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New Talent

New Talent: Hudson Sullivan

kbs+, 2 years, 5 months ago

kbs+ Director of Brand Strategy on childhood ad shoots, working with Mountain Dew and launching a record label

New Talent: Hudson Sullivan

It was perhaps a case of being in the right place at the right time that led to Hudson Sullivan’s voyage into adland. But don’t let that fool you. His creative knack has been there since his days as a bi-coastal, Canadian kid, who spent time on commercial shoots thanks to his mother’s ad writing career. After bombing his finance classes at college and smashing his marketing ones, he bagged a job on the marketing team at PepsiCo’s Mountain Dew, where he spent four years. During that time he built an indie record label, Green Label Sound, which, while fostering a relationship with the tricky to reach youth market, led the launch of 65 singles, one full-length album and generated more than two million downloads. Now, after just a few years in the business, he’s kirshenbaum bond senecal + partners Director of Brand Strategy at the grand old age of 28. Impressive stuff. LBB’s Addison Capper caught up with Hudson Sullivan to find out more. 

LBB> Where did you grow up and what kind of kid were you?

HS> I was born in Toronto, Ontario, moved out to western Canada (Calgary, Vancouver and Whistler) as a young kid and then settled back in Toronto for high school. I was into everything – sports, music, comic books... I played point guard for the basketball team, trumpet in a jazz band and Magic card after school with the nerds. My parents were definitely confused by the Allen Iverson (basketball player) poster hanging next to Miles Davis (jazz musician) hanging next to Wolverine from X-Men... but I think my random set of interests reflects the cultural diversity of Toronto. I’m grateful to have grown up there. It makes me feel like I can fit in anywhere.

LBB> Where did you learn your craft?

HS> My mom definitely provided me with that initial spark. She created ad campaigns for AMEX and Visa and used to take me to shoots when I was younger. In college, I had a few professors that really helped me hone my marketing instincts and establish the beginnings of a career path in advertising. But I’d say the people I learned the most from were two of my teammates on Mountain Dew – Angie Gentile and Brett O’Brien.

Angie and I both started as marketing analysts at PepsiCo in September of ’08. I looked up to her a lot and because we’ve become such good friends, I don’t think I’ve ever taken the time to thank her for everything she taught me. (Shout out to Angie, who runs brand and product marketing at Rent the Runway, and continues to crush it! You should be talking to her.) Brett, who’s now a big boss over at Gatorade, was Director of Marketing for Mountain Dew and definitely the most inspiring person I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with. Not only did he help me develop my craft, he showed me how to be myself and harness my unique perspective to drive our business.

LBB> How did you wind up in advertising? Intentionally or was it an accident?

HS> Well I was bombing all of my finance/accounting classes, and doing pretty well in my marketing/consulting ones so I knew by my second year of college that I wanted to pursue a career in marketing. However, staring my career with PepsiCo was a very happy accident. Early on during my senior year, I was working on a project that explored whether investing in dairy made sense for companies like Coke and Pepsi given the health and wellness trends etc.

My younger sister was playing on an ice hockey team back in Canada and one of her teammates’ fathers worked at Pepsi. My Dad recommended I get his info and hit him up for some help on the project. Turns out he was CMO of PepsiCo Beverages at the time, and he was a tremendous help. I ended up acing the assignment and followed up to thank him for the support. He was impressed with the work and asked what I was doing after college… Long story short, I started my career at PepsiCo after graduating and have been living the dream ever since. I really owe Dave a phone call. There are a few individuals that you meet at the right time and the right place that change your life, and he was definitely one of those people for me. I can never thank him enough.

LBB> Which projects that you’ve worked on recently have you particularly enjoyed and why?

