2 Minutes With ... Mike Rainey, Partner & CCO at Brand Society

On Blue Runner Foods, Crystal Hot Sauce and working in the heart of NOLA

As partner and CCO at Brand Society, Mike co-manages the company alongside longtime colleague and partner/CSO, Troy Cox, while overseeing all creative concepts, online content, web and visual design, photography, digital video, copy and social media. His extensive experience leading and developing teams that deliver data-driven solutions combines the power of business strategy and creative thinking to drive work that produces measurable results.

During his 20+ years overseeing creative at his former agency, Zehnder Communications, Mike was twice named Ad Person of the Year in Creative Services by the Ad Club of New Orleans. He is also a recent recipient of the club's most prestigious honor, The Silver Medal Award. That prize was established by the AAF to recognize folks who make outstanding contributions and elevate industry's standards, creative excellence and responsibility in areas of social concern.

Some of his clients over the years include ACME Oyster House, BillGO, Burger King, Blue Runner Foods, Crystal Hot Sauce, Caesars Sportsbook Crescent City Classic and Disney.

We spent two minutes with Mike to learn more about his background, creative inspirations and some recent work he's admired.

Mike, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I was born in New Orleans and live on the North Shore, 30 miles north, in our now empty nest with my amazing wife, Shelley. Our extended family is hardcore native—the food, the culture, the people, Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, you name it, we’re there! 

How you first realized you were creative.

I was constantly drawing and taking photos as a young boy of about 11, even if it was on a roughshod Kodak Instamatic pocket camera, capturing moments became an art to me. Fortunately, it allowed me to have one foot in each camp during the world’s inevitable transition from film (analog) to digital. It kept me on my toes and on the front edge of change to embrace the exciting explosion of the tech era as an Apple early adopter.  

A person you idolized creatively early on.

Two persons, actually. As a young art director, Jonathan Glazer convinced me that advertising can truly cross-pollinate with fine art.

And Luke Sullivan. His book "Hey Whipple, Squeeze This!" literally became my manual and comic relief during my early career while trying to be a more genuine writer.

A moment from high school or college that changed your life. 

Switching majors from pre-med to fine arts (design and photography) switched the lights on for my soul. And being already immersed in the distinct creative culture that is New Orleans, it only fueled my passion more.

A visual artist or band/musician you admire.


A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.

Parasite caught me by surprise and blew my mind recently on a flight from LAX.

Your favorite fictional character.

My wife Shelley and I both love Saul Goodman for so many reasons.

Someone or something worth following in social media.

I'm not usually a fan of snark for snark's sake, but this local IG feed makes me laugh all the time. One of the things that we love about our town is our ability to laugh at ourselves.

How Covid-19 changed your life, personally or professionally. 

Personally, it strengthened my faith and relationships with my daughters, spouse and neighbors. Professionally, it allowed me to open up new doors with clients to help them give back and affect positive change. One of our clients, Blue Runner Foods, who is known as the red bean icon of the region, stepped up to help entire communities in need. The company and its customers joined forces with our "Nothing beats Louisiana" promotion initiative to fight local hunger head on and support Second Harvest Food Bank in a big way. It was followed by a powerful message emphasizing how red beans can be "Good for your heart and your soul."

For centuries, eating red beans and rice on Monday has been a tradition in New Orleans and throughout Louisiana. And the connection between our food & music jazz heritage has been central to our diverse and treasured cultural fabric. Musicians and chefs alike suffered through Covid-19, experiencing the "blues" themselves, and were unable to get gigs and customers. So, keeping our local chefs and artists in the spotlight and on the same stage was vital to reinforcing our ongoing way of life. The iconic red beans (and rice) is at the heart and soul of it all. And the best red beans happen to be blue, too. Since the beginning of 2020, Blue Runner Foods has donated over two million meals of red beans and rice to help New Orleans families. 

One of your favorite creative projects you've ever worked on.

