Former Creative Director has made a lot of changes as the industry has changed around him. He’s now the Chief Marketing Officer at RPA in LA – working with a new perspective. Tim and Adam sat down for a chat about how the ad world has changed since they both got started and what lessons Tim has learned about strategy. Enjoy!
Here’s your stinking transcript:
[00:00:28] Adam Pierno: Hi. Welcome back to another episode of The Strategy Inside Everything. We have a big show today, we have a studio audience packed to the rafters here. You prepare, we’re going have a laugh track going, it’s going to be the real deal here today. I’m excited because we have the SVP Chief Marketing Officer at RPA, Mr. Tim Leake. Tim, how are you?
[00:00:50] Tim Leake: I’m doing great, Adam, thank you for having me.
[00:00:52] Adam: Tim, I think you were one of the first five people I invited on to this show and now I’m on episode 30, I’m glad that we were finally able to work it out.
[00:01:02] Tim: Thank you for making me one of the first five, that’s amazing and I apologize that it took this long to make it happen but I was actually super glad to have heard some of the amazing earlier episodes because it’s going to make this episode so much better.
[00:01:15] Adam: I raised the bar for you, if you would have called earlier, it would have been like, “Hi, just say whatever you want.” Now there’s been a lot of really good episodes and concepts.
[00:01:22] Tim: You live up to all the good ones exactly.
[00:01:24] Adam: There’s a lot of buildup now. Tim, normally I’d like people to give the listeners a background, a little bit of what you’ve done and where you’ve been and in your case, that’s going to play into a bigger part of the conversation. If you could give them an overview, we’ll dive in and I’ll start peppering you with questions.
[00:01:44] Tim: Sounds good. What we’re here to talk about today is change in general. My background, I’ve worked in advertising for, it’s something like 22 years, a little longer than that actually. I got my start on the creative side of this industry at Scheidt day here in Los Angeles. I was a copywriter, I worked with a couple other agencies, I freelanced for a while and then I was at Saatchi Saatchi in New York as a creative director and then I pivoted. I left the advertising world for just a couple of years. I started speaking with and then eventually went to work full time for a Swedish company called Hyper Island that is a training organization, they’re are school in Sweden but in the States it’s more of a training consultancy.
We created bespoke trainings basically to help people deal with change and then did that for a few years. I do still speak with them by the way, they’re still a great company. From a full time job, one of my clients was an agency called RPA during Santa Monica. We created a different role that I could come out here and that was to basically on the marketing of the agency and how could we help build ourselves to be what we need to be in the future and be what’s right for in a changing marketplace to be what’s right for our clients both existing and new.
I now oversee our marketing, our new business, we have a great PR team as well as being on the executive team that just tries to help us get where we need to go.
[00:03:19] Adam: Nice. I have to tell you living in Santa Monica really sucks, it’s terrible weather.
[00:03:24] Tim: It’s actually pretty awesome. I’m surprised, it didn’t sound like you’ve been here. It’s just beautiful out today, it’s sunny and breezy and perfect.
[00:03:32] Adam: Every single day?
[00:03:32] Tim: Yes, every single day. Coming from New York where they’re in the middle of another heat wave, it went restrict from winter to summer there this year. I was there for 10 years and I don’t miss it that much.
[00:03:42] Adam: No, and certainly not the weather.
[00:03:43] Tim: I love change but not so much in the weather.
[00:03:47] Adam: Yes, you add 70 tunes sound it’s pretty great.
[00:03:49] Tim: It’s pretty perfect name for an agency based here.
[00:03:51] Adam: Yes, no shit. Let’s talk about change. You and I have talked about this a couple times about being at Hyper Island and having a revelation of what it was because I think when Hyper Island, my understanding of it and correct me if I either misunderstood the marketing materials or just have a wrong impression but it was like, “Hey, there’s a lot of traditional marketers out there and a lot of traditional advertising people out there, Hyper Island is a place where you can be immersed in digital thinking for whatever length of time and then you come out understanding those things a lot better.”
