Home » Up Close and Personal: Getting to Know Cabell Harris, Creative Director and Founder of WORK Labs and WORK and Friends in Richmond

Up Close and Personal: Getting to Know Cabell Harris, Creative Director and Founder of WORK Labs and WORK and Friends in Richmond

by | Sep 14, 2018

Capitol Communicator is running “Up Close and Personal” profiles of communicators in the mid-Atlantic.  In this profile we feature Cabell Harris.  Photography for the series is by Cade Martinwardrobe styling by Pascale Lemaire and Sybil Street for THE Artist Agency; and hair and makeup by Patti D Nelson, Janice Kinigopoulos and Lori Pressman for THE Artist Agency.

Cabell, please tell us a bit about yourself.

My career began in Richmond after graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University. Fortunately, I was at the right place at the right time. Richmond was getting national attention as being one of the few creative hot spots outside New York. From there, I continued building my portfolio and reputation by working for well-respected companies in Boston, New York and Los Angeles.

In 1993, I founded WORK Inc., an agency for agencies, in Los Angeles. In filling this unique niche, few individuals have worked for more agencies or brands. Along with running WORK, I created books, built APPs, taken my own brands and products to market, and taught at the VCU Brandcenter, the number-one ad school in the country, for over 10 years.

Today, Work has evolved from WORK Inc to WORK Labs, the studio, to WORK and Friends, a more collaborative agency. WORK has always had the advantage of being small, only hiring the best of the best for the services needed at the time, costing clients far less for far superior results. It seemed only natural to go ahead and embrace and celebrate this philosophy, highlighting the talent of the many individuals who help bring my concepts to fruition, better serving the relationships I’ve built over the years with other creatives and clients alike.

I have had the good fortune of having been recognized multiple times in every major industry award show including Cannes, the Clios, the One Show, New York Addys, Art Directors Club, Graphis, Effie, Athena, Andy, British Design & Art Direction, and Communication Arts, and received over 10 Best of Shows for the local Richmond Addy’s, as well as the honor to be declared one of the top creatives in the country in various publications.

Ya know, there’s a lot of things I’m admittedly not very good at, but I think I’m good at branding. But don’t take my word for it. Andy Spade, CEO of Kate Spade once said, “Cabell has one of those minds that combines a military strategist with a sense of humor, A.D.D. child with business acumen, and a mad professor with taste and a sense of composition. He’s a wonderful, bright creative solver with more going on in his own head than most of the entire advertising industry today.”

Are you involved in any organizations professional or non-profits?

Through the years I have worked with many non-profits including, the Richmond Ballet, the Children’s Museum, SCAN, Mission Gait and the VMFA. I feel a responsibility to the community, the industry, and to friends to help where we can. As a rule, any true creative shop aims to work for either the creative reward or the financial. In an ideal situation, they would get both, but it has to be at least one. For a non-profit, if there is a chance for a rewarding creative opportunity, then it is worth getting involved even without the financial opportunity.

What are the things you are most proud of?

Personally, it’s my wife and two children. I’m proud of Richmond, the city I live in, and how progressive it is becoming. Professionally, I’m proud to have been able to run my own business for 25 years and that we have maintained a standard of work that is both highly creative and strategic.

Who are your personal role models?

By far, my father, who had more integrity than anyone I have ever met. And I believe that is the most important element in any business. As for the industry, a few of my role models were individuals I’d never met. The first being Bill Bernbach for his philosophy and common sense that he brought to the advertising industry. The other would be Herb Luballan for his typography. There are a hundred others that I found just through repeatedly going through awards annuals like the One Show, Art Directors Annual, D&ND, Communication Arts & Design Magazines.

Throughout my career, I have been surrounded by huge influencers such as Harry Jacobs of The Martin Agency, Danny Boone, Tom McElligott and several other creative craftsmen.

Did these role models offer professional advice that helped you in your career?

My early role models were focused in print. There’s no hiding in print. All you get is a white piece of paper, a headline and a visual. How do you create something that’s never been done before? Those individuals taught me to not just design, but to concept. They taught me to focus on whether my ads were truly communicating. In turn, I fell in love with the strategy as much as the art.

One of my biggest lessons was when I was trying to show off what a good art director I was, and Harry Jacobs was looking over my shoulder and asked, “What the hell are you doing?” I was using upper caps and lower caps typography, doing a little of this, a little of that, blah blah, blah, and he said, “That has nothing to do with the concept.” At that moment, I realized the ad needed to feel like it came from the client, not from me.

What professional advice do you have for others?

Absorb as much good work as you can. Study any and all of the great campaigns from the past. Always start with addressing the business problem before the creative. Ask yourself:

-Who are you talking to?
-What are you trying to say?
-Why is it important?

Get a journal. Putting all thinking, concepting, and stimuli together helps you retain that information. In the long run, nothing will come out of your head that you didn’t already put in there.

And practice. Practice. Practice.

What’s on your Spotify and Pandora playlists?

Bob Marley – there’s something wonderful about how reggae can be inspirational and upbeat, and soothing and relaxing all at the same time. Allman Brothers, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, and Jason Isbel. I’m a sucker for anything by Sade!

Truth be told though, my wife and kids control the dial at home, and my employees control it at work.

What’s your favorite restaurant?

There’s so many.

Bootleggers in Lynchburg. I have to say this because we had a hand in this one and could not have been more proud and delighted to work with them!

In my hometown, Richmond, there are many fantastic restaurants to choose from. Rowlands is my go-to when I want good food and a quiet, comfortable space to work alone. They are always so accommodating and never mind me spreading all my books out over the table to work. For delicious Italian food in a casual environment, there’s Edo’s Squid. And for fine dining, Brenner’s Pass. Helen’s, Acacia, and East Coast Provisions are my staple dining and meet-up spots. Oh yeah, and Joe’s Inn for breakfast.

When traveling, there’s da Umberto in New York, and  Ivy at the Shore in California.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?

I’m incredibly handsome.

In all seriousness, I want to create work I love with people I like, in a place I want to be. That’s why at this stage of my career, I have evolved WORK Labs into WORK & Friends. We want to focus on passion projects and collaborations. I believe clients can be friends too. I believe the best work comes from collaboration. If you would like to be a friend, look me up!

Speaking of wonderful collaborations and friends, I want to give a shout out to the brilliant photographer Cade Martin, who did my portrait for this article. Unfortunately, he didn’t have much to work with.


(Stay current with items of interest to communicators at Capitol Communicator, www.capitolcommunicator.com.)

About the Author

Capitol Communicator

Capitol Communicator is a unique online and offline resource for Mid-Atlantic advertising, marketing, public relations, digital and media communications professionals. The e-magazine, e-newsletters and events bring together communications professionals, fostering community and providing important information; news; trends; education; and opportunities for networking, career enhancement, business exchange and showcasing great work. Visit www.capitolcommunicator.com to learn more.


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