My father was a shrimp fisherman. Before he passed in 2014, he was able to see how I was able to apply all that otherwise "useless information" I had in my head from working on his boats in my teens and 20's. Made him proud that we made a huge difference and helped save so many jobs among his old friends and colleagues. After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, the Gulf Coast seafood industry was challenged to overcome media and consumer misconceptions regarding the quality and safety of its products. The Gulf Coast Marketing Coalition approached my team for its help in spreading awareness and education about their seafood and culture in order to restore the industry and increase Gulf Coast seafood’s reputation as a high quality, delicious product. As our work with Gulf Coast Seafood evolved, it not only helped the Gulf Coast region regain its reputation as a trusted provider of fresh, flavorful seafood, it also helped develop a community of passionate Gulf Coast "seafoodies" across the region and beyond. Here’s a short case study video, but the multimedia campaign was featured twice in Communications Arts and the seafood photography won 3 national gold ADDYs.

A recent project you're proud of.

As a kid, when I would say a "bad word" my Dad would put hot sauce on my tongue as a punishment. Little did he know that I would become a cult follower of that flavor for the rest of my adult life. And ironically, my swearing became even more frequent, but I'd like to believe it was not because of my client Crystal Hot Sauce. I’m proud of several recent projects, but if I have to pick one it would be Crystal last year. Many are shocked to discover that it is Louisianas no.1 Hot Sauce and not the other one you're probably picturing in your head. Crystal fights the misperception that our culinary reputation is about heat. It's really about the flavor. Literally and figuratively. During Covid, my client Crystal was all about honoring and supporting the New Orleans arts community which struggled greatly as a result of the pandemic's effect on tourism. Our team and client found a truly innovative way to do it. In the beginning of 2021, Crystal launched this this campaign entitled "How New Orleans Does Flavor," which salutes all the ways the city delights the five senses that gives us our "flavor." And what better time to launch the campaign than during Mardi Gras, the beginning of festival season in New Orleans?

The campaign, which includes television, social media, out-of-home and print, features art from more than a dozen artists, set to music created by local musicians. It was developed with the help of local artists including renowned collage artist/mixed media film maker Simon Blake. Blake worked with images from muralists including Robin Halverson, Chris Pavlik, Henry Lipkis, B Cameron White, Rebeka Skela, Jamar Pierre, Conor Kolk and John Lee Sanders. The estates of Fats Domino and Dr. John gave their permission to use the likenesses of two of New Orleans’ most beloved stars. The music was composed by local Oscar/Golden Globe winner Donny Markowitz and produced by famed Grammy winner Misha Kachkachishvili of Esplanade Studios. The soundtrack features Markowitz on bass, Stanton Moore of Galactic on drums, and Brandon Lewis and Charlie Gabriel of Preservation Jazz Hall on trumpet and sax/horns. Renowned Fire on the Bayou was the local production company that brought their passion too.

Someone else's work that inspired you years ago.

Oh, wow. I go way back here, but I was at the 2003 National ADDYs in Los Angeles to receive recognition for some gold wins for the Nature Conservancy campaign and, in a rare twist, the best of show winner for broadcast was a radio campaign of all things! DeVito/Verdi won it for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, which featured every day activities described as if they were horse races. It truly made us all belly laugh and reminded me as a former art director how crucial the copywriting is and the power in theater of the mind. 

Someone else's work you admired lately. 

Okay, maybe it’s my goofy sense of humor talking, but I am a secret admirer of our colleagues at LERMA. #AvosInSpace Come on! What’s not to love? 

Your main strength as a creative person. 

If I had to pick one, I'd say finding selfless, naturally talented and big-hearted people willing to grow and truly do the best work of their careers.

Your biggest weakness.

Impatience bites me on the ass sometimes, but most know it's perfectionism that is my double-edged sword.

One thing that always makes you happy.

Some may think this is a cheesy answer, but my faith and my family are the only reasons I am still around.

One thing that always makes you sad. 

Violence and racism. 

What you'd be doing if you weren't in advertising. 

Ski instructor in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada, if my wife could withstand the cold. Otherwise, scuba instructor in Bonaire, the Dutch Caribbean.

2 Minutes With is our regular interview series where we chat with creatives about their backgrounds, creative inspirations, work they admire and more. For more about 2 Minutes With, or to be considered for the series, please get in touch.

Jessica MacAulay
Jessica MacAulay is a contributor for Muse by Clio. She's also a recent graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder's College of Media, Communication, and Information.

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