Lunch With D CEO: Jim Kirk

The events production guru talks Corporate Magic at Highland Park Soda Fountain.

When the jingle business died it croaked in a hurry, says Jim Kirk, who wrote thousands of them as a young man in the ’70s and ’80s. “One day Dallas was the jingle capital of America,” he recalls. “Then, overnight, radio jingles became”—he whispers loudly and very fast—“KISS FM.”

Kirk, who counts WFAA’s “Spirit of Texas” theme among his many creations, was already moving into producing meetings and events, anyway. So when the move to “less talk, more music” made jingles passé, Kirk already had another career.

These days, almost three decades later, the owner, founder, and CEO of Corporate Magic, a Dallas-based events production company, says he will find himself in, say, “Amsterdam or New York and it’s crazy the whole time. And then you’re off the plane in Dallas and it’s still frenetic.”

When he finally gets home to his place in rural Rockwall County, where he keeps a few horses, “you take a deep breath and maybe you hear a coyote,” Kirk says. “You’re away from the noise and hubbub, away where you can think. It’s like this place.”

This place is the Highland Park Soda Fountain on Knox Street, a throwback lunch counter with a high ceiling, bright lights, and a menu that doesn’t looked to have changed since the heyday of radio jingles.

Kirk, 65, says it’s his favorite lunch spot, maybe because it reminds him of a soda fountain he frequented as a kid growing up in Topeka, Kansas. 

Corporate Magic’s client list for meetings is studded with large-cap names like Berkshire Hathaway.

On Knox Street, his order on a recent afternoon was a half chicken-salad/half egg-salad sandwich on white toast. “That way you get a little bit of everything,” he says. He adds Lay’s potato chips, a chocolate malt, and a Diet Coke.

Corporate Magic’s client list for meetings, new product announcements, and other events is studded with large-cap names like Kraft, Berkshire Hathaway, IBM, Jaguar, and Land Rover. His company also does mega-events such as the welcoming ceremony for the 2012 Republican National Convention, the opening of AT&T Stadium in Arlington, and, this past fall, the 50th anniversary ceremonies for the Los Angeles Music Center and Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Kirk says he’s particularly proud to have been picked to do the latter because many of his competitors are based in Los Angeles.

His company has a full-time staff of 20, but employs more than 300 people with all sorts of creative skills on contract, Kirk says. He calls himself the company’s chief creative officer because he’s among a small group whose job it is to craft themes for the events.

“It’s a matter of how do you get people’s attention,” he says in his rapid-fire style. “It’s not just the production. It’s emotion. It’s intellect. How do you reach people and change their minds? That’s the fun part.”

Kirk says much of his business involves internal corporate communications—major company meetings in which executives hope to change some aspect of the culture.

“We’re told a lot, ‘We want to be more like Southwest Airlines,’’’ he says. “So we’re teaching people how to think differently.  We meet with companies and try to learn what’s really going on. … That’s the fun part for me, the strategizing and conceptualizing.”

As for trends in corporate meetings, he says, it’s all about interactivity. “When you’re a part of it, you’re hooked,” he says. “Nobody is going to fall asleep or go out and get a smoke.” 

Kirk is frequently tapped for regional events such as the Super Bowl, and he’s thought a lot about Dallas’ profile as a destination. The city has the hotels and “all the stuff that people want around them: bars, clubs, restaurants, the arts.” But what Dallas has always lacked, he adds, is “the big draw.”

“People want something magnetic, that makes them say, ‘Wow, I always wanted to go there.’ ” Kirk hopes to see the Trinity River turn into “a great body of water that we put some restaurants around, places where people can go. When we do that we’ll be golden.”  

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