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By Tony Scott-Green | Photo: Frank Ishman | December 3, 2015
As chief creative officer for one of the city’s largest branding agencies, Jason Peterson wants to get inside your head.
Jason Peterson is not The Most Interesting Man in the World. In fact, in his T-shirt, jeans and immaculate Jordan 3s, he looks more like that iconic beer-drinker’s rogue nephew—similarly accomplished but more casual. It’s the right look for Peterson. As president and chief creative officer of the Havas Worldwide brand agency—and thus the brains behind that blockbuster Dos Equis campaign—he has to be polished but also absolutely up to the minute.
“The advertising I love is relevant—the stuff that crosses over into popular culture,” he says. “That’s success in advertising. That’s creative culture recognizing what we’re doing.”
Recognition comes also, of course, from being out and about, and under Peterson’s creative player/coach leadership, Havas has actively sought opportunities to engage the wider world. Employees are encouraged to bring their outside interests into the office. On Bike to Work day this past summer, Havas employees pedaled around the city on a Mad Men-style bike-desk. The warm weather also prompted Havas to interview job candidates on the Navy Pier Ferris wheel. Publicity stunts? Peterson says no: “We do it because we’re a creative company. It sends a message to employees and clients that we’re living the creativity.”
His glass-walled office, scattered with CDs, art and design books, and the remnants of a video-game soccer tournament, would seem to affirm that notion. Also a painter and musician, Peterson’s main creative outlet in recent years has been photography, especially in its intersection with social media. Determined to understand Instagram better than anyone else, Peterson personally amassed 600,000 followers (probably 1 million soon, he says). Shots from his commute to work caught the attention of legendary camera-maker Leica, who displayed Peterson’s photos and invited him to shoot on its cameras. When Soho House Chicago launched, the brand enlisted him to help spread the word with 15-second videos of the city’s most influential Instagrammers.
Peterson spent 20 years in New York before moving to Chicago four years ago. Here, he found himself “blown away by the art, music, fashion, design and tech,” he says. “There’s a different kind of energy. More akin to a Barcelona.” And that provides plenty of inspiration to stay “in the zone,” to quote another of the agency’s memorable campaigns (for AutoZone). “You know in basketball when you’re in the zone?” he asks. “I love the nonstop and try to stay in that heightened state. I try to never get out.”