[00:04:32] Tim: Yes, that’s probably a good representation of what the marketing materials said. What’s interesting about Hyper Island is you have to sell what people want but then you want to give them what they need. What I always find fascinating about Hyper is you’re selling on this idea of people feel like they don’t understand digital and they need to figure out what digital is and how to understand that.
What Hyper gives people is an understanding of change and it’s change through a digital lens but why that’s important is that the– My first interaction with Hyper Island was nearly 10 years ago at this point. I remember shortly after that, we were all really excited to get our paid invitations to Google Wave if you remember what that was.
[00:05:15] Adam: Yes I do.
[00:05:18] Tim: It was actually slack but it was beforehand and it didn’t succeed at all. There’s been so many things that have come and gone, come and gone and changed in that landscape over just the last 10 years that to have done anything where we were talking about the best practices of whatever digital was at that moment that that’s pointless. Whereas if you can create a learning mindset and the ability within people to simply adapt to change and to be really curious to try new things and to quickly get good at them then you’re always going to be on the cutting edge and that’s that’s basically what Hyper Island as a school and as a training program has always been about.
It’s I think become a little trickier now that there isn’t as much thirst for digital training, I think as there was 5 to 10 years ago but there’s certainly still a need for change, management.
[00:06:14] Adam: Is it more about flexibility now? Forget Hyper Island but from your point of view Tim, is it. Is it more about flexibility in plasticity of your mind to be able to jump streams and think about things in a different way?
[00:06:29] Tim: I like that word plasticity that you just used, I think that’s better than flexibility because flexibility, Adam, to me it implies that I’m open minded to something.
[00:06:40] Adam: Plasticity. Yes. There you go. There was an extra S.
[00:06:47] Tim: Plasticity. Thank you, it didn’t sound right to me. Plasticity is much more about allowing your mind to maybe to reshape itself and evolve and be malleable. I think that’s what’s different is as we go through our careers we develop a certain set of muscle memory and we’re just doing things the same way and in particular, if the way we’ve been doing those things has been successful for us, we are disincentivized to want to change that. Yet the change is going to happen in the world no matter what.
The weird thing about change is not- things don’t change equalaterally, things don’t change the same. Something changes over here and that has a ripple effect on things over here. A lot of times you have to look at stuff that sort of looks the same. I like to just use TV commercials as an example because TV commercials functionally look the same, they still run in between commercial breaks on the television show, they are usually watching on TV.
I mean actual TV commercials not just online video, actual TV commercials. Yet the way that the audience response to them today is in a completely different context than what we had before. We have different technology both with to skip the commercial or to distract ourselves while the commercial is on or are we simply have trained ourselves to ignore it.
How it works is different that’s why we have to think of it through a slightly different lens and yet it’s not actually a lot different than it used to be. Does that make sense?
[00:08:29] Adam: No, the the mechanics of it are the same but it’s the way it’s received or not received I guess. It’s what’s really changed the culture and the acceptance to the idea of the commercial. It seems like much more of a tax now than it did when we were still young.
[00:08:46] Tim: Yes for sure. I guess that’s what’s fascinating is that your mind has to be malleable about what makes for a good commercial and what’s changed about that and you have to be constantly looking for how that evolves and how to challenge yourself. It’s actually a fairly logical step to go from being a creative to this sort of mindset. I’m also fascinated by your transition from moving from a creative director to strategy director. Because I think they’re similar things, we have to challenge, you have to be creative about this and you have to be curious. I think all the best creative people are curious and they want to challenge themselves around it.
I say the best creative people because there’s some creative people who just like pretty pictures and want to make pretty things but that’s not the job we have to do. I like to say we create solutions, we don’t just create ads, we create solutions. We need to be creative about everything we do from the strategy to the execution to how we place it out there in the world, all aspects of that.
[00:09:56] Adam: There’s no room for just creating ads anymore, I don’t think it makes sense for business to be making ads, it has to tie into something greater and mean something as a connection between a consumer, culture, and the brand otherwise, you’re really just pushing boxes around.
