January 02, 2024

Advertising Agency Leadership Insights: Humanity and transparency are fundamental in creative relationships (podcast episode #81)


Tom Ghiden, Managing Director, JOAN London, joined me for episode #81 of the How I Made It In Marketing podcast. Ghiden discussed authenticity in branding, modernizing classic brands, and humor in bank marketing.

by Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content & Marketing, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute

Advertising Agency Leadership Insights: Humanity and transparency are fundamental in creative relationships (podcast episode #81)

Create advertising messages based on the results of 10,000 marketing experiments with MECLABS AI. Get a free trial to MECLABS AI and the AI Guild at MECLABS.com/AI (MECLABS is the parent organization of MarketingSherpa).

In 1957, Vance Packard wrote a book called ‘The Hidden Persuaders,’ about the mysterious arts of advertising, and how advertising agencies research ways to manipulate people.

I don’t know about you in your career, but I don’t want to be that guy. The way I see it, companies create value. And in a capitalist society of choice, they need to communicate that value to the ideal customer in a way that helps the customer perceive it.

So when I read a lesson like ‘authenticity is fundamental’ in a podcast guest application – with a real advertising story behind it – it resonates with me.

That lesson comes from Tom Ghiden, Managing Director, JOAN London, and he joined me on How I Made It In Marketing to share the story behind that lesson, along with many more lesson-filled stories.

JOAN Creative was named Small Agency of the Year by Adweek, at which point the magazine reported JOAN had $20 million in projected revenue for 2022 – an 80% year-over-year increase. The agency has been in business since 2016 with the New York office, and Ghiden opened the London office six months ago.

Listen to our conversation using this embedded player or click through to your preferred audio streaming service using the links below it.

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Stories (with lessons) about what he made in marketing

Some lessons from Ghiden that emerged in our discussion:

Authenticity is fundamental

In 2013, Grey won the Gillette account based on a renewed brand idea focused on modern shaving. Their predecessor’s Gillette work had become almost comically unrealistic. It represented shaving with the famous Gillette shave swipe, which always showed a perfectly clean cut through a mass of white shaving cream. One of the fundamental parts of Ghiden’s team’s concept at Grey was that they needed to present shaving as it looks in a real man’s bathroom.

Men never shaved with a crazy amount of shaving cream, and while Gillette’s razors are some of the sharpest in the world, it absolutely doesn't leave an unnaturally smooth amount of skin after a single stroke. They brought a real shave into the ads after 45 years and helped to elevate the Gillette brand further. They evoked this sense of aspirational authenticity in everything they did, bringing the real exercise of shaving to life.

Keeping a brand modern helps to drive longevity.

Birds Eye is one of the most iconic British brands, and Captain Birds Eye, their synonymous spokesman, remains one of the more iconic brand icons. However, the brand was losing market share and as this new generation was becoming parents, they valued healthy food options for their children. While frozen fish and Birds Eye products remain an incredibly healthy option – the comical Captain wasn’t effectively representing the health claims the brand knew to be true.

To help bring Birds Eye into the modern age, without losing a true element of their brand attribution, Ghiden’s agency team looked at how they could modernize the Captain to ensure they could effectively bring the story of fresh food to life.

Recasting the Captain to be a modern sailor, with family and friends, helped the brand elevate and grow the category in a new, exciting way. The fact that the new Captain became a sex symbol — that was just an added benefit.

All sorts of brands can benefit from humor

Banking has traditionally been a rather tedious and mundane category when it comes to marketing. There’s a terrible fear that there's an unwritten rule disallowing humor when we’re talking about a topic that most Brits are embarrassed to discuss – money. The Alec Baldwin work with Capital One was the beginning of using humor in the financial world in the United States. But in the UK, there's some cultural truth that looks down on that sort of thing.

However, as Ghiden’s team worked with their partners at TSB, they realized that humor allows them more freedom when discussing life’s difficulties.

So when they originally pitched a concept that used David Schwimmer playing an observant, but dopey version of himself, they thought for sure they’d gone too far. However, what the client loved was the authenticity of the humor. It focused entirely on the nuances of the everyday British person – their finances. This success led to more comedic concepts as they continued down the line.

Lessons (with stories) from people he collaborated with

Ghiden also shared lessons he learned from the people he collaborated with.

Trust in failure

Via Lisa Clunie & Jaime Robinson, founders of JOAN

One of the things that most drew Ghiden to Clunie and Robinson was their transparency. He was terribly nervous about meeting them because they were two visible women in the industry who were clearly at the top of their game. And admittedly, he had imposter syndrome that they even wanted to chat with him.

Their openness and transparency drew him in, and at some point he perhaps foolishly admitted that he had a tinge of imposter syndrome about the possibility of joining them and building something with them both and Kirsty Hathaway. Robinson was the one who said – ‘don’t we all.’ They were both so open about how their failures have been as important as the successes they’ve had along the way at JOAN.

We can’t be afraid to fail—risks are imperative to make truly different work and to break conventions, and also there’s so much to learn in failure.

How to embrace empathy and authenticity in leadership – set boundaries and stick to them

via Jessica Tamsedge, CEO, Denstu UK

Tamsedge has been Ghiden’s mentor and friend for a long time. He thinks part of that was as his boss, she was one of the people who most championed a need for an appropriate work/life balance. He has worked for Tamsedge during most of the big moments of his life – getting married, adopting his son, etc. Throughout all these changes, Jessica was there celebrating these moments alongside, while advocating for him to ensure appropriate time from the office for his other personal commitments.

When he adopted his son, Tamsedge was an amazing champion to ensure he was both prepared for the new member of the family, but also making sure he created boundaries to ensure he was able to stop work at an appropriate time and get home to his son. Her commitment to her own sons and sticking to a clear schedule that got her home for bed/bath time was a perfect example, and she encouraged him to set boundaries and then to commit to them.

