James, President & Creative Director
Born the last son of radical preacher man Dr. Dale Heaton outside of Chicago, James Heaton grew up on the Space Coast of Florida. He left the U.S. at 19 for an 8-year odyssey in Asia, where, among other things, he traversed Tibet culminating in a near-death experience in the north (the whole story here), became a Theravadan Buddhist monk in Thailand, studied under the master calligrapher Santo Murakami 村上三島 (1912-2005) in Japan, gained fluency in Japanese and proficiency in Chinese, and earned degrees in fine art and East Asian History from Eckerd College, as well as in Art History at Kyoto University Graduate School of Letters.
His first paying job was as a photographer and writer for Rasen-sha, the boutique Kyoto-based advertising agency run by the avant-garde thinker Takeda Yoshifumi. He contributed photographs and essays in Japanese to projects published in Esquire Japan, Seven Seas Magazine, 03 Tokyo Calling, and the Kyoto Journal, where he was a contributing editor for many years.
Visiting friends in New York in 1991, he finally found his true home. In New York, he entered the studio of the artists, architects, and philosophers Arakawa and Madeline Gins, where he worked on Helen Keller or Arakawa (Burning Books, 1994), Ubiquitous Site – Nagi’s Ryoanji at the Nagi Museum of Contemporary Art, Site of Reversible Destiny – Yoro Park, Gifu, Japan, and the Guggenheim Museum retrospective exhibition.
In 1996, he founded and published the art magazine The Exhibitionist, which was distributed nationally, but had to be shut down after a year because too much effort had gone into the product and not enough into marketing. This failure of marketing vision resulted in James shifting his career to marketing, where he has remained ever since. From 1998 to 2006, the company acted as a brand design subcontractor to New York advertising agencies, doing work for Digitas, Euro, Saatchi & Saatchi, and many others. At the end of 2006, he took on a partner and brought the company direct to client as a boutique branding agency.
James Heaton and Tronvig Group
The financial crisis in 2008 blew up the partnership and forced a reassessment of what is important. Tronvig Group emerged from this as a mission-driven business, keenly aware that we are only on earth for a short while so what we do needs to matter. The desire for meaningful work has led the company into increasingly fundamental strategic work. This is the work that must be done for a brand to be more than an espousal or a pretty face. Tronvig Group strongly asserts that organizational brands must be tied to organizational strategy and must be rooted in the most deeply held convictions of an organization: its core values. A brand must effectively resonate with the customer it seeks to serve but also equally with all the stakeholders inside the organization because it is their responsibility to deliver on promises made. The brand, therefore, must operate 360 with equal emphasis and effectiveness internally and externally.
Tronvig Group has now worked for clients ranging from 10 to 10,000 employees in a wide variety of nonprofit and for-profit categories. No two client situations are alike, but we have developed a set of strategic diagnostic tools that enable us to deliver value in an array of client situations. We have also built a pool of creative talent that can fully execute on our strategic findings.
Calm and focused, yet passionate about learning, James leads Tronvig Group with a combination of roving curiosity, bracing honesty, sharp-minded analysis, and an infectious desire to continually improve. As president, lead strategist, and creative director, it is his job to make sure everyone in the company is devoted to “finding creative ways to help our clients make the world better.”
James regularly conducts intensive workshops helping organizations evolve to meet the demands of growth, or a changing marketplace. In this work, he uses an array of brand strategy, marketing strategy, and organizational alignment tools and practices that he has developed with his team over the past 20 years.
Strategy Workshops are available on request for museums, arts organizations, libraries, nonprofits, and mission-driven enterprises anywhere in the world.
Watch a short excerpt from a workshop in which James engages with the staff of the Tenement Museum in New York City to answer the question, “What is a brand?”