2 Minutes With ... James Barnes, Business Director & Co-Founder at Backlash
James Barnes has worked in events and experiential marketing for over 20 years. He began his career in production, then moved into account management and strategy at global agencies before setting up shop with his two partners in 2017.
We spent two minutes with James to learn more about his background, his creative inspirations and recent work he's admired.
James, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
I grew up in a small seaside holiday town called Tenby in West Wales. For the last 20 years, I have lived in London.
How you first realized you were creative.
First up, despite being a co-founder of a creative agency, technically I am not a creative in the classic sense. I come from an account management and strategy background. However, I have always been drawn to creativity, especially music and films. I realized that I was more interested in the unusual films and artists from an early age. I remember at the age of 10 listening to Smokey Robinson and Isaac Hayes, while my friends were listening to Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan. In my teens I would religiously listen/watch/record BBC Radio's John Peel Sessions and late night Film4 foreign movies and dream of working in music and film.
A person you idolized creatively early on.
When I was in my teens, I loved Studio Ghibli films. They were totally different than British or American films, and I was amazed by the energy and the crazy unrestricted abstract storylines.
A moment from high school or college that changed your life.
I studied engineering in university and did a placement year at a small engineering firm in Cheltenham. I still love understanding how things work, but realized very quickly that engineering was not something that put a fire in my belly. As soon as I finished my degree, I stumbled upon a career that mixed practical skills with creativity: the experiential marketing industry.
A visual artist or band/musician you admire.
A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.
I love the podcast Diary of a CEO by Steve Bartlett and always find the shows really interesting. His guests come from a diverse range of backgrounds and industries, from gut-health experts to billionaire CEOs, and I always find a few nuggets of wisdom to apply to my own business, career or life. A book I have loved recently is "The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August’ by Claire North. Think Groundhog Day, but on an epic scale.
Your favorite fictional character.
I love the two main characters in Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, played by Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro. My party days are over, so this helps take me back.
Someone or something worth following in social media.
I am always hungry and thinking about food. The Mob Kitchen on Instagram @mob does a great job of thinking up delicious things to eat for discerning hungry folk.
How Covid-19 changed your life, personally or professionally.
I have always worked long hours, as I have been pretty ambitious in my career, and more recently as a business owner. Having the opportunity to almost totally disconnect from work for several months at the height of the pandemic was a great opportunity to reconnect with loved ones and the small aspects and pleasures of life. Covid reset my skewed work-life balance.
One of your favorite creative projects you've ever worked on.
For Three Mobile, we developed a private-jet selfie booth pop-up at Gatwick Airport. It stands as the only retail pop-up ever activated in a U.K. airport. The restrictions and challenges were immense, but the end results were incredible.
A recent project you're proud of.
In the summer of 2022, we created an immersive pop-up shop concept for Beauty Pie called the Warehouse of Dreams in Covent Garden, which was really fun to work on, with loads of creative touches that made it a fantastic experience for consumers. The results blew us away, with the 11-day experience delivering on average £20k of sales per day.
Someone else's work that inspired you years ago.
I thought North Face's Pinnacle Project pop-up in the Dolomite Mountains was great—a location and customer experience true to the brand's hardcore mountaineering credentials. I am guessing it generated huge multiples of value through the coverage it received. A simple idea done well.
Someone else's work you admired lately.
I love it when you see a concept that feels new and exciting and not just an iteration of something else. Moncler recently delivered the Genius event at Kensington Olympia in London, and it was a fantastic take on a traditional fashion event. Moncler worked with agency partners to create a massive experiential party for over 10,000 guests which merged art, fashion, music, entertainment and sport. The guest list mixed celebs, influencers and the general public, all sampling immersive experiences created by artists and designers. We are always trying to push our clients to be brave. But the level of innovation and the belief that Moncler had in this new format created something fresh and exciting in our world of brand experience.
Your main strength as a creative person.
I am pretty inquisitive and have always loved learning about new things. My wife takes the mickey out of me for having so many hobbies and thinks my actual hobby is collecting hobbies. To work in the creative industry and stay relevant, it is important to draw upon life experiences, and I find the phrase "To be interesting, you have to be interested" very apt.
Your biggest weakness.
Latching onto the first good creative idea I have, to the detriment of exploring other ideas.
One thing that always makes you happy.
Being outdoors without a phone doing something physical.
One thing that always makes you sad.
Cruelty to animals. They have such amazing accepting souls that it makes me sad to see people betray their trust.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in advertising.
Maybe owning a restaurant. I love cooking, eating, drinking wine and entertaining friends.