[00:10:14] Tim: The funny thing is the older I get the more I realize that there’s always an exception to every single rule. Certainly, there’s going to be some brands that you can just make commercials for and probably be strategically sufficient. I say brands, that might be more true but certain products, right? Because they can sell themselves that simply. Certainly for most and for most sophisticated brands, brands that are really heavily commoditized or brands that they’re the looking for advertising to provide an unfair advantage because of the creativity, for those kinds of brands, yes, totally true what you just said.
[00:10:51] Adam: Talk about change, in the CMO role, especially in internal CMO role, the difference between that and the copywriter, on one hand, is different. On the other hand, there’s a lot of similarities where you have to see a problem and distill it down. For all that’s changed in your career, talk to me about some of the things have been somewhat costly?
[00:11:21] Tim: That’s a great question, one of the interesting things– Just talk about the CMO role for a second because I think I’m probably unlike most people who have that title in any agency. I don’t think a lot of people come from a creative background into that role. I don’t think I do it the same way probably as a lot of them. For better or worse, the strengths that I have and weaknesses that I have, that others would have. I think one of the most awesome thing about the agency that I work at now RPA, I think we’ve a very open point of view to crafting a position around the player.
I always believe that that’s the right way to do it, because everybody has their own strengths, and if we just try to put ourselves into a particular box that’s not going to help. I’m able to then approach this role a lot more from a creative mindset because I’ve been given permission to do that than and account directors mindset, which I’m not good at that.
I’ve got other people that namely account directors and then some people on my team that they can help offset my weaknesses there because I’m much better at thinking conceptually around it. At thinking about how everything communicates, right? The similarities to get back to your question between when you’re a copywriter, with what I’m doing now is still fundamentally, it’s all about, “How can we use creativity to help communicate something, and get people to pay attention.” In the role that I have now, I’m focused primarily on those two folds, I’m focused primarily on doing that for the agency.
Of course, every time when a new business pitch comes up, I’m focused on and how do we tell that story through the lens of whatever client were pitching as we. Of course I’m joined by a whole team. By that point, we have strategies directors and account directors and everybody else is doing that as well. We all collaborate on that. It’s still the same in terms of trying to just approach it from a creative standpoint and a strategic standpoint to go, “All right what’s going to be compelling here? How do we choose the right words?” I’m still a big believer in words, I think words really matter. One of the things we’re very people-centric agency and it’s been a belief of mine for a long time but I’d made it a bigger belief here at RPA.
They don’t like that word consumer, you used just a second ago and it’s everybody in the industry uses it of course. I don’t understand why we don’t just use the word people most of the time. Because the word consumer dehumanizes the people that we’re trying to make an emotional connection with. I find that problematic because to me words matter. As a writer by trade, finding those right words is a big difference.
It is easier to know what you’re going to say, but then the specific words that you’ve put in a specific order, those matter. Even in the role now, I’m never quite satisfied. You come up with whatever we’ve written on the website at the moment about the agency, and I’m never satisfied with it I’m always changing it. The most dangerous thing is I have an admin account to the agency website, I can go and change the copy.
[00:14:42] Tim: When suddenly I don’t like it this week-
[00:14:46] Adam: You just constantly [inaudible 00:14:46].
[00:14:47] Tim: -and then I switch it back next week sometimes. I like to call it AB testing but it’s really just me changing to my mind.
[00:14:52] Tim: That’s what similar– There still fundamentally no matter what we’re doing we’re about communicating that. Then inspiring people, I hate the word selling too because I don’t think we try to sell ideas to clients even though that’s what we say. It shouldn’t be about that, it should be mutually together finding the right solution. I always like the word inspire better because if maybe they aren’t seeing the vision that we’re seeing. We have to figure out how to inspire our clients too, to see what we see in this opportunity, and vice-versa, we have to train ourselves to see what they see in the world, so that we can we can really do a good job solving the problems.