This only encouraged his own leadership tactics moving forward.

Humanity and transparency are fundamental in creative relationships

via Emma Springham and Keith Gulliver, CMO and Head of Brand at TSB

Working with Springham and Gulliver represents one of Ghiden’s favorite client/agency relationships. They’re both smart, diligent clients — who are consistently raising the bar for creative excellence. Nonetheless, they’re both excellent partners and his relationship with them was truly one of the most open and transparent between clients and agencies. For him, one reason for this is because they had early on established a relationship not based solely on the work, but on their individual humanity.

Both were excellent resources as he adopted a child and provided unparalleled support. The compassion between all of them led to one of the strongest client/agency relationships. They were invested in each other not just as colleagues but as people, which helped guide candid conversations about the work, their audience — and eventually led to truly transformative creativity.

Related content discussed in this episode

An Effective Value Proposition: What it is, why it is so important to business and marketing success, and how to use it

World-Class Consumer & Retail Brands: What right do we have as a brand to be in that business? (Podcast Episode #15)

Innovation Leadership and Coaching: You should almost always do less than you think (podcast episode #46)

Creative Marketing: Does it all make sense? (Podcast Episode #19)

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Not ready for a listen yet? Interested in searching the conversation? No problem. Below is a rough transcript of our discussion.

Tom Ghiden: They needed to do something that would get people to sort of look at them, particularly when they weren't going to be able to be on every channel all day, like some of their competitors weren't. So they really needed to sort of break through. And so we sort of proposed something that was let's let's find a way to speak that no brand or none of your competitors will speak.

And for that you need some humor. And so we sort of said, let's break down this taboo around speaking about money in a way that people can engage with and feel and have a laugh about. So we originally pitched this concept and at the time I remember they sort of were like, Is this a joke? And we sort of put it out and the concept used.

David Schwimmer You know, bros from Friend as sort of an observant, observant doper, your version of himself who gives permission to the Brits to laugh and acknowledge the realities associated with money.

Intro: Welcome to how I made it in marketing from marketing Sherpa. We scour pitches from hundreds of creative leaders and uncover specific examples, not just trending ideas or buzzword laden schmaltz. Real world examples to help you transform yourself as a marketer. Now here's your host, the senior director of Content and Marketing at Marketing Sherpa Daniel Burstein, to tell you about today's guest.

Daniel Burstein: He's been in 1957. Vance Packard wrote a book called The Hidden Persuaders about the mysterious arts of advertising and how advertising agencies research ways to manipulate people. I don't know about you, but I don't know about you in your career like me. I'm not that guy. I don't want to be that guy. The way I see it. Companies create value.

And in a capitalist society of choice, they need to communicate that value to the ideal customer so the customer can perceive it. Which is why when I read a lesson like authenticity is fundamental with a real advertising story behind it in a podcast application. It resonated with me. That lesson comes from Tom Guyton, managing director at Joe London, and he's joining me right now to share the story behind that lesson, along with many more lesson filled stories.

Thanks for your time.

Tom Ghiden: Today, Tom. Thank you so much for having me, Daniel.

Daniel Burstein: Let's take a quick look at Tom's background so you can understand who I'm talking to. He was account executive at Saatchi and Saatchi and Deutsch. He was business director at Gray Group, Senior board account director and new business director at HMV, BBDO. Head of Business Leadership at McCann London. And for the past five months, Managing Director at Jones Creative's London office.

John Creative was named Small Agency of the Year by Adweek, at which point the magazine reported John had $20 million in projected revenue for 2022 and 80% year over year increase. It's been in business since 2016 with the New York office, and Tom opened the London office six months ago. So, Tom, as I mentioned, you are now the managing director at Joe London.

Give us a sense, what is your day like as managing director?

Tom Ghiden: It's it's different every single day. Daniel, And it's exciting to work at an independent, creative agency that sort of getting its feet a little bit. So my day can be as varied as I can spend time looking at carpets in the morning for our new office to do that and dealing with some of our big clients and thinking about building brands and how we create modern legend.

So it is an incredibly exciting and terrifying and exhausting sort of adventure that we're doing. But we are. We're doing it because we believe that in the John sort of staples and the things that Joan believes in. And we're bringing that to London in the London audience, which is really exciting.

Daniel Burstein: Great. Well, as I mentioned, you have kind of gone the rounds in the advertising industry. A lot of boldface name agencies. Now you're an independent. Let's see what we can learn from the things that you have made in your career. Because I like to say I've never done anything else. I've never been a podiatrist or an actuary, but I don't feel like everyone gets to leave work having made something right.

We actually had a portfolio. But here, look at this. This is all the things I've made and that's what makes the job fun for me. So let's take a look. You mentioned your first lesson from something you made as I kind of read at the top. Authenticity is fundamental. So we hear this word a lot. Authenticity, right. Tell us, how did you actually do it in the campaign?

Tom Ghiden: Yeah, it's an interesting one. And authenticity. You know, you talked about sort of the the belief that advertising is just sort of trying to trick consumers. And I and that's something that we've always sort of had to deal with as marketeers. But I think the reality is that consumers, when they see something that reflects their life in a true, honest way, they are more believing in the brand message and the things that the brand is trying to say.

And for me, this sort of came to life most overtly in 2013 when I was working on the Gillette business. And Gillette was a really interesting brand because they had been with their previous agency for decades. And in 2013, Gray Gray Group won them and it moved over, the business moved over. And I think what was fundamental to be sort of comms around that was it was based on this sort of beautiful renewed idea of modern shaving.

