The Reel Black List: Kevin Miles, Storyteller

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Kevin-Miles-Storyteller

“The work I have always
been most proud of,
is that which
supports, promotes
and improves the human condition.”

North Carolina-based Kevin Miles has worked as a writer and creative director for, and with, some of the top ad agencies in the world, both on staff and as a freelancer. They include multicultural shops such as Burrell Communications, Carol H. Williams, Uniworld, GlobalHue, LatinWorks, and Walton-Isaacson, as well as general market shops like Crispin & Porter, Deutsch, Grey, GSD&M, Ogilvy, Ogilvy RedCar, and Saatchi & Saatchi.

His account experience is vast as it includes McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Pepsi, Coke, Gatorade, Jeep, BMW, Lexus, Toyota, Fiat, Sprint, AT&T, Boost Mobile, the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Navy, Verizon, Walmart, and literally dozens more.

Kevin’s work as a creative director and writer has been recognized by Communication Arts, The One Club, The Cannes Film Festival, The Clios, the Webbys, Longhand, adsoftheworld.com, bestadsontv.com, Creative Review/London, New York International Radio Advertising Festival, Print’s Regional Design Annual, Adweek’s Best Spots, Gannett Outdoor Challenge, and Local, Regional and National ADDYs.

As a TV Sitcom Writer and Screenwriter, Kevin has placed as a finalist in several prestigious international screenwriting and TV sitcom writing contests including a nod for the first dramatic screenplay he ever wrote called, Good Medicine which was chosen as a finalist in the Urban Insider 555-SHORT Screenplay Contest – an international competition with judges including directors Joel Zwick and Gina Prince-Blythewood, and screenwriter Ed Neumeier.

He was also selected as a finalist in the “TVwriter.com Spec Scriptacular” sitcom writing competition for his spec script “Rise And Shine” for Everybody Loves Raymond.

And an episode he wrote of the animated web series, Broistas, titled “Enema” was somehow discovered and featured on funnyordie.com, the website created by Will Ferrell and his partner and Oscar-nominated writer and director of Vice, Adam McKay.

His work has been written about or featured in Business Week, Adweek, Advertising Age, Art Direction Magazine, Print’s Design Annual, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Chicago Sun Times, The Sacramento Bee, Sacramento Magazine, The Sacramento Business Journal, The St. Louis Post Dispatch, and The St. Louis Journalism Review.

Kevin has lectured at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, Southern Illinois University, in Illinois, and UC Davis, in California, and he has volunteered at elementary schools across the country for “Read Across America” reading the works of noted children’s book authors, as well as works he has written as an aspiring, wannabe children’s book author.

To visit Kevin’s website, click here.

 
 
What was your first break? It happened almost a year to the day after VP, Director of Creative Services at Gardner Advertising in St. Louis – a subsidiary of legendary New York Agency, Wells, Rich & Greene, Bob Fanter, informed me I had bested 5 other candidates with spec work I conceived as a student at Southern Illinois University, to win an internship there.

When it ended 6 months later with no pending job offer, and after being told countless times I was the best creative intern they ever had, I sent a self-promotion piece out to the companies I wanted to work for most, all over the country, resulting in letters of interest from Fallon, The Martin Agency, J. Walter Thompson, Leo Burnett, Chiat/Day, BBDO and several others.

I was flabbergasted, because it was such a simple idea that simply read: “If you think good writers are hard to come by today, call 772-1819 and one will come by tomorrow.” I accepted a job at D’Arcy, Masius, Benton & Bowles, St. Louis, because I was smart enough to know I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and it would be far better to fail close to home, with a support system to fall back on if I fell flat on my face, than it would have been to take a job in New York, Chicago or LA where I didn’t know anyone.

My second year in the business, my presence was requested by DMB&B North American President, Chairman and Managing Director, Clayton Wilhite to fly to the New York headquarters of the company to work on the Burger King new business pitch the company had already been working on for 6 weeks. I was scared shitless to be honest and the ONLY reason I went along with the fiasco was because Terry Taylor, my new partner in crime was along with me for the ride.

This was for a pro bono project, and one that put us on Mr. Wilhite’s radar: a global advertising competition that challenged advertising creatives to create ads designed to keep kids from dropping out of high school – the Scholastic Inc., and Ad Age, “Yearn-To-Learn-Challenge”, in which we were chosen one of 12 winners.

After seeing our winning ad which featured a pair of Michael Jordan’s Air Jordans, his signature, and the headline, “Without A High School Diploma, Air Jordan Would Never Have Gotten Off The Ground.”, Mr. Wilhite had the fortuitous idea to have us work on the pitch.

Well, the rest, as they say, is history. Two and a half days later Terry and I conceived the idea that won the account – a new business win that at the time was the biggest account shift in the history of advertising.

That “break” resulted in my salary being doubled and both Terry and I receiving the keys to window offices.