[00:15:38] Adam: I’ve been thinking about it recently as serving it to them, it’s not selling it to them, it’s here it is on a platter, dig in, take it apart and digest it, think about it and give us feedback.
[00:15:56] Tim: Do you know what’s interesting, because you used the word serve, I’m really being a word nerd today.
[00:16:01] Adam: This is awesome.
[00:16:03] Tim: I’m not normally like this but today I am. Actually, we’ve got a management philosophy at the agency that we call serve it leadership, we don’t call it that it’s called servant leadership. It’s something our CEO practice a lot and as an executive team, we’re working on implementing it throughout because it is a very people-centric way of looking at the world. What would basically, in a nutshell, it’s all about as leaders, our job is to serve those who work for us. It doesn’t mean doing what they tell us, we’re not slaves, it’s not slave leadership.
It’s servant leadership, it’s paying attention to their needs and how can we as leader bring what our associates need in order to thrive and in order to be successful. It’s fascinating, there’s tons of books out there on the subject. We’ve a couple clients who have the same management style as well. I think it’s very unusual actually in the advertising industry. When you said serve, I interpreted it that way meaning serve them, because it’s not about selling them an idea, actually it’s our job to give the clients what they need. When we serve them, we’re giving them what they need. That’s how you meant it I don’t think. [laughs]
[00:17:21] Adam: No worries.
[00:17:22] Tim: That was a really interesting interpretation of it I thought.
[00:17:25] Adam: It’s a nice yes. Going back to the words and how important they are, just two minutes ago, I was on a call where I was presenting a brief and the client rightfully were in section one the audience, and they just leaned it in on one sentence that was describing the audience about a tree. That’s as far as I got in the call because it was-
[00:17:54] Tim: That was a waste of the call.
[00:17:55] Adam: – they were saying, “That’s not really what this is about, it’s not about this one tree,” and they were right about that being not necessarily to the brief.
[00:18:05] Tim: Right.
[00:18:06] Adam: Everything else after that was like, “Well, I’m just taking notes and let me see what I can learn here and make this better.”
[00:18:13] Tim: It’s funny because it’s one of the challenges because words do matter. You have to censor as you can, especially as a former creative director and now a director strategy, those words matter but the words on a brief, it’s like we finally tuned these words to get the words just perfect but then those aren’t the words that end up in the ads.
[00:18:38] Tim: In fact, if creatives are considered a failure if they use any of the words that are on the brief in the ad.
[00:18:44] Adam: A lot of time a lot, a lot of time that’s true.
[00:18:48] Tim: I’m a bit curious, how do you feel about that?
[00:18:49] Adam: I think about it a lot because debrief is the ad that you’re writing to the creative people, or to whoever is going to take that brief and do something with it. It has to be inspiring and I know that the copywriter who is probably a word geek and has seven different sources the [unintelligible 00:19:12] I’m not sure. It will be taking each word of the single most important idea and taking it apart and saying, “What if I do something after this word, what if I do something after this? It’s an adjective it’s not this, maybe I should make it this.”
If you mess if you put in a word or the wrong prefix or the wrong suffix on a word or you conjugate something in a different tense, it can take them down a totally crazy different road. Where it’s just like, “I wasn’t paying attention but they took it as meaning something in the past tense and now they’re giving me all the stuff that’s historical found footage versus modern.” It’s amazing where the brain goes, that creative team or the digital team that has to dream up an idea, they’re going to be immersed in that thing for 10 hours or longer. Those words really matter when somebody is just isolating themselves and daydreaming about it all day.
[00:20:10] Tim: Well, it’s an interesting thing too because I’ve always loved the creative process because there’s no right answer. You just keep going and you have to be willing to let ideas die, you have to be willing to let it go, not that wasn’t quite right but the brief is meant to be the right answer. All the work is coming off of that. You only get one shot, really. Other little going back and forth and/or tweaking the brief once a creative idea doesn’t match it but everybody loves a creative idea sometimes that happens. I’m sure not with you, not with us, of course, but I’ve heard that happens.