You know, Gillette comes from the nineties, eighties, nineties was almost comically unrealistic. You know, it was the best, let's say the best demand man can become a bit dated. It sort of had this eighties feel which was, you know the man always had an exorbitant amount of shaving cream on and Gillette ads have this thing that they call the J stripe it is a a shave stroke that goes down the jaw and through down past the neck.

And it's in every Gillette ad. And in the early eighties nineties that was done and it was this beautiful stroke that cleared every inch of the shaving cream and nothing left, no hair on the face. Now I shaved. I mean, I know I don't look like I do now and I have a beard, but I have shaved and I have never ever had a shave stroke that looks like that.

You know, it was the most comical thing. There's always at least, you know, Gillette has the sharpest blades, but they always leave at least a hair or two. And there's always a little bit of shaving cream left. So it was for me, even as someone who shaves, that didn't reflect the thing that I was seeing in my bathroom.

So we as part of this new campaign really set out to correct this. We wanted to present shaving like it honestly looks like in a normal man's bathroom. So we reshaped the entire J stripe and the entire shade. So it was messy, but it felt more real, it felt more authentic. It left some hair, it left a little bit of shaving cream.

But it really resonated with consumers. And I think we evoked the same aspirational authenticity in everything we did. So we cast differently. We didn't cast, you know, the same models who had abandoned everything. It was more regular guys. It was guys who look like me, who maybe had a little tub in their tummy and, you know, had a little extra around the towel.

But it reflected people in an honest way. And I think it helped to elevate the Gillette brand and it changed the way that they marketed. And it was, you know, for a an account that had been at the previous agency for decades, this was a huge step for them to move. And I think the reason that they chose Gray and chose us was because we were able to demonstrate that authenticity was truly at the heart of what they were trying to do.

Daniel Burstein: You know, I haven't hadn't really thought of any of you mentioned us, but when I was in high school, I didn't really have anyone to teach me how to shave. And it started as a bloody mess. And yeah, and I think one reason is the only thing. I mean, this was before the Internet where you can easily get information.

It was just the commercials and that was like swipe it away and cut myself up. So I mean, I had a single blade razor, which was part of the problem. They were just cheaper. But that's a really good point. But let me let me ask you also, so when you talk about this, this is great and this is a great example of being authentic when there is a literal representation of the product.

But a lot of times with advertising, I mean, it's figurative, it's storytelling. And so I wonder if you've ever led a brand through how to still keep that authenticity yet when it's a little more figurative. And I'll give you an example. I reported on a company called Bobbi's Fine Foods. I don't know if they have this in the UK, but here they're one of the biggest like pickle purveyors in grocery stores, and they use this natural fermentation.

And so, you know, in Yiddish a bubbe is a grandma. And so, you know, it's got a grandma on there and it's got this feeling of a grandmother and, you know, like, yes, the original founder, you know, was a grandmother. And yes, the actual picture on the label that the brand was bought by bankers, an actual picture on the label is one of the the banker's grandmothers.

But really it's not, you know, some little grandmother making it in a in a kitchen. But they play that up. They play that up in their messaging. They have this video series called Taste of Chutzpah, which shows, you know, how they make it. The little Bubbe character on the on the front has a little, you know, weird bubble coming saying, eat my pickles, wear clean underwear, marry a doctor, you know, So they play it up.

The food itself, from what I can tell, was genuine. It was natural fermentation, but clearly it's a character and they're kind of doing this whole, like advertising storytelling character thing. So I wonder in your experience, I guess that was a great literal example of like, you know, in my case I got bloody because of that Gillette commercial maybe.

But what, what, when? How about what We're doing something more figurative? How do we still keep that authenticity or having this kind of storytelling character kind of message driven approach?

Tom Ghiden: Yeah, it's an interesting question, and I think one thing that I've I've always understood is everything has to be based on a true insight. And, you know, we worked on on a supermarket here in the UK brand. And one of the things that we were talking a lot about where you know the nontraditional holiday so that the non we're not talking about the Christmas season the New Year's but the the EADS in that and the holidays that might not necessarily been marketed in the traditional ways in the past.

And I think one thing that we really wanted to focus on is making sure that we have a true belief and understanding of how those experiences are celebrated and making sure that we can bring in those little bits and stories. So, for example, one time we were looking at doing a sort of holiday campaign and as we thought about Christmas, someone mentioned, you know, in my Jamaican family we celebrate Christmas with these sorts of foods and there is this sort of tradition that happens at the table before we eat.

Now, that was something that none of us had ever experienced or knew or understood. And so by just making that small tweak so that we covered the food in that excuse me, the table and that kind of food, as we as we shot the ad and giving that single moment, it resonated with an entirely different audience and brought an even more authentic story to light.

And while it may not have registered with everyone because not everyone has this Jamaican tradition, the audience that it did created a new place for us to to communicate and a new way for us to sort of connect to those consumers. So I do believe that there's such interesting and opportunities to create authenticity and to create connection through that authenticity.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah, I mean, my favorite all time advertising quote is the truth well told, right? I think I'm in the Canada. Okay. So yeah, like you said, it's like, yeah, you've got to find that truth. And then it's kind of a fun thing about being in this industry and learning about people and finding their truth. Then still you're going to tell it well, like it's going to be shot at the golden hour.

It's not going to be, you know, with kids running around screaming and hitting each other when they're having that kind of Jamaican Christmas. But Well, let me ask. So an other version of that is also like, how do you change your brand over time, Right? A brand has a heritage. What it was once. Is it still today? I mean, we've changed so much as a society.

You mentioned that keeping a brand modern helps to drive longevity. So how do you do that? How do you balance the two?

Tom Ghiden: Yeah, well, one of the things Joan believes in as a company is that we're really focused on building modern, legendary brands. Now, the belief is that brands are either modern and you can sort of think of those as your up and coming brands. They're the ones that sort of take a come into a category, blow it up, change it.

