Ben James, chief creative officer of J. Walter Thompson New York, has left to become The New York Times’ first head of creative as the agency continues moving through various stages of its recent merger with Wunderman to become Wunderman Thompson.
James will oversee the creative, editorial and design teams for the newspaper’s in-house branded content studio, T Brand Studio.
In an internal memo, T Brand president Amber Guild said the in-house hub has been searching for its first head of creative since 2018 and that James is set to start in the role on May 13.
Guild called the position “quite a tall order to fill,” adding that it required “a kind and thoughtful human being” who “believed as passionately as we all do about The New York Times,” and the studio’s “journalistic approach to working with brands” while also bringing experience “growing, developing and leading a multitude of creative teams” and “a vision for how we, uniquely, could change the way brands engage with the world.”
She went on to cite James’ “transformative” work at JWT, specifically noting “The Fin,” a project in which the agency helped client Northwell Health develop a 3D-printed amphibious prosthetic leg “that actually improved the quality of life for U.S. veterans and other amputees.”
“Ben is also co-architect of JWT’s Jump/Start program, an initiative created with the task of reimagining the way the communications industry looks at internships, talent, diversity and inclusion,” Guild wrote.
“Ben has been an important part of the J. Walter Thompson NY fabric for over six years and together—with our creative team here—we have developed award-winning work that has grown our clients’ businesses,” a Wunderman Thompson spokeswoman said in an email to Adweek. “We know Ben will thrive in his next adventure and wish him continued success throughout his career.”
A source close to the matter said James’ departure from the agency is in keeping with changes following the Wunderman merger, as the creative department of what had been JWT now has less sway with management.
James joined JWT in 2012 as executive creative director and swiftly rose up the ranks. He was named managing director of creative innovation for the WPP agency in 2016 and has been CCO, leading the North American creative teams since February 2018.
After starting his career as an intern at The Richards Group, James spent a year overseeing page design, editorial concept design and budget management as associate art director at Dallas’ D Magazine. He’s also done stints at Crispin Porter + Bogusky, TDA Boulder, Y&R (which also recently merged with a digital shop VML to become VMLY&R), GS&P and Creative Artists Agency before joining JWT.
James’ work has been recognized by The One Show, the Andys, D&AD, the Webbys, Cannes Lions, the MTV Video Music Awards, Time Magazine’s Best Invention List, the CES Innovation Awards and the Sundance Film Festival, among others.