[00:20:51] Adam: Just on this call that I just use as an example, I am getting another crack at it and when there’s a critique of the brief, I do take it as an opportunity to rewrite the thing or to go find some other inspiration to take around to on it if I can because I know that if I talk someone into taking a brief that they don’t love, they’re never going to like the work that comes out of it. They’re going to be resistant to it right off the bat and it’s going to be a nightmare. That’s fair for everybody.
[00:21:24] Tim: Well, going back to the whole point of the words matter. The interesting thing is very often, a creative concept can actually unlock a strategy that couldn’t have really been expressed any other way but in the way that the creative just expressed it. Sometimes that’s part of the process too. It’s just the brief and then there’s this slight evolution or twist on it that becomes all the more powerful for what it is. That’s fascinating because words matter. That wasn’t the topic of this chat but we just take it.
[00:21:56] Adam: No, we don’t. We have plenty of time to ramble here. We were tied started this whole words matter thing by asking was the same. That’s one of the things, words mattering as a copywriter and in your role now definitely matter. Regardless of media that the importance of words and the meaning of what you’re trying to convey, has never changed. Give me some of the big differences that doesn’t have to be specifically about your role but really you have a good perspective on the industry. What’s different today than when we were both starting out about the creative process?
[00:22:35] Tim: I don’t know anything about the creative process itself is radically different. Of course, things have changed timeline. I just talked myself out of my original opinion. Timeline is the biggest thing. Obviously, that is a big thing. The process is still the same. You think of stuff maybe that’s good. Maybe that’s not. I don’t know, stuff dies, you bounce it off creative directors, they don’t like it. You change it. “Oh, that’s great. They like. Account director points out a fatal flaw that nobody else saw before. Crap, we didn’t know that. We go back, we fix it, we come back.” There’s a lot of that. Lots of stuff dies and that’s just the process. You have something and it keeps evolving.
When we started out, we had months to work on that and evolve it keep coming back and different rounds. Then you go into testing and stuff like that. Even if it was accelerated, you usually had a couple weeks. Whereas we’re talking days and sometimes hours depending on the medium, with which you have to get it done. Then there’s so many more media channels to think about. I don’t think that really affects the process but it certainly affects craft. The craftsmanship of writing an ad whether you’re writing a radio ad or television ad or a print ad which is all that existed when I got started broadly speaking. There’s a craftsmanship you could get really good at that. It’s not easy to write a 32nd TV spot.
People think it is but almost every Junior writers first work is like 32 seconds past, 45 seconds longer. There’s too many things and all that stuff. You forget that the entitled card actually takes four and a half seconds and you assume it’s instantaneous like you don’t have to count that. All that stuff, there’s craftsmanship you have to learn. Now there are so many other media channels. To understand the craft of what’s the right compelling way to create a video that we’re going to run Instagram stories, that contains a swipe up call to action that then has a little a vertically built landing page to entice them. That’s just an ad format that didn’t exist not that long ago.
We quickly try to understand that what works there, but the craft it’s really hard to become a great craftsman at that because as soon as you do they change it and something else comes along and it’s too generalized. Something I think about a lot is this idea of doing, is it good to have digital specialists or should everybody understand digital because we just work in the digital world? I do personally think having watched it for a while, at least the way the world is right now, it helps when people specialize and can hone their craft on certain platforms.
Whether that makes them a digital specialist or not, there are unique traits to social platforms and it’s changing quickly. People can become specialists at that and really understand how to craft, create content for that. That’s a different skill set that people who can make really beautiful print ads or posters or whatever. Lots of creatives can do lots of those things well but I’ve really met people who do all of those things really well because they change so much.
[00:26:11] Adam: I’ve always thought of building a creative department as making a net. You’re just trying to cover ground with people that can lay across and it’s like, a hammock that you’re trying to create. You’re just trying to cover as much surface area as you can and this person skills go this way and this person skills cross over here and over there and it’s different people who have a different combination of skills.
