Alumni Spotlight: Shaun Walker

Shaun Walker, '06 advertising alum now creative director/co-founder of HERO|farm

Name: Shaun Walker

Graduation Year: 2006

Degree/Major: Advertising

Current Employer: HERO|farm

Current Title: Creative Director / Co-Founder

Current Home: New Orleans, LA

What do you do on a “typical day”? Imagine a huge anthill that has just been stepped on. Millions of ants scurry every which way possible. Now imagine them hopped up on energy drinks and on fire. That's what it feels like in our minds just about every day, even if the office is quiet.

Welcome to the world of an advertising agency. The glamorous days of Mad Men are long gone. And as for the movies and other TV shows that always show ad agencies having careless fun, playing games—yeah, that happens, but for like 5 minutes—not the 5 hours a day they say. But hey, if we didn't enjoy it we wouldn't be doing it. It's a way to change the world for the better without anyone even knowing you're doing it.

What led you to this job/career choice? There's nothing quite like having your industry collapse around you to make you evaluate the future. The advertising world is usually a good prognosticator to the health of the economy. And having worked in this industry for several years with my business partner and HERO|farm co-founder, Reid Stone, it dawned upon us more than once that a great shift was on the horizon. When the market tripped and the axe fell in 2008 due to nervous clients and shrinking budgets, our "what ifs" turned into "what nows?" Thankfully, we had pondered the idea of a new breed of advertising agency and, at this point, just had to find a way to make it a reality. Was I 100% sure that our idea would pan out? Not. One. Bit. But it didn’t matter because we were forced to sink or swim. Working in the ad industry during a recession is about as smart as selling hot chocolate during summer in the South—It goes against common sense. But we were determined to make it work because we had to.

We first began working out of my business partner's house and used our connections to strengthen our fledgling business. We didn’t take out a loan and used maybe a couple hundred dollars for simple things to get going. Otherwise, we built up from scratch to earn number awards like Business of the Year and be interviewed by Forbes and Fast Company.

What are some of your career highlights/accomplishments/achievements?

• Gambit Weekly’s 40-Under-40 for 2012

• Spotlight on Success Honoree 2012 - March of Dimes

• Award 2012 - Top Young Entrepreneurs To Watch in New Orleans

• Fast Company interview – 3 Ways To Become An Authoritative Leader, Even If You're Under 30

Forbes Interview – Why CSR? The Benefits of Corporate Social Responsibility Will Move You To Act

• Asked to be on the Public Board of Advisors for Tulane University’s Media Arts/Journalism

• 2011 Business of the Year - The International Association of Business Communicators - New Orleans

• YFS Magazine’s Top 20 Young Entrepreneurs of 2011

• Our crowning achievement: Along with the New Orleans Mission, we launched the “Make a Move” event in New Orleans on October 12, 2011 at the Morial Convention Center. The event was the largest public assistance event in the history of the city and aimed to help struggling and homeless individuals. Make a Move assisted 1,209 struggling individuals by providing the resources they needed to jump-start their lives and to allowing them to walk out of the convention center that day with a new sense of hope. More than 4,966 hours were volunteered with this event as 474 volunteered donated their time and talent along with 51 service providers from across the area.

What other jobs did you hold before your current position?

Intern - Moroch & Associates

Associate - The Gap

Intern – Trumpet

Copywriter / Content Developer – Trumpet

Why did you choose Southern Miss? It came down to LSU and Southern Miss for me… Purple and Gold or Black and Gold? Growing up a huge Saints fan, I knew the colors I bled. I also felt like college was a place where you needed to meet new people, and just about everyone from my high school class was going to LSU, so I chose USM.

My brother Scott Walker ('97) and sister Sherry Walker Langston ('00) also both graduated from Southern Miss, so I was up there quite a bit for various reasons growing up. I fell in love with the close-knit campus, which was just far enough away from New Orleans that I was on my own but also just close enough that I could go home whenever I wanted.

What was your favorite/most useful class while at USM?
Three way tie:
HPR 201 - Leisurely Skills Development – This class reminded me to have fun and enjoy life… that it's not always about work. I made a lot of great friends in that class.

MCJ Creative Advertising - This was the class where we got to stretch our creativity for the first time in our major. It was here where we individually developed radio, magazine, billboard, TV and other advertising outreach. Dr. Keith Johnson always had unique mock stories created to put us in real life situations. Every company Dr. Johnson gave us was odd, with him saying we should be able to market a company like Coke, it’s easy… but try marketing a business that sells dead flowers (When you care enough to send the very worst) or a company that turns deceased pets into freeze dried mementos. If you can market businesses like these then you can market anything.

MCJ Campaigns – As stressful as it was at times, I really enjoyed the capstone class. There were many, many long nights. But created some great memories and got a taste of what was to come after graduating.