 

Worst thing that ever happened to you to remind you that you are Black? It happened at my first job right out of college at ad agency, DMB&B St. Louis. I busted my ass for 5 years, and the entire time, my work was consistently recognized in local, regional, national and international advertising awards shows.

Not to mention conceiving ideas that were instrumental in winning the company more than $150 million in new business. And advertising campaigns I conceived and produced that consistently resulted in work that resulted in double-digit sales increases for clients including Twix, Skittles, Budweiser and Brown Shoe.

And not once in that entire time, did I ever receive a single promotion, even though every single one of my creative partners – all of whom happened to be white – were promoted.

I also never received a raise until I demanded one, which was another interesting story in its own right. I made an appointment after work one day to meet with Charlie Claggett, the Deputy Managing Director and Chief Creative Officer of the D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles office in St. Louis, a great guy to work for and the man who coined the tagline “This Bud’s For You.” I stated my case, telling Charlie I knew I wasn’t being compensated fairly for the impact my work was making and that he needed to make things right.

After pondering my words for a moment Charlie responded by saying, “You know Kevin, you have been doing great work in the last six months.” To which I replied maybe a split second later – if not sooner, “Charlie, I’ve been doing great work since I started working here. You just started noticing it in the last six months.”

Charlie’s face turned beet red and I thought he was about to give me a knuckle sandwich or call security to have me escorted off the premises with the quickness – or both, but instead, he roared with laughter and after composing himself, replied, “You’ve got the biggest set of balls of anyone I’ve ever met. And you’re going to get your raise.”
 

Best thing to ever happen to you to remind you that you are Black? I got to work with Russell Simmons for two and a half years after my buddy, the uber-talented art director, creative director and original “rude boy”, Paul James introduced me to Russell when he was in a partnership with Donny Deutsch. Russell is a brilliant man, witty, and very easy to work with and he wasn’t shy in the least about letting me know when he liked or hated my ideas.

My wildest and most surreal memory working with Russell happened right after Paul and I presented an idea for Coke featuring supermodel, Naomi Campbell. The commercial was never produced, but Russell loved the idea so much, from that point on he called me by the new nickname he conjured up for me: “Genius”.

 

Work you are most proud of? “Obama 2012” is a :30-second ad I wrote that It was created specifically for an international advertising contest created by Moveon.org that invited the general public to create finished ads to support then presidential candidate, Barack Obama’s “Obama ‘08” election bid.

Out of more than 1100 entries from around the world, it was chosen as a top 15 finalist by a panel of celebrity judges including Oliver Stone, Steve Buscemi, James Schamus, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck and over 5 million votes cast by the general public who voted on the website obamain30seconds.org.

The commercial was directed by four-time nominee and two-time DGA winner Rob Lieberman (And director of “Fire In The Sky”, “The Mighty Ducks 3”, “Criminal Minds”, “The Blacklist”, “The Expanse”), and featured the West Los Angeles Children’s Choir.

 

How has the business changed since you broke in? One change that I think has definitely been for the better which I also believe has actually improved our industry by leveling the playing field, is that clients now realize they can procure work and collaborate with companies and individuals not located in what have been traditionally viewed as advertising meccas – New York, Chicago, San Francisco and LA.

Companies are now much more open-minded about partnering with companies and people beyond those cities. A lot of this has been made possible as a by product of digital transformation which allows groups of people and individuals separated by geography to work together in real-time with the physical distance between them no longer a barrier.

Another welcome change in my mind has been the increasing willingness for companies, both agencies and clients alike, to allow full-time employees, freelancers and subcontractors to work offsite from home, satellite offices, coworking spaces, coffee shops or anywhere else they can hop onto a Wi-Fi hotspot.

I have been working offsite full-time since 2006 and I have not regretted that decision for a second. It amazes me in 2019 that there are still people out there that don’t get that you don’t have to be in the same building with someone to be on the same page with them. Any company that doesn’t embrace that philosophy most likely has other archaic beliefs that are holding them back from achieving anything beyond maintaining the status quo.

 

Trapped on an island, what essentials must you have? A notepad, pen, paper and an anthropologist to decipher my sloppy handwriting. And all of my books for inspiration. Oh, and my muse, of course.

 

If you had a time machine, what would you say to your past self? Three things:
1.“Hey, you, knucklehead. Play free safety instead of tailback and perhaps you won’t end up with four concussions, dashing your dreams of playing in the NFL.”
2.“Invest in AOL, Amazon, Netflix, Alibaba and Bitcoin the moment they are available.”
3.“When, after reading your Larry Sander’s Show spec script, one of the top talent agents in Hollywood tells you to move to LA to become a sitcom writer, move to LA and become a sitcom writer.”

 

If you could have a one-on-one with anyone who would it be? And why? Aliko Dangote. I would like to make him an offer he cannot possibly refuse.

 
To see the up-to-date Reel Black List, click here.

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