I agree with you about someone who’s good at two or three different platforms and generally is a good writer or designer or can code is more useful than trying to have someone who’s a generalist with okay they have a TV spot, they have a YouTube campaign, they’ve got a snap chat lens, they’ve got this and they’ve got that so we can pretty much assign them anything. It doesn’t work that way.
[00:26:59] Tim: Yes. Getting back to your question, those are some of the different aspects of things that have changed. It’s just a few of them obviously. In terms of what’s different. There’s so many little things but the process is still the same, how we think of it is still the same. There’s just so much more of it and you have to do it so much faster.
[00:27:21] Adam: How do you work with, you’re working with new brands on a pitch, you’re talking to them and around New Business time was when the CMO at the brand or the VP of Marketing gets real frisky about wanting to know about whatever the new platforms on their open up and said, ” Oh, there’s this new thing that our old agency never showed us.” How do you bring them change if they’re asking or not asking maybe there’s even a better example? How do you bring that change to them in a way that’s productive and not just shiny new object?
[00:27:55] Tim: I actually think a new business it’s way easier to do it new business than it is the rest of the time, right? In the last four and a half years, I’ve been focused primarily on new business stuff and not the ongoing servicing of accounts. There’s certainly been a lot of change from that standpoint that I haven’t been involved with day to day the way that a lot of our other teams here have. There’s still generally a truth that when the train is going, it’s really hard to say, “Oh, we need to make this radical change.” It’s hard to take the time that is needed to be able to focus on that and convince people, “Oh, yes, that’s what we should do. We should invest in whatever this strange thing is.”
During a new business pitch, everything is up for grabs. The relationship is new, everything is new. How do you bring it back to just not showing them a shiny object? It’s always just that you have to be ruthlessly focused on what are their objectives. It always draws me a little bonkers when I get briefs or whether it’s a creative brief or contemporary brief or whatever, where the objectives are fuzzy, where they just want to equate a feeling with the brand or whatever. It’s like, how will we know if we did that? It’s or whether that matter. It’s like dictating the solution not telling me what the problem is.
If I’m supposed to make a coke fun, how do I know that fun is the thing that’s going to make a difference? Why not give me the challenge of how do we increase coke sales by 10% or something. Then let’s figure that all together. That’s a massive oversimplification. It’s probably a bad one. The point being is you’re not going to do any shiny objects if I know that the goal is to increase sales by 10%. We’re not going to bring shiny object thing and say, look at this cool virtual reality immersion thing where you’re swimming in coke or whatever, I’m just going to stick with coke because they’re not a real client of ours. It’s like, “Okay, that’s interesting but why?” Just simply being engaging isn’t the same thing as being engaging and communicating or being engaging and persuasive or mattering. I like this phrase of “Advertising that matters” Because it works for me in a couple levels. It needs to matter to people, needs matter to the audience, like “Oh, I’m interested in this” But it also has to matter because it has an effect, it works. if you judge it by that it’s–
[00:30:44] Adam: Right, has a meaning.
[00:30:45] Tim: Yes, it’s a matter of both of those things, in order to be successful. If it’s going to communicate everything that needs to communicate but people choose to ignore it, well, now you just have to spend a lot more money in order to make it work, if it’s really engaging but isn’t persuasive or doesn’t inspire people to buy that product or service, then great but it didn’t really do what you wanted it to do.
Again, I’m oversimplifying but that’s the key. I’m not a big fan of shiny objects, I think it’s great to go in an experiment and figure out, like “What can we do with– I don’t know– a 3d printer” Or “What could we do with augmented reality” Magically just does came out, “Well, here we go make a magic leap” “We’re the first brand to come up with a magic leap integration, great” The 18 people with magic leap goggles. Basically, all those are really is a PR play, you’re doing something new because that’s going to be newsworthy to a degree but more often than– [inaudible 00:31:52]
[00:31:52] Adam: It’s not that someone is means worthy for the agency and not the brand, it goes into Ad week and somebody doesn’t write up about it and says, “Well, this creative director and chief technology came up with this idea, great.” [crosstalk]
[00:32:04] Tim: That’s it, that’s a simple the simple prism. One of the most interesting things, I think, about the role that I have now versus when I was a cooperative creative director, to me it’s been very liberating. In fairness I get– Where I had a love-hate relationship with being a creative, there’s definitely things I miss about that too.
