Justin McClure counts himself pretty lucky.
As a graphic design student at Fort Hays State University, the El Dorado native was able to tap into the relationship his school had with the Leo Burnett advertising agency in Chicago and turn that into his first job.
“I was lucky enough to be a recipient of one of their (Leo Burnett’s) scholarships,” McClure, 34, said. “I actually had a job before I walked across the stage.”
That job as art director for Leo Burnett was the start of a graphic design career that would later send McClure to Kansas City, where he helped develop and implement an in-house motion graphics department at Barkley Advertising, and on to Nashville, where he worked as lead designer and animator for CMT, the country music television network.
As he moved to each new job and new city, McClure said he was developing the skills and confidence to return to Kansas in 2008 with his wife, Shelly, and their four children, to start his own business, Justin McClure Creative.
The agency, at 575 W. Douglas, employs six people. It specializes in digital and new media and also offers branding and identity and interactive and mobile design.
McClure said his experiences at Burnett, Barkley and CMT were key to his business success. He said graphic design students who plan to work on their own right after graduating are in for a rude surprise, and that working for someone else the first few years out of college will give them the experience and the confidence that they will need to succeed.
“Once you’re decorated I think you can go out and experience those things,” McClure said. “I would recommend to anybody … learn about what you are going to step into. I wouldn’t be here had I not experienced the 10 years (of working for someone else),” McClure said.
Last month, McClure was named the 2012 Rising Entrepreneur of the Year by the Mid-America Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame at Butler Community College.
What did the experience of working for Leo Burnett, one of the world’s largest ad agencies, teach you?
I learned how the real world works. It was a big step into reality with timelines and budget constraints. And I think most of all I learned the creative process, who does what. There’s a system in place. As a kid coming out of college, there’s a rude awakening of how this actually works. I think the other thing was the experience to work with national clients, knowing I could work with clients at that level.
How did you know the time was right to start your own business?
When I left CMT in 2008, I knew I was ready to go out on my own. I freelanced probably five years before I actually walked away from it (CMT). I actually had more work at home than I did at work. It got to be where we’ve finally proven I can go out on my own, so it was a pretty easy decision.
Do you like country music?
I love country music.
How did you get interested in television graphics?
I fell in love with after-effects … I picked it up in college. They started showing us how it works. As a kid I would borrow my parents’ VHS recorder and do movies. I would think, “It’s too bad we can’t add credits.” When I learned this in college, I said, “This is it. This is the missing part of what I didn’t have as a kid.”
What’s the hardest part of owning a business and why?
I think the multiple hats you have to wear at any given time. You go from creative directing to being an accountant to being an HR department. I think it’s the most difficult thing for any small-business person, to play all those roles.
Likewise, what is the best part and why?
I think the best part is the experiences I’ve been able to experience, the people that I’ve met. There are things you experience as a business owner you just wouldn’t get otherwise. I just can’t get over the connections that I’ve made, the people that I’ve met.
You’ve started to put some emphasis on donating your services to local nonprofits such as Numana, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Habitat for Humanity. Why?
I think we’re really gearing up and working toward trying to make a difference in Wichita. We work with a lot of national clients and we don’t get to see the effects of what we do. What we’re able to see when we work with the smaller groups and start with nothing and then create a vision for them … there’s something amazing that happens in that process. We love watching that unfold and seeing that. It helps them and it helps the community. We’re really interested in promoting and getting behind people who are changing the community.