Those are the modern brands, but then they're also those legendary brands, the brands that your parents bought that you still buy. Those are the brands that have been around for ages. But the ones that it can achieve both both modern and legendary status, those are those iconic brands that are made to last forever. And and that's what every brand is trying to do.

It's they can reinvent themselves for the next generation. So one of my favorite examples of this is in 2017 I was working on Birdseye, which is a British brand. For the most part. It's frozen foods and it's one of the most iconic British brands. It's been around for ages and they're captain, which is their spokesperson is called Captain Birdseye.

And he to this day is one of the most iconic British icons. So he is always listed in the top ten people who are most British after the Queen recipes. But she's all he's always on that list. But in the back half of the last decade, die, despite having this massive brand icon was really losing share and they were not quite sure what was driving it because they had always sort of been top of the category.

They were the ones who sort of led the led this drive for family food. And what we realized was that a new generation, this millennial generation, were becoming parents and they had we're much more health conscious boomer predecessors. So they were thinking about we want to give our children the healthiest food options that we can. And for some reason they believed that frozen foods and birdseye foods specifically specifically their fish fingers or their fish sticks, as we call them in the States, weren't an incredibly healthy option.

And so we really had to sort of unpack what is driving this, why, you know, they grew up eating these, why are they not still finding needs to be healthy and still considering. And what we realized was that this Captain Birdseye, who had this sort of comical, cartoony sort of representation, wasn't aligning with these brand health claims. So you were sort of having someone talk about real food who is not real and has a parrot on his shoulder and his fighting pirate.

So it didn't it didn't match those two messages, the visual representation of the brand and the messages in the claims that we were making didn't make sense together. So we really needed to bring this captain into the modern age, make him feel more reflective of the things that we are trying to accommodate now, which is a healthier way of life without losing the brand attributes and the icons.

So we didn't want to walk away from the icon who everyone knew and grown up with. We just had to find a way to reflect a more modern version of it. So what we did was recast the captain. We said, Let's relook at what a modern captain would look like. Let's keep him, but let's make sure he reflects, you know, who we are today and the kinds of things that we want to stand for as a brand.

So we took away the parrot. We took away the pirate. We made the captain a sort of sexy, older, you know, silver haired man who had a family, had kids of his own and grandkids of his own. And then we sort of tied back with these same messages around health food. And it really changed the way people perceive the brand and it changed the way that people thought of the captain.

I don't think he became this weird sex symbol and was all over the press. Is this sort of like new, interesting guy who you wanted to feed your family in a way that the captain never had before. And so it gave us an opportunity to sort of elevate the brand, grow the category in this new way, and really land this real food proposition that frozen food had lost along the way and allowed consumers to sort of see themselves reflected in this, the captain and then his family.

And so it provided us an opportunity to sort of bring this brand into our modern world in a really fun, exciting way.

Daniel Burstein: So a lot of you stay there and sounds like there's consumer research to really kind of get in their heads and understand this change. So that's the consumer side to talk us through. What do you do on the business side to work with the business owners and help make sure the value proposition is right? Because maybe sexy isn't what they're going for?

Like, how do you align with that, that business side? Because, for example, I interviewed Derek, the Timber, the chief marketing and merchandizing officer from batteries plus on how I made it marketing. And one of his lessons was understand the purpose of the business. And he talked about how, you know, rebranding is at Wendy's and massage envy to two brands.

He was working at that that was kind of a key part of his role to not just the customers. What is the purpose of the business? What do we want to be? Yes, customers want a certain thing, but then we have to decide what do we want to deliver? Some of it we might want to deliver for that customer.

Some of it we're not, you know, the right company for. So how do you work through on that side? We were talking about rebranding like that. How do you work with the business owners and make sure you're aligning with their value proposition, not only following customer wants and needs? Yeah, it's.

Tom Ghiden: A really good point, and I think this is a great example of that of following the business, because the business did want to move into a healthier food space. You know, we understand and recognize that health foods are the the generation are is the way that we're moving forward. And so it in all sort of communications for this for Birdseye they wanted to talk about healthy food and they were hindered by doing that because of the way the communication sort of tools that they had at their in their arsenal.

And so there was a reality based on the larger brand story, which is they wanted to be talking healthier foods across all of their their products, but they couldn't do it. And I think that fundamentally is just it needs to be focused on what you want to achieve as a brand the next 5 to 10 years versus it being about a sort of a consumer need.

And I think having it, we weren't able to do it with the captain. I think there would have been a true conversation around do we walk away from this brand icon in order to achieve our our business goals? But but luckily we were able to do that while still keeping on to that icon.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah, I like that because I think we have to be careful about not letting the tail wag the dog, so to speak. Like it's so important to understand consumer wants and needs and where things are going, but also who we are as a business, because you can't chase all of that, right? You have to stay true to yourself, staying true to yourself.

The business of this story as a bank, I wouldn't think this is the obvious option to go. You said all sorts of brands can benefit from Uma, so how did you bring Uma to a bank?

Tom Ghiden: Yeah, it was a it was an interesting conversations that were had through that. And I think, you know, finance, particularly here in the UK, has traditionally been a very tedious, mundane category. I know. I mean, you know, the Alec Baldwin work with Capital One and that was the beginning of sort of you using humor in a financial world.

But in the UK, you know, there's some cultural truth that sort of hindered us from doing that same sort of thing. You know, there was a famous sort of unspoken rule here in Britain that you never talk about money publicly. It is not something you do. And it is known for all classes. So whether you are, you know, very wealthy or working class, you never should speak about your money problems publicly.