From an identity perspective, it’s not always easy to not be part of the creative department but I don’t miss having to be more concerned about what’s in my portfolio than doing what’s right for a client. Unfortunately the industry is built that your portfolio gets you your next job if you’re winning awards is because your next job, get you bonuses, it gets you promoted, it’s all that stuff. There is a game that needs to be played in order to thrive in that, you have to pay attention.
[00:33:03] Adam: It creates a real conflict of interest for the people that are making the creative and for the agency itself that is a lot of times at odds with the business interest of the client because we’re chasing different ends.
[00:33:18] Tim: It is, I always struggled with that. The worst then is when you are actually do trying your best to care about the clients work and it still gets nitpicked or impact to death. It isn’t actually what you feel like should be in their best interest nor as it could, it’s like the worst.
[00:33:42] Adam: That is the depressing place to be, you’re like, “No, you don’t understand I was bending over backward to help you”
[00:33:47] Tim: I know it’s like “I really just want to help you, I really do I promise” They still think you’re trying to pull a fast one over. There’s a real there’s a real problem of trust. We make a big deal about that at the agency that the trust and that we have to be able to do these things in the service of our clients, but we believe that great creativity produces massively outsized results.
It’s a competitive advantage when we’re true about that, you come up with the right kind of ideas and you don’t come up with an idea that’s just a shiny object for bad press headlines. That press is great, obviously, we want that too but it’s not just that.
[00:34:31] Adam: It can’t be. I want to ask you about something you just said, as it relates to your identity because part of your changing role has made you become a little bit of a chameleon, you’ve changed your role and there is such, especially, at big agencies and especially famous agencies. I put Sasha, New York in that category, as a creative director you’re part of a weird, it’s not a fraternity, it’s not a club but you are part of a pretty elite group of people, there’s not that many people that have the title, although it seems like there’s more people today that there were, but you do have. It’s like having the Varsity jacket or whatever the equivalent is in whatever the cool brand at headphones is. You’re that Club and you-
[00:35:18] Tim: And then when you give it up, yes.
[00:35:20] Adam: Talk to me about what that was like giving that up and when you’ve been in rooms and thought, “I used to do this” or “I wish I could now step back into that.”
[00:35:30] Tim: Then I want you to comment on the same thing because you had a similar switch. It is hard and I’m conscious that it really is identity driven, I still self-identified as creative person. It’s hard when you’re not doing that because you then have to defer to the rest of the team, the people who are doing that job right now. It is funny because it’s sort of I come in, I leave the business as part of what I do here and yet I’d never done that before but I had actually spent 22 years as a Creative Director.
I love that I can try new challenges and I’m fascinated by that. I love what I’m doing right now. It’s fun, it’s challenging, it’s interesting and all that stuff, but there is still a this weird internal ego battle of feeling bummed that I’m not part of that Club anymore. It is something to struggle with a little bit, but at the same time think I’ve become a stronger person by rising above that and not by putting my sense of power in my job title.
I hate job titles. My title actually has evolved a few times. When I first came to RPA, I was the Director of Growth and Innovation because that’s what we made up, and then I became the Director of Creative Common Marketing and Innovation. Somebody misinterpreted that one time to think I was the Director of Creative Marketing and Innovation, which actually thought, “That was really cool. I should have stuck with that.” The problem is nobody ever knew what it meant. It’s just hard. There’s a period when I was working for Hyper Island where I just went without a title for six months because I hated all the different titles, and it’s hard to-
[00:37:25] Adam: But you have to be able to describe what you do.
