Jim Prior, CEO of The Partners
Check out the previous spotlight of The Partners.
It’s real pleasure to have you on our magazine. First of all, can you tell us something about your career before becoming CEO in 2003?
I joined The Partners in 2001 as a Strategy Consultant. Having spent my career up to that point as a product and marketing guy working for large brands in the fashion and sportswear industry, the move to The Partners was a bit of a gamble for me, and for the agency, in that neither party could be sure it was going to work out! I had no direct experience of working in an agency and little knowledge of that part of the design industry. What I did have was a lot of direct experience of managing major brands in a very hands-on, practical way. I started my career, in 1986, working in a fabric mill, planning and scheduling production.In 1988, I moved to Pepe Jeans where I was sourcing production of jeanswearfrom factories across in Europe and the Far East. I left in 1992 to co-found the fashion label Duck and Cover which I ran for two years before moving on, in 1994, to join Levi Strauss as the UK head of merchandise. In 1997 I joined Converse Inc. as the Director of Product and Marketing for the Europe, Middle East and Africa region. The variety of job roles and experiences that I have had, within so many great brands, has proved to be the perfect grounding for my work at The Partners over the last ten years.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your work on projects for brands such as Converse Inc. and Levi Strauss UK?
Well, these weren’t projects as such, they were jobs.
Levi’s in the mid 1990’s was a dynamic, entrepreneurial organization that was going from strength the strength. There was a simple, unwritten philosophy there at that time that if you did cool stuff for the brand, good business would follow – and it did. This was the time that BBH were producing some of their most famous advertising for the brand – like Creek, and Spaceman – and making overnight stars out of the models and the bands they featured. We were sponsoring new bands, artists, designers, and supporting people who were looking to develop innovative new retail concepts. The product lines were a mix of staple, authentic items with some experimental and very fashion-forward concepts that retailers couldn’t afford to miss out on. At Levi’s, at that time, no one spent time writing PowerPoint charts and strategy documents, you just got on with doing cool stuff.
Converse was an equally interesting and exciting brand, but a very different kind of company. Across the world the brand had become know for different things in different countries – in the US it was very much a performance basketball brand, as it was in many parts of Europe too. In other parts of Europe it was better known for a skate and action sports. In the UK, South Africa and Japan it was a retro streetwear brand with strong associations in music and fashion. Trying to manage all of these perceptions and give the necessary focus to the product line and marketing activity so as the company made money was a continual challenge. We made great progress in the EMEA region while I was there, and Converse today (now owned by Nike) is as strong is ever.
As a regular speaker and blogger, what are your goals in sharing knowledge to other people?
I do think our industry needs to raise the bar in terms of the kind of debates it engages in– I want to be talking to clients about how creativity is a driver of business success, not simply about logos, ad campaigns and aesthetics. The more discussion of that nature there is emanating from creative businesses like ours, the more likely it is that client organizations will become aware of the potential we offer and shift towards more imaginative approaches to doing business. In this respect I’m not really interested in scoring points versus competitors, but in establishing a new category of consulting in which we can all find room to play.
The Partners won two awards in 2010 where one of them was twice in a row. How does it feel when you have a main role in the world’s most creative company?
The accolades are very emotionally rewarding. When you pursue a strategy over many years, taking some tough decisions along the way, you can’t help but wonder sometimes if you’re really doing the right thing, no matter how confident you are. So, when an external judge, whose opinion you value, tells you that you are doing a great job, and makes awards like this, it does feel good, for sure. That said, the time we have to be most alert and move forwards the fastest is right now – getting complacent would be the worst mistake we could make right now.
Can you describe your work in The Partners agency in only three words?
No. Maybe. Yes.
In your opinion, which is the most successful brand today?
What do you think about Branding Magazine and how do you see our future work?
The magazine has a compelling format and is beautifully presented. It’s great to see this focus on brand work being delivered in a dedicated online publication – it is a valuable resource to our industry. The more people are helped to understand the layers of thinking and detail that underpin the best brand design work, the more we will all benefit. Congratulations on a great publication.
Do you have any message to our readers or a favorite quote that you’re sticking with?
Favorite quote: “If you think you’ve got everything under control, you’re not going fast enough.” Mario Andretti, racing driver.