HS> Last year my team worked with Harman to create a mini-documentary called The Distortion of Sound. The film explored the decline of audio quality and how technology has changed the way we listen. We pulled in artists and producers ranging from Snoop Dogg to Quincy Jones to Linkin' Park and discussed how the compressed mp3 files the majority of people listen to only provide a fraction of the audio experience these artists intended us to hear. The goal wasn’t to push product, but to bring attention to an issue that we knew would strike a chord with our audience. Our biggest challenge was approaching the problem in a way that would resonate with core audiophiles and casual music fans alike. The film ended up being very well received and even managed to pick up a couple of awards!

Another great project was giving the Prudential Center (Newark, NJ) and the New Jersey Devils (NHL) a brand identity they could rally around both internally and externally. We dug deep into what makes New Jersey and the people of New Jersey truly unique. Given it’s a state of small towns, we honed in on the idea of community and aimed to create an experience where people didn't feel like guests, but family. The ‘Our House Rules’ campaign launched in the Fall, and I’m really proud of it. Go to a Devils game or concert at the Prudential Center and check it out.

LBB> While working at PepsiCo for Mountain Dew you built an indie record label called Green Label Sound. How was that experience for you? How did the label marry up with the brand?

HS> Green Label Sound was without a doubt the most fun and interesting project I’ve ever had the opportunity to work on. I’d always been really into music of all genres, played in a few bands beginning in high school and DJ’d some college parties my friends threw. I spent endless hours on my computer seeking out new music. I loved the feeling of discovering a new artist and got a major rush out of being able to introduce my friends to someone that I knew they’d love too.

Green Label Sound was born out of a desire to harness the passion around music discovery to create an emotional connection with our target audience and bring new drinkers into the family. We specifically worked with artists that reflected the bold and distinct sensibilities of the DEW brand. That was the thread that tied all of our projects together. There isn’t anyone out there that looks or sounds like Chromeo or Theophilus London. That’s what made those artists perfect for the brand. We got lucky that they all happened to be awesome people that were awesome to work with too.

LBB> You’ve explored skateboarding for Nike and worked with pro skater Steve Berra while working for Mountain Dew. Is skateboarding specifically – and sport more broadly – a big part of your life? If so, how does it play a role in your work?

HS> Skating was something I’d been into as a kid, but walked away from after a few bad injuries. I got into other stuff in college and didn’t have the time to stay as close to it. Moving to NYC and working on Mountain Dew, a brand whose identity was largely rooted in action sports, became the catalyst for me diving back in.

The relationships I’ve developed working in the space are ones I hold very close. Skaters share a strong bond and have a unique way of expressing themselves. Even the most famous ones in the world are these super chill, down-to-earth people for the most part. They have a lot of qualities that I try to exhibit in my work and my personal life. I let people in and perhaps share more of myself than I probably should sometimes because it allows me to feel closer to people I care about. My friends are my family. I think a lot of that mirrors what I love about skateboarding.

 LBB> You’ve just helped some friends launch a film. Can you tell us a bit about that? I hear there’s a bit of a story behind it…

HS> It’s an amazing story. The film is about a Brooklyn man named David McCallum, a convicted murderer who spent 29 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. My friend Ray developed a friendship with David beginning over 10 years ago when Ray’s father introduced the two of them in an effort to get his son’s life pointed in a more positive direction. After graduating from film school in Montreal, Ray decided to make a documentary about David’s story.

The film brought significant attention to David’s case and played a huge role in getting the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office to finally review it with fresh eyes. David was finally acquitted of all charges back in October, and it was a huge celebration. It was amazing to be a part of something that was not only very creative, but actually life-changing.

LBB> What else do you get up to outside of work to keep your creative juices flowing?

HS> Living in an environment like NYC creates so many opportunities to get out and be inspired. I’m lucky to have a group of friends that are into a lot of interesting, creative things. Whether it’s trying to become a stand-up comic, break a band, launch a fashion line or make it as a professional soccer player, I’m fortunate to be surrounded by people who have very cool dreams. Their passions, in addition to my own, have my creative juices flowing 24/7.