[00:37:29] Tim: I know. It’s all weird. I like the title I have now, it sounds important and all that, but at the same time people tend to project what they assume it is because it might be somebody else. It’s not a role that is the same by any stretch of the imagination from agency to agency. I know a lot of people who do what I do and they’re all very different people.
[00:37:51] Adam: That’s true about a Creative Director too. I’ve had and you, I’m sure have had so many different types of creative directors that behave in different ways or have different expectations for you. It’s the role gets put into a–
[00:38:06] Tim: The job is the same. The way they approach it might be different but the job is fundamentally the same as a Creative Director for the most part, where– this in anybody [crosstalk]. Yes, it can mean so many different things and then even what you choose to focus on within it is completely different because some people focus very much on the biz dev part of it and that’s not– I want to bring a business but I’m not a sales person. I don’t go out and cold tell people or anything like that. That’s not what I’m good at.
[00:38:39] Adam: I need you to start doing it that though. [crosstalk] start making some calls, [crosstalk] those phone lines.
[00:38:44] Tim: The request’s in. But it’s not what I’m particularly good at. I am good at talking to people, I’m good at networking, I am good at thought leadership, I’m good at listening to clients and understanding what they actually have to deal with. That’s what I did a lot of at Hyper Island, was we’re working with a lot of brands as well as agencies and when you’re working directly with them and you aren’t an agency and you aren’t trying to sell a creative product, they share stuff with you that’s–
The relationship’s so different because they believe we’ve been hired to help them and so there’s nothing in-between where they think we’re trying to sell something that isn’t what they need. The relationship is very, very different and so I do think I’ve gotten very good at understanding how to hear clients and what they’re really looking for and then I know what we’re trying to do and how to serve that up.
That’s how I approach that role but lots of other people might approach that role differently and it’s just so different ways. At least Creative Directors in general, the role is usually to be the person who oversees the creative teams and then help represent that, help polish the product and then take it to the clients. It’s still primarily always the same job.
[00:40:00] Adam: I guess for as much as change. That has been [crosstalk]
[00:40:04] Tim: [crosstalk] just have less time now and there’s more layers to it.
[00:40:07] Adam: Less glamour.
[00:40:10] Tim: Less Don Draper murderous chaos.
[00:40:13] Adam: Yes, totally. This has been great. Tim, tell everybody where they can find you on the inter-webs.
[00:40:19] Tim: My favorite place is on Twitter where I am tim_leake, that’s T-I-M_L-E-A-K-E. Some jerk took Tim Leake the straight word and never ever tweets from it so I’ve been stuck with the underscore version. I like that better if I haven’t met people in person, I’m not on open network or on LinkedIn. By all means follow me on LinkedIn but if I haven’t met you I won’t accept the invitation. It’s not to be rude.
[00:40:45] Adam: Why? You got some real status.
[00:40:48] Tim: It’s just otherwise, I don’t actually know my– I don’t understand who my real network is. I’ve got a lot of people in there who I’ve met who I know who I want to keep in touch with and if all of sudden there’s 200 other people I’ve never met. LinkedIn, I can’t believe they haven’t solved that problem, they haven’t just come out with a way to separate.
[00:41:06] Adam: Don’t even get me started on. [unintelligible 00:41:08] we could do seven episode series on how broken LinkedIn is.
[00:41:11] Tim: Has that strategy of– Yet it’s a fantastic tool and in a lot of other places. Actually, I love LinkedIn but Twitter is the best place to get me. There’s nothing on my website right now so I won’t give that. Check out rpa.com, the agency website.
[00:41:28] Adam: Absolutely, you’ll be updating the copy tonight I’m sure.
[00:41:31] Tim: Your second guess it comes slowly.
[00:41:33] Adam: All right man, has been wonderful. Thank you very much.
[00:41:34] Tim: Thank you so much, there’s a lot of fun here.
[00:41:36] Adam: All right, so long.
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