So that to then bring in humor into this, that made things even more complicated. And for TSB, who is an established sort of British brand, they were sort of losing their way in early 2020 and I think consumers didn't necessarily understand or appreciate the products that they had and their communications were getting lost from within their consumers that so they were never going to be able to spend as some of the other banks had.

So what they really needed to do was sort of shock and they needed to do something that would get people to sort of look at them, particularly when they weren't going to be able to be on every channel all day like some of their competitors were. So they really needed to sort of break through. And so we sort of proposed something that was let's let's find a way to speak that no brand or none of your competitors will speak.

And for that you need some humor. And so we should have said, let's break down this taboo around speaking about money in a way that people can engage with and feel and have a laugh about. So we originally pitched this concept and at the time I remember they sort of were like, Is this a joke? And we sort of butt out.

And the concept used David Schwimmer Ross from Friends as a sort of absorb an observant sort of dopey version of himself who gives permission to the Brit to laugh and acknowledge the realities associated with money. And I think what the client loved was this authenticity of the humor. So, yes, it was funny, but it was based on a sense of this is something that everyone goes through.

Again, money is one of those things that no matter if you have tons or none, you still are stressed about it. So it and it letting leaned into that and leaned into that belief and that understanding. And so the B humor was all about, you know, talking about money, talking about and feeling comfortable talking about it, and which is very not British.

And I think because David was an American actor, Hollywood actor, it gave him the ability to sort of be an outsider speaking on behalf of the rest of the world, looking in at Britain. And it it gave us an ability to sort of focus on the nuances of the everyday British life and British person. And it was shock, it shocked people.

And I think it really particularly that it was David Schwimmer, because, you know, he's a famous person that everyone knows, but it also gave people an ability to sort of laugh at finances and laugh at the sort of mistakes that they make when it comes to money and those nuances that they do in their own families as it relates to their finance.

So it drove massive reconsideration for the TSB brand in that people suddenly were sort of shocked that they had a spokesperson, but also that they were willing to do the do this sort of humor when it came to the sort of brand that they were trying to build. And it really helped us to grow the brand in a big way.

Daniel Burstein: So was there anything you learned from getting to work up close with David Schwimmer or someone like that? Because one thing I've always thought is, you know, advertising and marketing were not so different from entertainment and comedy right there. They're trying to do a lot of the same things we are. They're setting up a value proposition, whether that's setting up a joke or whether that's setting up, Hey, I am this character, right?

And then they have to pay it off. They have to live that character or they have to get, you know, the ultimate conversion of laugh. And so, you know, sometimes I think there's a lot of similarities there. So I assume you got to work with David Schwimmer maybe when some of these suits or at least, you know, were involved in some of these ads, did you learn anything from working, you know, up close with someone like that who was on, you know, like you said, one of the biggest comedy shows there's there's ever been?

Tom Ghiden: Yeah. I, I think the biggest thing that we learned, even as an agency team, was be the importance of ad libbing and the importance of, again, living in a moment. So David Schwimmer was spectacular. We wrote amazing lines, lines that I thought were some of the funniest lines that I had ever seen for him. And once we were on set and there were things that were happening, David Schwimmer was able to react to things in ways that we never would have expected and adlib and and I mean adlib not only just from words, but even in his facial expressions that brought different types of comedy to life.

And I think that was something that we continued to take back into our creative development process as we looked at the next generation of the next year is how do we continue to sort of build on this. There's only so much that you can sort of build for, but how can you accommodate to allow people to change and and the creative to develop as being of it and and that was, I think, one of the biggest learnings we, we had.

Daniel Burstein: While in the second half of the podcast episode, we talk about lessons we learn from the people. We got to build things with. That's two great things we got to do as marketers. We get to build things and we get to build them with other people. Not often mega celebrities from friends, you know, often CMO's and art directors and copywriters, what have you.

But still we get to build with other people. But before we get into lessons that Tom learned from people he collaborated with, I should mention that the How I made It in Marketing podcast is underwritten by McLeod's Institute, the parent organization of marketing Sherpa. You can get 10,000 marketing experiments working for you with a free trial of the McLeod's II Guild at McLeod TMZ.com slash a I that's MSE Lab Ask.com slash API to get the most value from artificial intelligence for your marketing.

All right. With that. So as I mentioned, you know, we get to work with people, we get to collaborate with people. That's a key thing we do as marketers. And advertisers are the first people you call that. You said you learn to trust in failure and you learned this from Lisa Clooney and Jamie Robinson, the founders of Joan.

So take us into the story. How did you learn this from them?

Tom Ghiden: Yeah, Yeah. So one of the first things that drew me to Jamie and Lisa was their transparency. I remember when I first met them, I was like terribly nervous and they were two very visible women in the industry who are at the top of their game. And I sort of had this imposter syndrome that I know, you know, most people get.

I think we all sort of get this fear that we're not deserving of the things that happen in our career. And for me particularly, I sort of always have this sense that I'm somehow like locked into a certain situation. And so when I do meet people that I look up to and heroes, I'm always sort of there's a little bit of me that's like they're going to find me out.

They're going to know that I'm not really supposed to be here. And so I remember when I had my first meeting with Lisa, Jamie, maybe foolishly on my part, I sort of admitted that. I admitted that I had this imposter syndrome, and they were sort of talking to me about the possibility of joining Joan and creating something together in London.

And I sort of wanted to just be honest and say, you know, there's a little part of me that just wants to make sure you know what you're getting into. And I remember Jamie said point blank to me, she said, Don't we all get that? I have that right now talking to you. And they were both really open about sort of the failures that they'd had had been just as important as the successes as they created.

Joan So, you know, Joan has been around for seven years and they always talk to me about the mistakes that they made. And they are very open about we've made tons of mistakes, but that has helped us to grow and to build and to become the kind of company we want to. And so the pitches they say that they've lost have been have provided just as much learning as the pitches they've won.

