Hunter Simms & Thompson Harrell, Creative Directors at Hunter S. & Thompson

If you could attribute your success to one other person or life event, who or what would it be and why?

Hunter: Being a “Hunter S.” and partnering with a “Thompson” to become ‘Hunter S. & Thompson’ was almost a cosmic level coincidence. The only better naming would have been if we were Samuel and Jackson. Creative partnerships are like a marriage—if you find the right one, stick with them.

Thompson: Same answer, but reversed. Borrowing from “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” we’re the advertising version of Leon finding his Mary Ferguson. Although, I’m not sure if I’m Leon or Mary? Probably Mary.

What are you most proud of in the last 12 months, or what milestones do you most look forward to over the next 12 months?

H: I bought my first home. It might seem basic, but it was a very emotional moment for me. Growing up in D.C. during the crack era, against all odds, as a young man, through a series of extraordinary events, I discovered Iceland—or it discovered me. Coming from where I’m from, buying my first home here, of all places, was deeply moving. Maybe a tear or two was shed. The clean air, glacier water from the tap, and varying landscapes have always sparked deep creativity in me. Working from a country with 24-hour daytime or nighttime, along with random earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, has made me immune to jet lag and time zones.

T: After the pandemic hit, like many, I feared I might never work in advertising again. Being a new father to a 4-month-old, it was quite scary. So, I set out to finally write the business plan for a bourbon brand that my two business partners and I had been contemplating for a couple of years. After raising capital from a diverse group of investors, including folks from this industry, our brand, Frank August, launched a year and a half ago. It has become an award-winning bourbon distributed nationwide and continues to be the most in-demand spirit across all spirits in the portfolio of our largest distributor. This experience has profoundly shifted my perspective on how I approach brand projects, both from a business and a conceptual standpoint.

What is the very best career advice you’ve ever received?

H: My friend Fadia Kader, whom I’ve known since my teenage years, coined the phrase “Protect Your Magic,” which you can still see stenciled across America. Whether it’s meeting a business partner named Thompson or finding myself figuratively teleported to Iceland at my lowest point in life, I’ve learned that there’s magic in all of us. It’s an inexhaustible creative force that yearns to be tapped into continuously. For many, their magic can be stifled, sometimes in childhood or as adults through adverse work experiences or relationships. But remember to protect your magic. Magic is imagination. Magic is believing you can fly. Magic is play. Magic gives you the power to create anything. Protect your magic.

T: When I was working my first job at Toy, fresh out of the VCU Brandcenter, Ari Merkin said something along the lines of, “We’re all taught to think outside the box, but in advertising, you need to think inside the box.” This became a 10-second Masterclass that shifted my thinking from solving a problem through a “portfolio school” lens to a “proper agency brief” perspective. Briefs are strategically designed for creatives to identify the borders—and then make the box you think within as tight and small as possible. Apply forced constraints to understand what you’re up against and then create the greatest idea within those confines. This approach later connected to a philosophy from one of my favorite books, “The Obstacle is the Way”. What’s in the way becomes the way. Make what’s perceived as a negative to become your greatest strength.

By Sasha The Mensch