Advertising agency president. Commercial television director. Book writer, editor and publisher. National awards founder. National awards recipient. Network comedy writer. Local documentary storyteller. And yes, a few other hats along the way. With all that he’s accomplished across his career and is continuing to produce at the age of 75, you just might be inclined to call this Sanibel creative dynamo “Dave of all trades.”
By John Sprecher
It all began with a typewriter, a gift from his mother when he was all of 15 years old.With that typewriter, and the story he produced that was honored in a national competition sponsored by Boys’ Life magazine, the path that young David Carter’s life would take was suddenly very clear to him. “My fate was cast,” he says. “There was no doubt I was going to be a writer.”
Well, yes and no. Because while David Carter has clearly enjoyed the life of a creative for 60 years now, his path has taken many interesting twists and turns — and telling his story is more like telling five or six fascinating stories.
If the name David Carter sounds familiar to many in Southwest Florida, it’s for the creative work he’s done since moving to Sanibel Island in 2005. Carter is founder of Sanibel-Captiva TV, as well as writer, director and producer of a documentary series on the island (sponsored by a local real estate company Pfeifer Realty Group)— telling the unique history of Sanibel from the perspective of its people in titles like Growing Up on Sanibel, Seven Sanibel Artists, Sanibel Before the Causeway, Postcards and Photos from Sanibel and a fifth title (a sequel to Postcards and Photos) to have its world premier in January, 2018.
But documentarian is only the latest iteration of David Carter’s creative career, and to trace his path to Sanibel today is a journey that begins decades ago in Kentucky where, following graduation from the University of Kentucky in 1965 with a major in advertising, he earned a Master’s Degree from Ohio University in journalism — all the while working for ad clients on the weekends and earning national awards for his efforts.
Soon, Carter would go on to found his own advertising agency — but not before, in 1972, he noticed that besides a few annual publications of the “best of” advertising, there were no annual directories that collected and presented what were then state of the art elements of the ad industry: logos. So, at the age of 29, he took it upon himself to collect roughly 1,000 outstanding logos, assemble a book and attempt to sell it to publishers. “I sent it to 17 companies and got 17 rejections,” he recalls. “Instead, I presold 300 copies of it to and made enough money to publish it myself.”
That venture would lead David Carter down the path to publishing showcase annuals of advertising ancillaries such as creativity, graphic design, logo design, typography, business cards and much more. “Inspiration is often found in researching the work of others, and these — like other annuals — were the idea starters creative people turned to,” he explains. “Remember, there was no internet back then.”
While David Carter has clearly enjoyed the life of a creative for 60 years now, his path has taken many interesting twists and turns — and telling his story is more like telling five or six fascinating stories.
Eventually, Carter’s publishing efforts were so impressive that HarperCollins called and commissioned him to produce six or seven titles per year — roughly 10 percent of their design division’s annual production, representing 30 percent of their revenue. In all, over 35 years, David Carter has written, edited and published 114 books on advertising.
Take a breath. Because this creative dynamo is just getting started.
After founding his own advertising agency in 1977, Carter was drawn to commercial television and was so successful that five years later, he created his own production company. By 1990, he would produce 700 television commercials that earned him 10 coveted Clio awards. Yet with apparent endless energy, he also ventured at the same time into long-format film documentaries — creating a number of titles on baseball and winning (over the course of his filmmaking career that continues today) seven Emmy awards, with honors that include his short film Dear Baseball: I Love You shown at the Baseball Hall of Fame Film Festival in 2010, and Ashland’s Field of Dreams again in 2016.
But wait (as the infomercial spokesperson says), there’s more.
In 1981, Carter created the Telly Awards to honor outstanding television advertising that wasn’t necessarily big budget, and was more of a local and regional level. Some two decades later, when he sold the company, it was generating more than 14,000 entries per year (this writer has won a few in his career for the record).
Yet among all his accomplishments and accolades, the story that really puts a smile on David Carter’s face includes the name: Johnny Carson. In the late 1980s, a writers strike essentially put the television industry on hold. Carson, in an effort to protect the jobs of the dozens of others who worked on his show, returned with material he had written. One fateful Friday night, while David Carter watched, Carson’s skit bombed — and, as he recalls, “Johnny challenged anybody out there who could do better to submit a tape.” Carter had an idea, worked over the weekend with editing partner Richard Friley and come Monday, they overnighted the video to California.
Two days later, the phone rang — and representatives of The Tonight Show informed Carter and Friley that their piece was airing the following night. Thus began a four-year run in which the comedic talents of David Carter and company aired 13 times on Johnny Carson’s classic — including six minutes of the 1990 Tonight Show Anniversary Special.
Writer. Director. Editor. Producer. Publisher. Comedian. The list goes on, as does this “Dave of all trades” who — now 75 years young — continues to create, as he and his wife split time between Sanibel and Hendersonville, North Carolina. “I’m immersed with ideas every time I walk outside the door,” he says. “My mind, there’s no off switch. I’m a storyteller, whether it’s commercials or comedy or a documentary. To tell a story and tell it well is more fun to me than just about anything. Whatever I’m doing, I want to do the best I can and do it better than the day before.”