Having a father who was a designer, I grew up during the 80s and 90s in the halls and offices of mid-to-large size ad agencies in St Louis – back when it seemed every STL agency was doing work for Anheuser-Busch. From a very young age I was lucky to see behind the curtain, learn about ad agency life, and what it meant to be a professional in advertising. I loved going to work with my dad, being able to see what latest campaign he and everyone he worked with was working on, and getting to hear stories about presentations and meetings. I was hooked, and there was never really a question what I'd be when a grew up.
Though still a student, I like to think my professional career began as a freshman at the University of Missouri–Columbia (Mizzou) in 2001, when I was elected president of Imprint – the graphic design freelance club. Clients would pay a very small fee for projects so we as students could get close to real life professional experience. As president from 2001-2003 I led client meetings, directed fellow classmates on some projects, and presented work to clients. While still in college, a good friend and I started a digital creative company that we operated for a year or so with a few clients. It never really got too far off the ground, but still was a great experience in developing your own brand, the business end of getting clients, and the challenges of working with friends.
My collegiate summers were highlighted by attending 3 How Design Conferences from 2002-2004 and 2 separate agency internships for Momentum Worldwide (STL in 2001 and Los Angeles in 2004). During my final semester of college, I freelanced (paid!) for Momentum Worldwide in L.A., designing and developing digital experiences and digital billboards for a General Mills Convention and a Wheaties event; the latter of which I also art directed and shot on-site photos of Jay Leno and General Mills executives.
During that 2004 agency internship in L.A., I feel in love with the west coast, and moved back to L.A. in 2005. From the start I leveraged some of the connections I made while there the previous summer and started getting my own freelance clients and agency work – producing branding, print, websites, Flash banner ads, digital experiences, and some experiential marketing work.
My path quickly led to becoming working partner of a startup retail brand named Surf Dog in 2005. We were in the pet industry; with 2 boutiques – one in L.A., the other in Laguna Beach – and also later sold products online nationwide. Together we built the brand from scratch with a focus on the holistic, all-natural, organic, made in the USA products niche when it was a new movement or, at least in the case of made in the USA, becoming a sought after distinction again. We were heavily involved in rescue and adoptions; once rescuing and caring for 8 dogs at the same time for a high kill shelter in L.A. Being involved with the local community as an event destination and educational resource was a major component of our marketing strategy. Being responsible for leading the marketing and producing the creative, while also being one of the owners that paid the bills, was an interesting challenge that taught me a lot of financial and marketing lessons. Looking back on that time – being part of a new niche and building a local retail brand in a very competitive market and industry – it played an extremely pivotal role in shaping my philosophy and approach to branding and marketing.
After we closed one of the locations and sold the other, I took a job in San Diego, in 2008, as the art director (and later marketing director) for a financial startup servicing the financially underserved and Hispanic markets. My responsibilities included collaborating with sales and operations on brand messaging and customer/client programs, developing both B2B and B2C marketing strategies, and implementing those strategies through the design of collateral, product presentations, POS/POP displays, packaging, customer retention programs, the website, and digital ads. The start of that job was an interesting one, with the board coming in and firing everyone about 6 months after I started; and then the next day bringing back only a few people to lead the company forward - with me being one of the few.
Being far away from family, old friends, and 4 seasons, plus the high cost of living eventually wore us down, and to the surprise of a lot of people, we moved back to the Midwest in 2009 – to Wisconsin to be more specific. To say it was a change, is an understatement. But it was a change we sought out, and one we definitely loved – smelling lilac in the spring, being in a boat or canoe during the summers, watching the leaves change in the fall, and playing in deep snow throughout the winter.
When I wasn't enjoying the outdoors, my working days were split – with the first half as a part-time digital designer/developer for a Milwaukee marketing agency; and the other half of the day producing branding, print design, websites, and marketing work for my own clients. At the agency, I was essentially a one-man digital team, but also collaborated often with the senior art director and copywriters on strategy, design, and copy that was part of a larger campaign or project with a digital tie-in.
On my own, I was starting to get more and more freelance work and getting a serious itch to start my own creative business. In 2010 we went to a good friend's wedding in Kansas City; where between laughs were some great conversations about the creative and marketing landscape and Kansas City, and a few months later the decision was made to move to KC and officially start Ziles Creative.
I founded Ziles Creative around a virtual agency model that worked with trusted, mostly local, and experienced freelancers while I took on a multi-dimensional role with varying account, creative, and digital responsibilities. For 7 years I worked with a team of 1-4 people depending on the project. We provided branding, creative, and digital services to over 80 of my own clients – including big names like Cesar Millan, international brands like Luna Beach Swimwear, local restaurants, successful startups, and a number of companies over 50 years old.
I developed new business, managed existing accounts, wrote proposals, managed projects, and led client meetings and presentations. In addition to collaborating with and directing other designers, developers, and copywriters, I also did a lot of the brand and web strategy, design, copywriting/content development, and web development work myself. A few other agencies contracted with me and my freelance developers on dev work and I acted as digital director for another agency for 2+ years on a number of their client web projects – including Masimo (with $600M in 2016 revenue) and Patient Safety Movement Foundation (a non-profit with $3M+ revenue in 2016).
While operating my own virtual agency, I was also involved with a number of startups – from a restaurant loyalty program to an in-home pet care business – and also helped out (on the branding and marketing end) a number of friends with their own businesses. Back in early 2015, I used to be on a Saturday morning radio show segment to talk about small business branding and marketing. Several times over the past 5 years I've been invited back to Mizzou to speak to students, talk about the industry and client projects, and what to expect when they get out of school. In 2016 I became Web Director of the Kansas City Freelance Exchange – which I joined to be more active in the KC freelance community – and soon thereafter took on the web director role – representing the organization at events throughout KC and leading the design and development of a new website, which we launched in 2017.
In 2017 an opportunity presented itself to join my friends' marketing agency in Kansas City. After a lot of soul searching and exhaustive thinking, I decided to close the book on Ziles Creative in late 2017 and join my friends' agency as an account director. While there, I developed new business, managed accounts, repeatedly and unsuccessfully tried to get the top score on their retro pinball game, and collaborated with the team on developing our clients' brand and marketing strategies and plans.