When Alex Newman introduces himself on the first day of the Ontario College of Art and Design class he teaches, he starts with his credentials. Among them: a senior art director title at JWT, a Young Lions win (plus two shortlist spots), a stint in New York working on iconic brands such as Macy’s and Rolex, and a leading role on one of JWT Toronto’s pillar accounts, Air Canada.
The list of accomplishments isn’t so much a boast as a way to establish that Newman is an instructor, not a student. At 27, Newman still has a boyish face – more bright-eyed design student than decorated art director. But he’s exactly the latter, which is why just two years after graduating from OCAD, Tony Kerr, chair of the school’s storied ad program, invited him back to teach.
As Kerr explains it, when he hired Newman he was looking for a digital native with experience working on emerging platforms, someone students could relate to, but who also sees advertising as a craft that requires a deep work ethic. Newman was at the top of his list.
In fact, it wasn’t the first time Kerr tried to hire the art director. He’d previously tried to bring Newman on as a freelancer for projects he was working on but, says Kerr, “someone else always got to him first.”
Newman’s been a hot commodity since he won the Cannes Cyber Young Lions competition in 2011. Soon after, he was lured from his job at Proximity Canada (he’d previously worked as a designer at Walmart) into an art director job at JWT New York.
He’s since moved back to JWT Toronto, enticed by the chance to lead projects and work under the agency’s current leaders: chief creative officer Brent Choi and president/CEO Susan Kim-Kirkland.
In 2013, Newman was the art director for “Emotional Moms,” a back-to-school campaign for Walmart that drove a 5% increase in sales and edged the retailer 1% further ahead of its closest competitor, Staples. More recently, he directed shorts for Air Canada’s web series on its 787 planes, which earned 1.4 million views and an average time spent of two-and-a-half minutes on the site — an eternity in internet years.
Outside of ad land, Newman also has a book in the works from Random House Canada that will explore the coming-out process. According to Newman, it will be one part self-help, one part biography, and focus on what families go through when a child reveals that they are gay, with stories drawn from his own experience.
An advocate for LGBT youth, this spring Newman also worked on a pro-bono project for Toronto PFLAG as part of a team that created a Twitter-enabled flag that moved up or down based on the sentiment of tweets during the World Pride festival in June.
That same month, Newman was again shortlisted for the Cannes Young Lions, and while he didn’t win, more hardware is surely in his future.
“He has plenty more awards to win yet,” Kerr says. “He’s only just getting started.”