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Mad Genius VP: Creativity still needed as technology changes business

Growing up in a quiet suburb of Kansas City, Mo., Eric Hughes exhibited a creative bent from an early age. Now the vice president/creative director of Mad Genius, he was also exposed to the advertising industry early. He spent summers during high school working in his dad’s Kansas City agency.

“I was the kid who was always drawing. Colors fascinated me. So did animals,” he said. “If I was left in a room with paper and crayons, I’d end up drawing an off-beat menagerie. Zebras with orange and blue stripes, purple polar bears, green bears.”

As soon as he could write complete sentences, he started writing stories. His parents embraced the whole art thing. “They were great about helping me pursue it,” he said. “I went to art summer camps, got into creative writing and then a little bit of theatre in high school.”

The son of Jim and Nancy Hughes, he graduated from the University of Kansas and sort of backed into a career in advertising even though it had always been on his radar screen because of his dad’s firm. “I didn’t actually decide I wanted to pursue it until I took a job on my college newspaper out of sheer curiosity,” he recalls. “It was regional sales, and I had no idea what that meant.”

Hughes quickly learned that regional sales meant he wasn’t allowed to sell ad space to any business inside a 10-mile radius. That was pretty tough when he didn’t have gasoline money. “One of my accounts was a concert promoter in Kansas City. REM was coming to Kemper Arena, and they asked me to make up some ads and get some buzz going at KU,” he said. “Dream assignment! I came up with a teaser campaign and a launch ad. It was so cool sitting in a lecture and overhearing people talk about what they thought the teaser ads were about. The biz had me then and hasn’t let go since.”

He’s been with the innovative Ridgeland agency four years, after spending time with other agencies. He’s found the industry to be fun and thrilling while also being competitive and tough. “You hope to someday work with some of the brightest, most talented and most passionate people out there and do the kind of work people talk about,” he says of his career choice. “I’ve been very blessed to have chances to do that. But as I’ve evolved, I’ve learned to value the other aspects of the business even more.”

Those things he values include the collaborations and friendships with colleagues and clients; going beyond anything he thought he would experience. Also, being a mentor to young talent and watching their confidence grow is a great joy.

Hughes acknowledges that technology is changing the business. “Obviously, the Internet has changed how we help our clients gain loyal audiences, generate sales and build leading brands,” he said. “It’s also dramatically changed the pace of our business and the people we value. There was a time when our industry thought deadlines couldn’t get tighter. We were wrong.”



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