Last November, WPP announced that agency giants J. Walter Thompson and Wunderman were to merge – one of the bigger stories of a year marked by seismic reorganisations. Over the following months, Wunderman Thompson has gradually been taking shape.
Tasked with leading the newly-formed agency's New York office - also home to the network's headquarters - is Joe Crump, the former New York managing director of fellow WPP agency POSSIBLE. During his time there he was a key member of the winning WPP-VW Partnership team for North America (and will continue to act as the North America region team lead for WPP on the VW account).
Prior to POSSIBLE, Joe spent 17 years at Razorfish, in 2014 founding its product and service innovation practice. He's also worked in creative and strategy, and now wears the hat of a CEO. What's more, he's the creative director of his partner's New York cat cafe. One of the "strangest side-hustles" he's aware of.
LBB's Addison Capper chatted with him to find out more.
LBB> Your new role is particularly interesting because you're leading one business formed by the merger of two. How are you ensuring that Wunderman Thompson has its own culture and distinct tone of voice, but still keeps true to its foundations? And how do you see that culture moving forward?
Joe> It’s been really exciting. I was nervous at the beginning because of the scale of the agency, but it’s been more rewarding than I thought possible. Wunderman Thompson was formed from two legendary agency brands that were both known for pioneering in their arenas - in brand stewardship, and in creating one-to-one relationships with customers. The cultural common ground was innovation on behalf of clients - that's in the DNA here. Building a fun, rewarding, inclusive culture focused on innovation and award-winning work is something that’s been very important to me throughout my career. I’m committed to making sure everyone on the team feels like they belong at Wunderman Thompson and is doing the best work of their career. I hope that as 2019 continues, we can institute a culture where people want to come to work every day excited about what they do.
LBB> What was it about the challenge that appealed to you?
Joe> The bigger the company, the more voices and people I get to meet and work with, and the bigger the problems we get to solve for our clients. Our global pool of talent (across all departments) is much deeper now, with best-in-the-world capabilities in technology, data, and creative. Having been in the industry for almost two decades, I've always dreamed about having the breadth of talent that we have here. I don't think there's another agency that has the depth we do in the areas that matter most for today's ambitious brands.
LBB> When you were appointed you said, "we're at an inflection point for the way brands behave in the world". How do you see that inflection point and what do brands need to do to navigate the world moving forward?
Joe> Yes, I think we’re at a turning point for brands. Many of the conventional marketing tactics and channels aren't working like they once did. And consumers are demanding more from the brands they support - they're judging how a brand behaves in the world, not just how it communicates. Nimble brands are coming from nowhere to steal share from iconic ones. And all these changes are happening very, very fast. The companies that thrive will stay just a step or two ahead of how their customers want and need. Great brands will understand, manage, and create surprise and delight through the entire customer journey from end to end.
LBB> You've been in the new role for around two months now - how is it going?
Joe> I can’t believe it has already been two months. It’s been beyond rewarding. This is a very exciting time for Wunderman Thompson and I’m truly honoured to be leading the New York office as we introduce ourselves to the world.
LBB> Let's talk a bit about you... you studied anthropology in university. What inspired that decision? Is it something you're still interested in today?
Joe> Impressed you knew that! When I was a kid, Jane Goodall was my personal hero. She still is. And National Geographic was my favourite magazine as I was growing up. So I'm pretty sure that's why anthropology attracted me - the study of societies and cultures. It's still a deep interest, and a huge part of how I approach this business. I also find a way to quote Charles Darwin in many of my presentations. No lie!
LBB> You then spent a chunk of time as a journalist... how did you end up doing that? And what lessons from that time have served you well in advertising?
Joe> My years as a journalist are definitely the part of my career that's the most transferable into advertising. Asking good questions, listening and observing closely, digging for the truth, finding out what makes people tick - and then telling a good story. All these skills are also what makes great advertising.
LBB> During your advertising career, you've worked in strategy, creative, and innovation... that's really broad. How do you bring all of those disciplines into your role as a CEO? How important is creative knowhow in the arsenal of a CEO?
Joe> I care deeply about each of these areas within our agency - I am obsessed with the work. And because I've actually worked in each of those disciplines as a practitioner, I know how hard it is to be great at them. I hope that makes me a more effective coach for our teams. In each role over the years, I’ve learned so much about management, creativity, strategy, emerging technology, data and more. Now, it’s about integrating these key components together to ensure that Wunderman Thompson New York is the best it can be. It’s also about finding and inspiring the very best people who can help us on our journey to grow our clients' businesses.
LBB> What have been the biggest changes you’ve witnessed over your career?
Joe> The biggest change for me has been the increasing speed of technology evolution, and how that has changed the skills required from 'creative' people - and even the definition of who a creative person is. Some of the most dependably amazing creative people I know are actually on our data team, or in the technology group. Those people are fundamentally reshaping the boundaries of creative.
LBB> You're from Arkansas... what was it like growing up there? Were you creative as a kid?
Joe> Growing up in a rural state gave me a pretty profound understanding of the contrast between real life for most of America, versus life inside the 'bubble' of New York City, or frankly, inside any advertising agency anywhere. That sensitivity helps me be a more open-minded human every day of my life.
LBB> I like to ask people what they get up to in their downtime or as a hobby... but I've already read that you are involved with Koneko Cat Café. That's amazing. What led you to open a cafe? And, more specifically, a cat cafe... Please tell us about it!
Joe> Ha! Well, Koneko
was actually founded by my partner, Ben Kalb. But I consider myself the creative director… if it's possible for a cat cafe to have a creative director! Cat cafes are actually a huge phenomenon in Japan - there are more than a hundred of them there. But when Ben decided to start Koneko in 2015 there was nothing like it in the United States. It's a Japanese cafe in front - with beer, wine, sake, and Japanese food - and in the back there's a cattery which is home to 20 cats we've rescued from the city's shelter system. All our cats are adoptable, and we've found homes for more than 500 since we opened. I was thrilled to bring my creative experience and help develop the cafe’s identity, physical design, website, e-commerce experience, and social media content. It's definitely one of the strangest side-hustles I know.