The 10 Essential Advertising People of the Year: No. 9 Keith Cartwright

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With Saturday Morning, Cartwright and his partners gave the industry a platform to create change.

For better or worse, 2016 was a landmark year in advertising, with enough controversies, crises and breakthroughs to fill a decade. To mark its conclusion, Campaign US is highlighting 10 people we believe are essential to understanding the year. We will be counting down our choices starting on Dec. 9, with our No. 1 most essential person revealed on Dec. 22. Click here to see the list as it is revealed.

After a historic week of violence last summer that saw two black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, shot and killed by police, then five police officers killed by a sniper at a Black Lives Matter march, Keith Cartwright found himself trying to process a host of emotions—frustration chief among them. "I just felt a little helpless," said Cartwright, executive creative director at Butler Shine Stern & Partners in Sausalito, Calif. "You do a lot of talking, with your spouse, your family, you read articles. But I felt something has to be done."

He wasn’t alone. Hours after reports of the second shooting, Wieden+Kennedy turned its website black and posted an emotional note from one of its African American employees. "We’re conflicted, in a place between crippling empathy [and] contempt at a world that seems not to care enough," read the post. "We are wondering what to do, what to do, what to do."

Cartwright sent a text to a few industry colleagues—Geoff Edwards, creative executive at Creative Artists Agency; Jayanta Jenkins, global creative director of advertising at Apple/Beats by Dre; and Jimmy Smith, CEO and CCO of Amusement Park Entertainment—that led to an hours-long conversation at a Los Angeles café. The group emerged with a plan to form an industry coalition to "promote peace." The mission, as they wrote in an August Facebook post, is to "build awareness, promote change and shift the overall perception that black lives are not as important as others." 

They named the group Saturday Morning to symbolize a day of inclusivity, the antithesis to Sunday mornings, which Martin Luther King once described as the most divisive day of the week. During an Advertising Week presentation in September, they issued the first of their quarterly "peace briefs," to promote understanding and reduce the violence between police and the communities they serve.

The response from the industry at large has been overwhelmingly positive, says Cartwright, noting that the group receives hundreds of emails a week from people raising their hands to join the cause. Among those who have expressed interest in working with them are Syracuse University, P&G, Airbnb, Coca-Cola and Pernod Ricard, he says. The group is also working with Lee Clow and MAL\For Good on a "big piece of communication" that Cartwright estimates will launch in the first quarter of next year. And since the founders’ initial meeting, two more executives have joined the team, Kwame Taylor-Hayford, managing director at Chobani, and most recently, its first female member, Nicole Cramer, formerly global chief of staff at McCann Worldgroup, who will oversee operations and program outreach.

"I’m pretty humbled," says Cartwright, of the industry’s embrace of Saturday Morning. "It speaks to the power of a few people who have an idea coming together to make something or change something. It’s very possible for that to happen if you put your mind to it and believe in it."

While Saturday Morning’s impact remains to be seen, one thing the group already has accomplished is giving an industry full of good intentions a vehicle to create change. "It’s been a tough year for a lot of people, across the board, and they are ready to take action into their own hands. They are frustrated as I was driving to Santa Monica that day," he says. "The election definitely stoked the fire for a lot of people, and there will be so many things that are going to cause people to stand up and say something. Hopefully, we’ll be able to create a podium and a stage for that."