Not another mediation on how brands need to change. I swear.
Fifteen years ago, I was a mid-level art director working in the digital arm of a global agency creating campaigns for a global cosmetic brand. Another creative director was working on their print campaigns in the traditional advertising group. Our campaign messaging and look/feel were totally different. I was working on “5 Steps to Pucker Power” and he was not. The frustration of this silo’d approach solidified what I wanted to do with my career: brand experience. I wanted to care for a customers’ entire brand experience, not just part of it.
I’d honed an omnichannel methodology over the years and opened my first agency, 321 Worldwide. I had this cute storefront on 3rd street–across from The Hell’s Angels. After a few years, it all came crashing down in August of 2008, six weeks before Lehman Brothers would file for bankruptcy. “You’ll be out of business in ten months if you don’t let them go,” my CFO said pointing to a screen of projections and ledgers. Those words from my CFO were playing on repeat in my head as I had “the talk,”one by one, with most of my staff. Great men and women I hired as entry level designers and writers helped me build the business. New graduates from School of Visual Arts, Yale, and Pratt, that could have gone to Pentagram or Razorfish, chose to work with me and my young company. If it weren’t for them, there wouldn’t have been a 321. No Emmy’s, no Webby’s, no nothing.
By late August 2008, Bear Stearns collapsed, and Fannie and Freddie Mac were demanding bailout. Ira Glass’s Peabody award-winning radio show, Giant Pool of Money, that coursed through the actions that caused the collapse was the extent of my summer playlist as I tried to understand what happened, what was happening.
The world was paralyzed. I was paralyzed. I’d had spells of certainty, though, that propelled me to have a seat at the table pitching Fortune 50 brands alongside global agencies like Interbrand and McCann; to write a book on branding and get a real legit agent to represent me; to arrive on the speaking circuit at SXSW, Internet Week, at Soho House–helping brands big and small tell their story. When social emerged during this time, the annexation of the practice totally confused me. Social was handled like this island near Papua New Guinea–some far-off place. We’d answer multiple RFP’s from the same brand for a single initiative. One for social, brand, website design, and advertising. Conforming to the industry, we silo’d. We became a social agency to some and a digital agency to others, depending on what clients’ needed. In 2013, a larger agency courted me to sell. I said yes. I was fortunate to have moved on to creative leadership positions at esteemed brands like Marriott and IBM, but not taking that chance on myself to do more to break down silos and make sense of brand experience took years to forgive.
In January 2020, with the support of a few great clients, I christened my second agency, Far From Timid. The agency would marry brand and performance marketing, helping to collaborate between silos, one brand at a time. Two months in, COVID happened. I knew what was coming. A cultural wave of uncertainty, paralysis, and layoffs. This time, I wanted to be brave and leverage this abrupt shift in the world, but it became clear this wasn’t something that could happen with one small agency. It needed to happen at the industry level.
We all know silos are bad. For the customer, when brand voice is all over the place, when data is dislocated across silos, brand experience is compromised–and so is brand trust. For those of us working on building brand experience, when we duplicate process across silos, spend most of our days looking for data and documents, or when we can’t agree on what branded content or the definition of a campaign is, we waste time that could be spent on thinking about our customer and their brand experience. How are we supposed to help brands refocus and address society within this new normal of COVID, Black Lives Matter? How can we embrace the incredible technology like AR, VR, and automation that will help us build our future if we can’t get out of our own way? How can we build customer trust if we can’t trust each other?
Along with Alyssa Vitrano, Erica Ortmann, and Maureen Muthua, we created Big Yellow Think Tank (BYTT), a not for profit initiative that is going to change the way we work and serve brands. We are going to set new standards, break down silos, and we need your help. I promised this was article was not going to be a meditation. Our first initiative is a Hackfest on September 10 + September 17, to create an open source platform as a standardized foundation that agencies, brands, and universities can work off of. We believe a unified foundation of industry language, processes, and more connected ways of working across silos will help us all build better brand experiences that create trust.
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