationship, communication is key in order to remain on the same page. Work can be rough at times and being there for one another to help navigate tough times is a real blessing that a lot of people don’t get in individual roles.

Do you have a dream account that you haven’t had the opportunity to work on yet?

Old Spice. Skittles. Any client/brand that doesn’t take itself too seriously and understands that the best advertising is entertainment. Especially these days–it’s the only way that a brand can break through the noise. 

More broadly, any brand whose client teams have real clarity on their brand’s DNA. It’s a real shocker how many iconic brands with so much potential have gatekeepers who don’t have a handle on their brand ethos, what they stand for, want to communicate, or what makes effective marketing. 

Nike is one of those few brands that has such strong DNA, that no matter what medium it shows up in, it always feels consistent. They make awe-inspiring brand experiences, both in stores and activations. Their ability to stay relevant for so many decades is a testament to their brand stewards and creative partners. Because of all these years of success, Nike has set a precedent that those fortunate enough to work with them are acknowledged as being at the top of their game.