Spartans helping Spartans: Craig Murray and MOCEAN pave the way for MSU creatives

“I mean, how could I not? My career was made because of my Spartan connections and Spartan relationships.”

MSU advertising alumnus Craig Murray is the CEO and founder of MOCEAN –  a three-time “Entertainment Agency of the Year” honoree based in Los Angeles. From the company's inception as Craig Murray Productions in 1986 to an exclusive film marketing agreement with Disney to putting together record-setting creative advertising campaigns for movies like “The Little Mermaid,” “Toy Story” and “Avengers: Endgame,” Murray has enjoyed his fair share of career-defining moments.

But something that becomes abundantly clear when talking to Murray is his love for Michigan State and Spartans in the creative industry. Murray recalls one summer day in the late 1980s when he was touring the then-new ComArtSci building with his wife. 

“We were walking around the basement level, and all of a sudden, we see this student at an editing bay cutting stuff up,” Murray said. “We go over, and he shows us a pro bono video ad he created for bike safety.”

“Who shot that?” Murray asked. “I did,” the student replied.
“Who did the graphics?” Murray asked. “I did,” the student replied.
“Who did the music?” Murray asked.   “I did,” the student replied.

“I told the dean at the time who was taking us on the tour that I would do an internship program with my company if that student could be the first intern,” Murray said. 

That student turned out to be Greg Harrison, the current co-chief creative officer for MOCEAN.

Fast forward to the 2010s when 2021 ComArtSci Alumni Board Rising Star Michael Smiy was completing his advertising degree and planning his next steps after graduation. Smiy recalls how he was hustling and emailing dozens of Spartan alumni trying to find an opportunity somewhere. He finally heard from someone in his network that he should reach out to Murray and MOCEAN.

“He was the nicest and coolest guy, and he told me to keep in touch,” Smiy said. “So, when I went out to get my Master’s at USC and eventually graduated, I was like, wait, what am I going to do now?” 

Sure enough, Murray stayed in touch and told Smiy that he was a fan of his work and invited him to intern at MOCEAN. Smiy officially started working there in 2014 as a junior designer making movie posters. 

“Eventually, I moved over to the broadcast video side of things and started working with Greg Harrison, and under his mentorship and Craig’s guidance, my career really grew,” Smiy said.

Most recently, MOCEAN launched a remote internship program in 2020 for ComArtSci students. The focus was on developing students holistically, with real-world exposure to entertainment marketing. Randi Martinez, a career consultant for ComArtSci, helped serve as a liaison between students at the college and the HR team at MOCEAN.

“Programs like MOCEAN's that strive to expose students to a wide variety of areas within an organization are valuable because many students are unsure exactly how they want to apply their skills in the future," Martinez said. "After completing an internship, students have not only gained practical skills in their field but also connections and an understanding of what their next steps in their career development might be.”

When talking with Murray about where this mentality of helping out fellow Spartans comes from, he cites his own experience with one person in particular. Larry Pontius was not only a creative director with many top advertising agencies in the '70s but was also an instructor and mentor for Murray during his time at MSU.

“He absolutely changed my life because I not only became a fan of what he did, but he got me excited about a career,” Murray said.

Pontius was hired as the director of marketing for Disney World in 1974. The first thing he did was hire two other Spartans, and then he gave Murray a call in March of his senior year at MSU.

“He said I have an opening for you, and I would like to hire you as a copywriter for the marketing team at Disney World,” Murray said. “The way Larry gave back. That was the model for sure.”

By Joe Strother