And so I think that sort of belief in failure and the importance of it was something that I loved that they acknowledged right from the get go. And, you know, in our first meeting to sort of say like, well, we all have imposter syndrome, I'm like, get over it and just lean in. That made me believe in what they were trying to build.

They made me feel proud and excited to sort of do something different. And that's the thing about Joan that I always love is it's built on this need to break conventions. You know, like our industry is imperfect. The marketing industry has some issues, let's be honest. And I think Joan is set to sort of break them and change them.

And as we think about how do we make really inventive, exciting work, you know, there's you're going to make some mistakes along the way. And so you have to believe in the importance and the possibility of failure in order to sort of have trust in that. You can take that next step. And that was a big thing that Lisa and Jamie told me right from the get go.

But I've continued to sort of say throughout. So that was my big trust in failure.

Daniel Burstein: I see. You know, if you come on, how I mean, in marketing and you say one of your lessons is trust and failure, I got to ask you about one of your biggest failures, the lessons. But I'll let that sit for a bit because that's the hardest question I want to ask you. Maybe an easy one at first.

So, you know, you're talking to the founders of Joan. We mentioned for the past six months, you built Joan LUNDEN. You built it with, as I understand, Christy Hathaway. You also mentioned who I think is the head creative. So you're more on the business side and she's on the creative side. I wonder what you've learned about kind of fostering that relationship between the business and the creative side when you're building an agency, if you've learned anything in there?

Because from my experience, I came up more in the creative side as a copywriter. Talk about imposter syndrome than you think you think the A's and the manager get because they have imposter syndrome. Every time I got a job starter, I'd be like, I don't have any more ideas. I'm a total phony, like every new job. And obviously you get rolling, you figure it out, it gets there again.

You have a great, great campaign or whatever, but then you get the next one and it's that same imposter syndrome again. Like I got nothing tapped out. So. So from your perspective, you again, you're kind of more on the business side. Have you learned anything about building an office, building, you know, a new city in a country with the creative like what roles you both play or how to work together?

Tom Ghiden: Yeah, totally. And I. Kirsti is the best partner to have, and we always joke that before we even agreed to do this together, we sort of had this dating where we would like, go for dinner and have drinks and sometimes too many drinks and really get deep into sort of our feelings and our emotions about what we wanted and what how we wanted to build it and how we want it to work.

And Kirsty is because Kirsty comes from a very sort of different background as it related to sort of advertising. She is much more editorial. She's been working in fashion, she's she's sort of done things differently than I've done in my traditional sort of marketing background, and I think that has provided this beautiful sort of relationship between us because she comes at things differently and comes at things differently than other creatives I've worked with, which pushed me to be thinking about work differently.

And I sort of push her to sort of be thinking about more traditional marketing, you know, with my marketing experience. And so we've really created this sort of world where we have to trust each other because we each come at it in a different way and it gives us an opportunity to sort of ask why and also why not on everything that we do, which I think helps to make the work stronger and the and the relationship flourish in a big way.

Daniel Burstein: I now, in fairness, I think we need to get into that fairly fair Lester lesson. Mr. Gordon But you know in I'm joking around but failure I think is really key to advertising and marketing, so I'm glad you bring it up. You mentioned we have to ask why not when we ask why not? I've had that migrate sometimes we find out why not.

There was a good reason and we have a failure. But by doing that we're working with our brands to push the envelope, right, to push that creativity. So can you think of a lesson you learned where like, Hey, was a mistake or a failure, but wow, you really learn from that? Yeah.

Tom Ghiden: And I think why not? It's a it's a good question because I think you also sometimes realize that it's not you're not focused on the right question. So I think one of my biggest failures was a pitch for I will not say what brand because I'm not going to they're still out there and I'm going to get them one day.

But I think we we often get pitches and I think agencies go for it. They they take the brief and they run and they think they build work that they think will change this brand in a big way. And I think sometimes our failures are that we don't ask the right questions after the break. So I think we believe we understand what a brand needs without necessarily really diving in and understanding what not necessarily what they say they need or what they actually.

So I think one of our biggest failures was a brand, gave us a brief and I think the brief was pretty clear. They said they needed some big populist work that would sort of change the way consumers saw them. And that's what we did. We gave them a really unbelievable script that was populist, had been played on, you know, Big Friday night primetime TV and would have changed the way the brand worked.

I think the reality is we didn't do enough due diligence on our side to really interrogate the brief and ask them, is this really what you need or is this just what you think you need? And I think the brand that inevitably won did do that. They ask the right questions. They really probed and said, Why do you need this populist campaign?

Because in the end reality, everyone knows your brand is but what you need to do is drive reconsideration. You need people to think of you in a different light. And by just doing the same thing that you've done, which is these big, bold campaigns, you're going to continue on the path that you're on. And so it's one of those things that continues to always be in the back of my brain, which is don't just do what people say they want you to do.

You need to really probe and make sure that you are reading between the lines as much as you are just taking their word for it. You. That goes beyond marketing too. I would say, you.

Daniel Burstein: Know, virtue and I appreciate you mentioned that because I get asked a lot this question and maybe you've got to ask too. Like in an era of A.I., what is the point to having a writer or art director or agency or any of these things? And I think it's what you said. It's yeah, you can have A.I. and tell it what to do, and it could probably do super quickly and cheaply and maybe okay.

But I mean, a real if you're a real copywriter or a really or any of these things, it's not delivering on a brief. It's helping and questioning and being an advocate for the customer and helping that business understand where they need to get, which is not always where they think they need to get. So I think I think that's a great example there.

