Tell us a bit about yourself & your career trajectory over the past decade.
My dad is an accountant / numbers guy who is very entrepreneurial and my mom is an adult educator and artist who studied therapeutic art as a hippie in college, so it follows that I’ve always been a left-brain/right-brain hybrid who has searched for the balance of both for my entire professional career. My parents also tease me that I wanted my first job to be “CEO,” when I was 11. That may not be an exaggeration.
Ten years ago, I was a post-Columbia MBA consultant at Bain & Company, a gig considered to be a jumping-off point for general management. The exposure and opportunity I received was incredible, but I missed working with creative people (I’d worked at an agency pre-MBA) and considering intangible - and even irrational - human behaviors as a critical variable when building a solution for a client. I applied cold to a strategy role at Ogilvy, admittedly without truly understanding what it was, and ended up spending the next seven years at the agency. After about three years and a few promotions as a strategist focused on IBM, I was asked to lead a five-person digital / social / mobile strategy team that worked across all of Oglivy’s New York office accounts. This was in 2014, and was around the time that “mobile-first” and paid social was really taking off. As the agency, and the broader industry, evolved, our various strategy teams merged. In 2017, I became the head of our 45-person Customer Engagement Strategy Team, across Ogilvy USA. In addition to spearheading team management and IP, I helped the broader agency think about how “brand and demand” work together synergistically – and reframed how we went to market.
In late 2018, as the consulting and agency worlds continued to circle each other (with consultancies buying agencies to extend their runway with clients, and agencies building in-house consultancies to get in the door earlier), I took advantage of my unique background in both and joined Prophet, a digitally-oriented brand consultancy, as a Partner. It was a great experience with absolutely fantastic people but, for reasons I’m happy to elaborate on over a glass of wine, I don’t think consultancies and agencies are ready to provide a unified solution to CMOs quite yet. And I realized that my ideal version of merging my worlds is to run the business side of an agency. The business of art, and the art of business.
Then, as fate would have it, late last year, I met the incredible Cathy Butler (CEO of Organic, a sister agency to RAPP) at a salon dinner for Chief, the women’s executive club, and, through her, I unexpectedly came across the opportunity to lead RAPP’s 75-person New York office, as MD. Fueled by incredible support by my friends at Prophet, who know how I’ve always wanted to run a business, I took the leap. I’m about three months in, now, and loving it!
What would you say was the biggest change in your role over the last few years?
Shifting from providing the solution to managing the solution to leading the overall team, vision and operating model. Significantly broadening the aperture and balancing an attempt to fit all the moving puzzle pieces together perfectly with the need to move quickly and decisively so as not to lose momentum. Learning when to make a call and when to step back and let the team solve their own challenges. Realizing the increased impact of my words and body language and adjusting accordingly.
How would you briefly summarize the ad industry in the 2010s?
I think it began with social media becoming a phenomenon and, through a series of incremental changes, became about precision marketing with privacy at the center. Social began with influencers through PR partners, with the objective of building likes and followers for organic posts. When Facebook changed its algorithm so that organic post views from brands essentially went to zero, paid social and hyper-precise targeting took over. But it was challenging to target audiences in the same way, however precise, across social and display channels – especially in a cost-effective manner – so third-party data collection and rationalization, and creating a single view of a customer, became the obsession. Until the Cambridge Analytica incident and the 2016 election. Then came the rise of privacy and the fall of cookies – but, since brands now see the impact of good precision marketing, they turned their focus to building their 1st party data and owning their own relationship with their customers.
All that said, this is very exciting time for us, at RAPP, as a precision marketing agency with a tried and true practice of privacy by design – creating meaningful value exchanges for our clients, so that their customers choose to share more of their information in increasingly intimate relationships over time.
What advertising trends were most influential over the past decade? How did they impact your work?
Piggybacking off of my last response, I would definitely say it has been the rise of precision marketing. For me, as a left-brain / right-brain hybrid, the focus on data-driven creative, that moves humans to take action, is incredibly exciting and has allowed my work to shine.
Did you have favorites that didn’t have as much of an impact as you had hoped? Is there a trend you’re happy didn’t last?
I’m pretty glad that the hologram trend didn’t last too long…
What’s your favorite campaign or brand activation from the decade?
Always #LikeAGirl. Sure, it was 2015 and success was measured on views and tweets and survey-based cultural change metrics – which is quite different from the craft I live and breathe every day – but the message hit on a raw, universal truth that I believe has become even more relevant over time (hello, #metoo and #timesup) and that still just gets me, to this day.
Today, there is one girl in my seven-year old son’s “co-ed” basketball class – and nine boys. We’re new to the area and I don’t know these kids. But this little girl is absolutely fearless. Her confidence and strength (and basketball talent) are beautiful. I watch the kids practice, and think: have we evolved enough as a society, to help prevent her confidence from plummeting when she hits puberty? To have these boys continue to respect her as a peer and a leader, the way they do, today, when they pass the ball to her? What about when my strong and independent three-year old daughter hits that stage? What is the best way to help her continue to see herself as proudly as she does today?
What moment/event/movement do you think shook the ad industry the most since 2010? What did you learn from it?
Cambridge Analytica / Facebook – the revelation that our personal data can be used to manipulate us, and that every individual lives in their own reality, surrounded by information that they want to see. This has led people to be more conscious of who they give their data to and how their data is used, and to hold companies to a higher ethical standard of transparency and clarity. As a result, brands have scrambled to balance precision marketing with the notion that “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” Now we see clients increasingly asking for engagement and experience programs that are both relevant and fully “opt in,” so that they can be both effective and proud of their work.
As we enter the new decade, what is your prediction for the industry and for brand communications?
The blending of above-the-line and below-the-line (a terrible delineation anyway, pun intended); of brand and demand, of channels and their roles. There isn’t a “digital brief” anymore, no mandating that an idea needs to live in a particular channel or that a series of channels need to exist in a campaign to check boxes. We’ll continue to think about the desired experience and outcome first, then build a creative solution from our broader “toolbox.” People will understand that data doesn’t kill creativity and digital doesn’t render humans irrelevant. It all lives together. This is a very good thing!