Did you complete an internship/practicum while at Southern Miss? If so, tell us about your experience. I had two internships. Moroch & Associates in New Orleans was my first. There I was the Sony/Columbia Pictures representative for the young adult market. I worked to promote the debut of three films that summer in the New Orleans area. I also worked on regional McDonald's marketing.

Trumpet was my second. I graduated in May 2006 and worked at The Gap from June until March 2007. During this time I interned (unpaid) at Trumpet from October through March 2007. So basically I worked a full day from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Gap 7 a.m. - noon; internship 1 p.m. - 6p.m.) and was only paid for half of it. That March I was hired by the agency as a copywriter and learned, experienced and worked on campaigns for many wonderful clients, including creating a tagline (Fan Up) for the nationally recognized campaign for the New Orleans Hornets as they returned to the city full time for the first time since Hurricane Katrina.

Anything you would change about your college experience? I’d make the learning experience more interactive by bringing in professionals who are currently in the trenches to talk with students. There’s nothing like picking the brains of people who are in the daily grind and where you ultimately may want to end up. There is only so much you can learn in books or in the classroom. The sooner you can wrap your head around and implement real-world experience and advice the more successful you’ll be.

What advice do you have for students going into your field? GO. Just like a fighter pilot, with proper preparation, it’s better to make an incorrect decision and be moving than to make no decision at all. Also be humble, but most importantly do not doubt the words or recommendations coming out of your own mouth.

It’s good to be confident, but it’s also significant to have realistic expectations when you come out of school. You’re most likely not going to be the next Mark Zuckerburg and just because you have a degree that does not mean you will collect a big paycheck right out the gate. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t aim high or push yourself to be the best. Just be ready to earn your stripes. While the job market may be as tough, that doesn’t mean there isn’t opportunity. Keep learning, reading and preparing long after graduating. That’s the real test you don’t want to fail.

The best thing a young adult can do to get started is to get together with like-minded people and network. If you surround yourself with good, creative people who bring out the best in you everything else almost always takes care of itself. Good ideas will flow more readily and your team will find ways to make them work. Every good entrepreneur needs a solid idea, but collaboration, which is key in this day in age, will facilitate more creativity and improve ideas. Who knows, you may even find your next business partner.

Who are your role models? First and foremost, my mom and dad are where I get my strength and foundation. My brother and sister also are great role models. I am always seeking advice and guidance from all four of them. Lastly, my business partner Reid Stone, while only a year older than me, is another person I greatly admire. We feed off each other’s unique abilities, which makes for a great partnership.

Tell us about your family. My mom is one of 7 children and my dad is an only child. They've been married for 40 years this December and are incredible people. My mom, Judy, was a teacher for longer than they've been married, teaching students in both elementary and high school throughout her career. Funny enough, she was almost a nun before getting married. She decided she wanted a family and left the convent before taking any vows. She is now retired.

My dad, Bob, has been a prominent radio personality on various stations in New Orleans since the 1960s and is now retired. As an entrepreneur, he founded a multi-location music store (like Blockbuster Music) and also a popular wedding magazine, which he started in 1984 before selling a few years ago.

My brother, Scott, ('97), graduated in broadcast journalism and has been on TV since his junior year at USM. After spending time at stations in Hattiesburg, Jackson, Mobile and Orlando, he is currently an anchor for WDSU-TV in New Orleans. He married a fellow USM student, Jennifer Tregre ('97), and has two young boys, Jack and Beckett.

My sister, Sherry, ('00) graduated from the nursing program and is currently a nurse practitioner at Children's Hospital in New Orleans. She is married to a USM alumnus as well, Gavin Langston ('98) and also has two young boys, Gavin and Walker.

Any memories of your time at USM you’d like to share? Too many to name… Although, to give some bookends from my college career: Freshman year - Being honored as one of the Freshman of the Year for 2002-2003 and joining Phi Kappa Tau fraternity. Senior year - Being a part of the Katrina Senior class who had the fall semester thrown into chaos.

Other thoughts/comments/advice high points in your life to include? Reid Stone (Mississippi State alumnus '06 – still trying to forgive him for that) and I founded HERO|farm in early 2009 with a simple philosophy: Do great work for good people. We not only want to do great work, but also accomplishing good for the world while doing it.

We formed HERO|farm with a social mission not only to help us break away from the old way of doing things and stand out, but also because we wanted to make a difference. Working just for the sake of completing a task may finish the job, but does it provide any added value other than checking it off your to-do list? If not, what's the point? There will always be more work that needs to be done, and once it's done there's another assignment ready to take its place. Why not make it meaningful? Why not stand out? If you're not trying to change the world for the better or having some kind of positive impact on it, all you're doing is taking up space.