Let me bring up now there's a next lesson. You mentioned how to embrace empathy and authenticity in leadership. Set boundaries and stick to them. Authenticity has been a common topic with you. We talked about authenticity in terms of for a brand to its customers, and this is more for us individually in our careers. You mentioned you learned that from Jessica Tam's IAG, the CEO of Dentsu UK.

How did you learn this from Jessica? Yeah.

Tom Ghiden: Jessica has been sort of a mentor and friend of mine for a really long time. She was my boss at two agencies, so both at Gray and I can most recently. Most recently she was the chief client officer for McCann Europe while I was there. And I think much of my career success has been because Jessica, as my boss, took a true interest in what I like to call my full self.

So you bring yourself a certain part of yourself to the office. But there's the other half of you live at home with your spouse and your children. And for me, she has always been an incredible champion for finding the right balance between those two people. Those two sides of my coin, if you will. And I've always where I work to just get some of the biggest life moments of my in my life.

So Jessica was my boss when I first got engaged and got married. She was my boss when we adopted our son. And throughout all of these sort of major changes, Jessica was always there celebrating alongside me. As much as she would celebrate a big new business win or a big campaign being finished. I remember the Monday I got after I got engaged.

I got engaged over the weekend and Monday I got after Jessica had was waiting at the elevators for me to get on the elevators to celebrate with me. And that sense of your professional and your personal life melding was a really important lesson for me. And I think most importantly, she was one of the first people I told after we our adoption was finalized of our son and after she sort of finished crying, she made this big effort to help me create a schedule to ensure I was able to get home and spend enough time with him every night.

So I carved my work day around his needs versus around the client needs and things that I sort of had always focused on. And Jessica had been an amazing example for that because she was sort of famous for every day at 5:00 she would go home and pick up her kids and then would log in on mine after.

And that was something that sort of her commitment to that every single night was something that was sort of famous in the agency and really an amazing example for me. And so I think this sort of belief in the authenticity of, you know, empathy and and in leadership is something that has really stuck with me and it's something that I want to ensure that my team and the people who work at Joe London can bring their full selves and their full successes.

So whether that's a success on their client business or the work that we create or that success at home, I want all of those things to be celebrated in our office because I think it makes not only better, but more loyal employees, and it makes you feel like you can do the best that you can do. And that's what sort of we need to that empathy is what we need to be doing more of in our business.

And it's something I've sort of strived to to do here in London.

Daniel Burstein: So I like that. I hear you. I agree with that. I know you're kind of probably our new crop and generation of leaders feels that way. Hey, do that have you have you learned any that any specific tactics to do any specific rituals? Like I mean, I'll give you an example. I interviewed Jake Watts, vice president of marketing at PDI, and how I made it in marketing.

And one of his lessons was that leadership happens outside the boardroom and he talked about also why empathy is the greatest hidden competitive advantage in organizations. And he mentioned, you know, like I mean, as a company too, that's what they have. They have their people and he, he had a leader who showed him like someone on his team, I think had lost his son.

You know, it was tragic. And he just saw this leader upfront, how he dealt with it, how he'd go to this guy's house and sit with him and just just all these different things he did. And then he realized, okay, that's what I want to take forward. I want to, like, understand people's lives on my team enough for that.

Then I want to be there for them in those moments where if it means, you know, going to their house and sitting with them after like losing a child, you know, whatever that is, like I want to be someone who does that. So for you is a great lesson you got to learn early in your career from a key mentor, a key leader, what you know, how do we we we talk about this, we talk about this empathy.

How do we actually act on are there any specific rituals or management devices or whatever that you use to do that?

Tom Ghiden: Yeah, it's a good question. And it's something that we've done at Joe London specifically is ensuring that we are we create you create your own schedule for the day. So I think when I was sort of growing up, I was at B, I was a sort of a master to my boss. So whatever they needed, I was there and available and if they wanted to work until 10 p.m. well, you were stuck in the office until 10 p.m. I think the thing that we really focused on at John London is like, you have to get your work done and we have to do what we need to do, but we do it on the time

that makes sense. So there are peop everyone has sort of there's a lot of people with children at John London and everyone has their own schedule where some have to go pick people up from nursery at four, some at five and at six. And so what we tend to do is I mean for around, for meetings stop for example, and then they might, you might get emails from 7 to 9 p.m. or whenever people can come back online.

And that practice is not only acceptable but encouraged, it's encouraged to sort of find that right balance. And we're never the type of person or company, as I say, that is going to mandate you work from 9 to 5 because that's not realistic and it's not going to encourage the best work from people. So I think that practice in itself is only helps to sort of bring that that full self to work.

And and I think the other thing is as we've become a more community, that is more based at home and working from home and may be a flexibility that provides it is something that only continues to be amplified in this need for empathy and the empathy for one's home life. So I can only see this increasing as we move forward.

Daniel Burstein: You mentioned picking out carpet for the office. Have you figured out what that mix is? Is it a hybrid or are people coming in like how do you how do you balance that?

Tom Ghiden: Yeah, we found a good balance. And I think, you know, we're tending to do three days in the office for now. But I think what's great is that we are a small team and we enjoy being together. So people are coming in more often than I think we've ever needed to sort of set any rules, which has been really fun.

And I do like to think it's because of the carpet. I did eventually choose that people want to be in the office.

Daniel Burstein: Well, this is some carpet we got to we got to share a picture. We published this article. All right. So those relationships within our organization are obviously so important. And you've talked about that. But then there's the relationships across the organization. You know, marketing is so much about this kind of agency marketing organization dichotomy. So from your perspective, that would be the clients from, you know, the CMO's and marketing people listening, that's the agency.

So let's talk about a story about how you reach across and have those good relationships. You mentioned humanity and transparency is fundamental in career relationships and you learned this from Emma. Bring him and Keith Gulliver, the CMO and head of Brand at TSB, the bank we mentioned earlier. So how did you learn how to have a good creative relationship again across that agency?

