A veteran of agencies including Deep Focus and Wunderman, John Reid joined Razorfish Health in 2018 as chief creative officer and managing partner.
His award-winning work for clients like the Ad Council, Pfizer, AbbVie, Genentech, Johnson and Johnson, Merck and Biogen focuses on blending storytelling, advertising and technology to start meaningful conversations that motivate consumer to take action, enable healthier outcomes, and live healthier lives.
We spent two minutes with Reid to learn more about his background, his creative inspirations, and recent work he's admired.
John, tell us...
The town where you were born.
I grew up in a military family, and my parents were stationed in Holy Loch, Scotland, when I was born. The naval hospital was closed for the evening—talk about a small town. So my mom had to take a dark and stormy ferry trip over to a hospital in slightly less small town—Greenock, near Glasgow. The rumor is that I popped out and they sent us straight home the next morning with me snuggled up in a laundry basket full of blankets. Oh, the '70s. Sadly, I didn't live there long enough to get a cool Scottish accent, but I did get dual citizenship out of the deal, which is pretty great.
What you wanted to be when you grew up.
As far back as I can remember, I had a pencil or crayon in my hand, so I knew I was going to do something creative. I guess most kids start out like that. I can't imagine many 6-year-old's thinking, "Hey, I can count to 10, I want to be accountant when I grow up…"
How you discovered you were creative.
It really was a case of "Monkey see, monkey do." I have an older brother who collected comic books and loved to draw. We'd sit at the kitchen table and read the same four worn-out comics over and over and copy our favorite heroes. Then we started to create our own. Classic gems like "Wellyman" (you guessed it, a superhero who would defeat his villains by throwing his yellow rain boots at them) and "Mod Dog," a crime fighting K9. A kind of James Bond meets Austin Powers and Snoopy kinda thing.
A person you idolized creatively growing up.
In addition to my brother, my other comic book idols were Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and John Byrne.
A moment from high school or college that changed your life.
In school, I never considered myself an "academic," but looking back, I guess I kind of was. I skipped third grade and graduated high school with a 4.0. My senior year, I was so far ahead of my required courses that I convinced my art teacher, Mr. Larson, to invent classes so I could stay in the art studio all day. It was one of the most creatively prolific years of my life. By the time graduation came, I had my portfolio in order and was ready to apply to art school.
The first concert you saw, and your favorite band or musician today.
Music has always been a huge part of my life. My mom is a very talented musician. She's a pianist, a singer and was a church choir director for many years, so I experienced a lot of that type of thing early on. The first "real" concert I saw was when I was about 16 or 17. I snuck out with some friends and took the ferry over to Seattle to a club called RKCNDY to see a punk band called ALL. It was a real live punk show. It was loud, fast, and I was hooked before the band even set foot on stage. My ears rang for a week after, and I couldn't wait to see my next show.
Your favorite artist.
If we are talking painters, I love Jean-Michel Basquiat and the whole Factory pop-art thing that Warhol was doing. Much like punk rock, it seemed accessible, and something that I could just pick up and do myself. The whole DIY ethos really spoke to me. I also have a lot of love for highly skilled lowbrow artists like Gary Baseman, Mark Ryden and Doze Green. Oh, and R. Crumb! When you are a 13-year-old boy and you get your hands on some of his comics, you love him for obvious reasons.
Your favorite hero or heroine in fiction.
Heroine: Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in the Alien movies. She is such a bad ass. Hero: Cool Hand Luke (Paul Newman). I guess he's more of an anti-hero, but I respect his persistence and grit. Working in advertising, you need to have a lot of that, and very thick skin.
The best book you've read lately.
Put Me Back on My Bike, by William Fotheringham. It's the tragic biography of Tom Simpson, the British cycling champion who died during the 1967 Tour de France. With his dying breath, he whispered those famous last words to his mechanic before slumping to the ground and dying of exhaustion on the side of Mont Ventoux. Talk about leaving it all on the road.
Your favorite movie.
I really love films from the mid to late '60s. It's such a great period for filmmaking, it's hard to pick just one. If you will indulge me, my top three are: Cool Hand Luke, with Paul Newman and Strother Martin; Midnight Cowboy, with Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman; and The Sting, with Paul Newman and Robert Redford. I've always been attracted to anti-heroes more than the super-heroes—even in my superheroes.
Your favorite Instagram follow.
I'm passionate about cycling, and heavily involved in the New York cycling community. My friend Julien is a talented barber who travels the city—and the world—on his bike cutting hair. You can see all of his awesome global adventures at @thevelobarber. If you want to see me in spandex, A LOT of spandex, check out @johnmichaelreid.
Your favorite creative project you've ever worked on, and why.
It had always been a dream of mine to work with the Ad Council. When they approached us to do a campaign with the Obama administration and Futures Without Violence, I couldn't say yes fast enough. They asked us to create a campaign to bring awareness to the physical effects on the brain of kids who witness repeated acts of violence. We shot powerful little documentary films with Eliot Rausch that are as heartbreaking as they are beautiful. I feel honored to work on this and be able to tell these stories.
Your favorite creative project from the past year, and why.
My favorite project is always the thing I'm currently working on. It hasn't launched yet, so I have to be a little vague, but we are working on a campaign for a revolutionary new treatment in a rare disease space. The disease has been around for a long time, but until now, they haven't been able to treat the actual condition, just its horrible symptoms. This is a small, tight-knit community, and this treatment will bring real hope. We are looking to bring some of those stories to life in an effort to help others who are struggling. Stay tuned there.
Someone else's creative project that inspired you years ago.
I'm going to sound like a jaded old creative director here, but it's rare in this day and age to see something you've never seen before. But there was a domestic violence/sexual assault PSA for the "No More" initiative that ran on the 2015 Super Bowl that blew me away. I've worked on Super Bowl projects before, and the brief is always the same "Make our ad scream louder than the rest…" But this ad was different. It was quiet, and really broke through all of beer/pizza/chip commercial clutter. So much so that it made my Super Bowl party go silent. Talk about breaking through.
Someone else's creative project that you've been envious of lately.
I live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan near a large school. On my way to the subway, I see kids, young kids, hanging on the corner vaping. The strong scent of grape bubblegum turns my stomach every time. Maybe it's because I'm a father now, but it really breaks my heart. So, the campaign I'm envious of right now is the "Get the Vape Off Your Back" anti-vaping campaign. It's so creepy and surreal that I think parents and their kids will really take notice.
Your main strength as a creative person.
I'm always looking for new ways to solve problems. My two least favorite words are "best" and "practices." I feel that my job as a creative person is to learn from the past, push boundaries and invent new "best practices."
Your weakness or blind spot.
Maybe it's my inability to admit I have a weakness or blind spot? Ha!
One thing that always makes you happy.
My 7-year-old son, Milo. Much like myself when I was his age, he always has a pencil in hand, dreaming up something cool and new to draw. "Papa, Papa! I drew this comic book with this giant robotic chicken cyclops that has octopus tentacles … I call him Steve." His creativity is endless, and is a constant source of inspiration.
One thing that always makes you sad.
It's a funny world we're living in today, and the way in which people treat each other really makes me sad. It feels like the world has reached a strange boiling point, like that scene in Network where Howard Beale screams, "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!" The world isn't black and white. We all need to respect each other as human beings, even if we have different religious beliefs, sexual orientations, genders, ages or ethnic backgrounds.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in advertising.
Hmmm … not sure. You never think of a Plan B when you love what you're doing. But for the sake of the question, I'd say that I'd probably be doing something that involves art or a bicycle.