According to social media, one must-watch series while people continue to quarantine is Netflix’s Tiger King. The cast of characters seems to be consuming America with its “Can you believe this?” quality to it. This is the shining moment for this series but, it wasn’t so long ago that the world couldn’t get enough of the head-shaking crew of Fyre Festival, the doomed luxury Bahamas music “experience” that descended into farce.
One of the more popular people featured in Fyre Fraud, the Hulu documentary that launched one week before Netflix’s own show covering the topic, was designer Oren Aks. He served as creative director and social media lead for the festival’s accounts at Jerry Media. Aks was forthcoming in documenting the absurdity of the endeavor and to this day, remains staunchly proud of the design work for the doomed event.
In perhaps an “Act Two,” “Three” or “Four,” Aks has landed at small independent San Diego social and engagement shop Modifly as executive creative director. The agency works with a range of clients, including larger brands like Nordstrom, more regional companies like the Southern California Mercedes dealer group and tech concerns like Fancy.com.
Aks, a Los Angeles native, isn’t joining Modifly to, as he said, “reinvent the role” but instead, to bring some new thinking as the agency finds itself in the challenging position of being poised for growth while navigating the current landscape like all companies in advertising.
“We’re at an interesting crossroads,” said 22-year-old Modifly founder Elijah Schneider, noting that for the time being, the agency isn’t in a position where it needs to cut staff, furlough employees or mandate pay cuts. “Some of our biggest clients took a pause to fix some back-end issues. And we’ve had a few new clients come in because they know that there is a captive audience with people working from home.”
The union of Aks and Schneider was actually an exercise in serendipity. Aks was the main speaker at a May 2019 interactive conference in San Diego and ran into Schneider and his dad in the breakfast line.
“I didn’t know anybody there,” said Aks. “So I’m in line, and this guy in front of me is making jokes about bagels. I don’t remember what the jokes were, but he was one of those legend dads. Then, 20 minutes later, at a closed session, I’m sitting next to [Schneider’s dad], the bagel-joking guy.”
“We had no idea who Oren is or what he did,” said Schneider. “It was completely random and great how it happened organically.”
Throughout the day, Aks and the Schneiders found some common ground, including dabbling in the cannabis industry (Aks has an upcoming line of gummies called Nice Day). Eventually, the conversation turned to Modifly, which Schneider founded about three years ago.
To both Aks and Schnieder, the goal in the ecd role at the agency is to impact the output by coaching up the existing team (there are 14 people on staff full time and freelancers on a when-needed basis).
“I wanted to develop a good base and guide the team to think differently than what they’ve been used to,” said Aks. “I want to turn their minds on. I’ve worked in print, built apps, interiors, editorial and social. So I look at things from a different angle and apply some of these elements while still having it all make sense.”
“It’s really about elevating the work,” said Schneider. “Having his insight and experience is incredibly helpful. He has more experience and understanding than anyone I’ve met when it comes to creative direction.”
It’s also helpful to have Aks’s expertise in other areas, based on his time working on Fyre Festival.
“The thing I look at is, ‘Who’s got the money?’ and ‘Where is it coming from?’” he said. “When you have people with crazy ideas, you have to ask the really hard questions. I used to be scared of asking, now I’m more scared of what happens when you don’t ask the uncomfortable questions.”