When Jay Kamath first hit the job market with his newly earned architecture degree in 2005, the advice he received from those in the field wasn’t exactly encouraging.
“A lot of architects I was meeting were saying, verbatim, ‘Don’t become an architect,'” Kamath said. “So I was like, ‘Oh, that’s a red flag.'”
Luckily, Kamath had already begun to discover that his interests lied elsewhere. While he still credits his undergraduate education for immersing him in the world of design, he had simultaneously developed an overlapping side passion for computer graphics, where he felt he might have more of an opportunity to mold projects in his own vision. He enrolled in an advertising design master’s program at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Brandcenter before locking down an art director internship at Wieden + Kennedy.
Now, after five years working his way up to creative director at 72andSunny and another four freelancing, Kamath is running his own 18-month-old Los Angeles agency, Haymaker, with fellow 72andSunny veteran Matt Johnson. As the agency’s co-founder and CCO, Kamath has led work on everything from an anti-opioid abuse campaign for Truth Initiative and the White House to a marathon Facebook Live memorial for the 127 assassins killed in the film John Wick to promote the blockbuster’s sequel.
Kamath said his wide-ranging background has given him a more holistic approach to campaigns than the traditional art direction or copywriting view, and he values hires who’ve taken similarly unconventional paths.
“When we started Haymaker, we really valued people who have a hybrid talent or had a meandering path that’s gone into other arenas,” Kamath said. “Those people feel more positive, and they’re down to throw in on anything—they’re not like, ‘Oh, this is my role over here.’ They’re just kind of in the mix and ready to solve everything.”
That multidisciplinal attitude is reflected in the far-ranging avenues that many of Haymaker’s creative endeavors take. The aforementioned opioid awareness campaign, for instance, involved an Amazon Alexa integration that answered questions about addiction and pointed addicts toward treatment resources. Another project for Southern California-based sandal brand Reef included a partnership to send foster kids to the beach for the first time.
“We want to make some work that’s going to create impact and leave a mark on culture,” Kamath said.
Early on, Kamath said he would spend too much time fretting over his work and mulling over all the ways it could go wrong. “You can’t let it stagnate while you debate the merits,” he explained. “Just go make it happen.”
“Stop pontificating and start making something that people can react to, whether that’s internally or for the clients,” Kamath said. “That usually gets to the merit of the idea much quicker than dissecting it a million different ways.”
How He Got the Gig
Kamath spent the formative years of his career working his way from copywriter to creative director in 72andSunny’s farm system. The agency was just 20 people in a garage when he started in 2008. That’s where he met Johnson, with whom he honed the idea for a new agency over many months of freelancing.
“We really champion the truth—just finding an insight that’s true. If it’s not ringing true, we’re like, ‘That doesn’t feel like it’s going to yield anything interesting.’ For us, that’s probably our North Star,” Kamath said.