Brand divide? Hmm.

Tom Ghiden: Yeah. And I think I mean, I mean, Keith are some of my favorite client agency relationships I've ever had. I think they are both incredibly smart. They're incredibly diligent clients. They're constantly raising the bar excuse me, the bar for sort of creative excellence. So a lot of clients do that. I'm not sort of suggesting that they are the only ones that do those sorts of things.

And I think we had a really spectacular sort of relationship to begin with. I think we pushed each other. We really were able to find the best creative output. I think one of my favorite moments with both of them was again, around this adoption of my son. And I think each of them individually pulled me aside and spoke to me quite sort of emotionally about the reality of family life.

You know, Emma had two young daughters and I think she was really for her, it was really important that I took proper time off during maternity leave and really focused on building that relationship. Keith had two young daughters, too, and he also we were sort of was very open about how difficult he found paternity leave. And as we continue to have sort of conversations around our family and our lives and how we we meld those two things together in our careers, it was an opportunity for us to be more open, more transparent, because we were able to bring our humanity and our truth to the relationship.

And I think this compassion made our professional lives much stronger than to then as we had already had sort of these open dialogs about our family. When you start to look at creative with that within that lens, it creates an opportunity to be more honest with one another. And I think one of my favorite moments was when I we were initially pitching a new creative idea.

I remember I sort of pulled Keith to one side and said, You guys would be nuts to do this, but you'd also be nuts not to do this. And I think it was one of those moments that, you know, that's a true client agency relationship where you can sort of be honest enough to be like, this is kind of out there.

And and they take that, you know, and in the way that it was intended, which is really open and clear. And so for me that humanity is what made that relationship as strong as it was and a creative as an opportunity to sort of make the kind of work that we were able to make.

Daniel Burstein: So in a relationship like never, like in a marriage, for example, I think we've talked about her some good techniques like having good marriage, but also it's like you got to pick the right person, you know, like no matter what techniques to use if you don't pick the right person. So I was wondering you know, we talked about at the opening 80% year over year growth that was before opening the London office.

You talk about pitches again, we tend to want to win pitches. What do you do to make sure you're bringing the right clients in, getting the right balance for those clients? Commiserate relationships. You know, for example, interviewed Carlo Carboni, the global chief creative officer and partner at 72. Sunny, one of his lessons was, if your client is not as ambitious as you are, you're not going to do anything great.

And he told the story about Alessandro Benetti, then the CEO of Benetton, and working with him on the UN hate campaign, and they ended up winning a cans Grand Prix. Right. But they did it because they had a really ambitious client who, you know, really pushed the envelope. So for you, you know, we hear so much. I think the tech industry, so much drives our business news and it's just about this ridiculous screech in growth, growth, growth, growth.

But ad agency is a services business, and that growth can mean something very different, be difficult to scale. So what do you do? How do you make sure you the right clients in to have those type of relationships?

Tom Ghiden: Yeah, it's a really good question, Daniel. I think the way I always think about is an agency is as much of a brand as the clients that we work with. And I, you know, one of the things that we always talk to clients about is like, do you truly understand what your brand is and what your brand needs to be in order to tell connect to your consumers?

And I feel like agencies need to do the exact same thing. I think there are lots of agencies have been around for decades and have sort of these themes and these values that are sort of posted on the wall. But do they really stand for the same things that they did ten, 15 years ago? I think what's really excited about exciting about Joan is that it is a up and coming independent agency and we truly understand and believe the kind of brand that we want to be.

Which, to your point then makes it easier for us to understand the kind of clients at our right for us. So some work, for example, that we just did with a brand called Luna Daily, which is a sort of a feminine care brand, and they had the same ambitions that we do, which is to create work that breaks conventions and sort of work outside the barriers of traditional marketing.

And it was an easy fit for us because they wanted to do the same things that we knew that Joan is famous for and will be famous for in the future. So I think to answer your questions about truly understanding yourselves before you can understand what clients make sense to you, and then sticking to that and sticking to those values in a really true and honest way.

Daniel Burstein: I mean, it's a core value proposition. Question that every CMO and every brand has to answer, but an agency should as well. So we've talked about so much about what it means to be a marketer. Tom If you had to break it down, what are the key qualities of an effective marketer?

Tom Ghiden: Oh, well, I'm still trying to figure that out. You know, I think I think it's one of those things that I think changes constantly. But we've talked a lot about authenticity, and to me that's fundamental of any marketer and any person. I want to ensure that people understand me and understand that the messages that we as a brand are trying to do in a way that feels true.

And I think, you know, at the beginning of this chat, know, you talked about marketers sort of have this perception of trying to constantly pull the wool over your eyes and pull the wool over consumer's eyes and and client side. And I think that is never the case for me. And I think that is what makes a strong marketer, someone who is going to be honest.

She's going to say, You'd be nuts to do this, but you'd be not not to do this and that same and that same breath, because it will only help break those conventions and drive even less traditional work and work that really changes the world.

Daniel Burstein: Well, to your theme, I mean, our goal here is to have some authentic conversations on how I made it marketing about this industry, about this life that we do. I think I hope we achieve that any time. I learn a lot from you. I really appreciate your time. Thanks for being here.

Tom Ghiden: Thank you so much. You know, I've had a really good time.

Daniel Burstein: And thanks to everyone for listening.

Outro: Thank you for joining us for how I made it in marketing with Daniel Bernstein. Now that you've gotten inspiration for transforming yourself as a marketer, get some ideas for your next marketing campaign. From Marketing Sherpas, Extensive library of free case studies at marketing Sherpa dot com That's marketing s h e rpa Paycom and.

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