Tim Cox is the Director of Creative Strategy for Publix Super Markets where he leads the in-house creative team on brand expression.
Upon moving from Flint, Michigan to Lakeland, Florida, Tim started his career with Publix in 1980 when the chain had less than 300 stores and operated only in the state of Florida; in 1989 he was given the opportunity to launch and lead a small (five associates) in-house creative team. Today Publix has more than 1,145 stores operating in seven Southeastern states and Creative Services has grown to nearly 80 associates.
Where do you work and what does your company do?
Publix Super Markets. We sell groceries and provide great customer service.
What types of services does your team specialize in?
We’re responsible for content strategy and brand expression which takes shape in many forms, including: print, digital, video, broadcast, package design, and retail environments.
How many people make up your team?
Approximately 80 associates.
Your title/role within the company:
Director of Creative Strategy. I lead our creative team.
What was your very first job in this field?
I started at Publix as a screen printer in our sign shop. Which led to doing hand lettering, sign painting, and layout work for the stuff we printed. Which led to being a graphic designer. Which led to starting our in-house team. (I didn’t know what I was doing.)
Share a best-practice leadership experience:
Early in my career I tended to get intimidated. Somehow I thought that the boss was supposed to know the most about everything they were responsible for and be the best at doing all of it. And now I was the boss. When interviewing candidates, in an effort to grow our team, I encountered an individual who clearly knew way more than me. The experience challenged me and, honestly, made me somewhat uncomfortable. I hired her. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. It taught me that hiring people who are better than me makes me and our team stronger.
What are you working on now that you’re excited about?
We are working on some really cool brand stuff right now that I’m super stoked about… but I can’t talk about it.
If you could share one piece of advice for an up-and-coming creative leader what would it be?
It’s critical to maintain balance. Most creative leaders in organizations routinely encounter two opposing, and often conflicting, pressures or demands: 1) Creative (the desire/need for inspiration, freedom, exploration, more time, etc.) 2) Organization (rules, budgets, deadlines, structure, HR stuff, admin, reports, meetings, planning, etc.) And, of course, the two are typically coming from two distinctly different areas: creative pressure is coming from your creative team; organizational pressure is naturally coming from other areas of your organization. The reality is, both are necessary and important; to be successful you have to live in both worlds. In my experience, I seldom achieve balance by walking a tightrope between the two, I tend to be more like a pendulum, swaying back and forth between the two worlds. But if I get stuck in one side for too long, something gets neglected. There will be trouble.
What inspires you?
My wife. My daughters. My faith. The people I work with. My friends. Great brands. Sid Mashburn. Great coffee.
What is the first thing you do each day to organize yourself?
Drink coffee and make a list.
Have you noticed any changes or trends for in-house creatives in the past year?
The need to connect earlier and often while being open and transparent is becoming more and more critical. Someone shared this comment with me and I’ve embraced it: we’ve got to move from the caboose to the engine.
What has been your greatest challenge as a creative leader?
Cultivating and maintaining a creative culture in a corporate environment.
Describe the career path you have taken and where you see yourself next.
Early in my career I didn’t necessarily have the vision for where I am today. But I realized I was working for a great company whose values matched mine so I just worked hard and prepared for opportunity… without knowing exactly what opportunity would come. Opportunity has come, time and time again. Now I’m just preparing for the next opportunity.
Add in anything relevant to the in-house community that we may have missed?
We live in a world of uncertainty. The pace of change will never again be as slow as it is today. We should embrace uncertainty with confidence. Uncertainty is fertile ground for creative thinking and innovation.