People's first days at a new job mostly involve meeting new people, learning and forgetting names, and generally getting to grips with the inner workings of a new company culture. Noel Cottrell recently did all of that from the comfort of his own home - but with the added benefit of people's names tagged to their Microsoft Teams account.
The first day in question was for his new role as chief creative officer of VMLY&R's headquarter office in Kansas City. A key focus for Noel is keeping up the world class creative work coming out of the agency for US fast food chain Wendy's (which was the recipient of a Commendation at 2019's Immortal Awards for its cheeky 'Keeping Fortnite Fresh' campaign).
LBB’s Addison Capper chatted with Noel to find out about the intricacies of getting to know and leading his team virtually, and his future plans for the role.
LBB> Congratulations on your new role. Your first day was from home! What was that experience like? What went down?
Noel> Thank you! Day one I was part of the very first group to be remotely on-boarded so I’m still not sure if I signed up for a PPO, a 401K or a vegan meal?
LBB> What was it about the role that made you keen to join VMLY&R?
Noel> Knowing our industry is searching for what’s next, VMLY&R seems to have found the answer. The agency has deep digital roots and has built a branded content and entertainment offering to complement more traditional advertising. The positioning of creating connected brands that drive value and touch lives seems to resonate really well with clients. Working on the Wendy’s brand also felt like a huge opportunity, just seeing how the brand plays in culture and the kind of work the team in Kansas City is producing – it all just felt right.
LBB> Stepping into the role, what are your main aims and ambitions? What's the outlook?
Noel> My main aim is not to screw anything up. It’s an agency on a huge growth trajectory (they just won the Intel & BASF business) and it’s producing some of the best work in the world. In 2019 the Kansas City office won 11 Lions, including three Gold and the Social & Influencer Grand Prix. My ambition is to take that incredible momentum and run with it.
LBB> That previous question is particularly difficult to answer right now due to the time that we're living in. How has the crisis shifted your thinking moving into this role?
Noel> Together with the agency leadership we decided to not have me play a game of virtual Whac-a-Mole, so I’m all-in on Wendy’s, in every meeting, and will slowly get to know our other teams across the agency.
LBB> A big part of a CCO's role is the leadership of others - how are you finding this part of your job without the opportunity to see your fellow employees in the flesh?
Noel> Thanks to Microsoft Teams I’ve been getting to know who has how many kids, dogs, who takes walks with cigars, who rocks business PJ’s all day. Agency folks and clients. I’m not sure I’d have gotten that ‘in the flesh’. The other thing is that having people’s names bottom left of every Teams window is a HUGE cheat when you’re the new guy. That said, I’m eager to meet everyone who I’ve met on Teams, in real life.
LBB> What are your thoughts on the long-term implications of this period for brands and agencies? What advice do you have for brands right now?
Noel> The prospect of another pandemic will keep us all up at night going forward. My advice would be to plan your business, career, savings around the possibility of this nightmare happening again, but let your creative work, and your brand still dream and have fun.
LBB> Your focus is the Wendy's business, which has been the source of some brilliant work in recent years. The Keeping Fortnite Fresh campaign is an LBB favourite. What are you most excited about for working with the brand?
Noel> Four weeks in the opportunity on Wendy’s is everything I’d hoped it would be. We created a fast-turn ‘Free Frosty’ commercial to the soundtrack ‘What the World Needs Now’, sold a freezer for bottom dollar on Animal Crossing, painstakingly painted Dave Thomas for three hours on Twitch, created five no-budget green screen breakfast ads in-house, did two New York Times style crossword puzzles on Twitter, gave single people who were ghosted free Dave’s singles, held a cyber treasure hunt for free food for a week and are about to give America a big, warm GroupNug.
Great briefs, brave and responsive clients, a world-class agency team, fast turnaround, a massive social audience and a category that just wants to go for it. I couldn’t be more excited.
LBB> You've moved to Kansas City too. What are your thoughts on creativity within the city? And on a personal level, why were you keen to make the move?
Noel> I haven’t moved just yet. I was supposed to commute until my eldest daughter graduated high school and shipped off to college – the first event may have already happened and the second is up in the air. I have spent a cumulative five nights in KC through the interview process and absolutely love it. Besides VMLY&R being in the city’s old airport terminal, you have GREAT BBQ, affordable homes, a good music and art scene and of course Patrick Mahomes and the KC Chiefs. I can’t wait to get there and start exploring the city more.
LBB> How did you get into this industry in the first place? Was it a planned thing or more a happy accident?
Noel> I had a degree in English and psychology and was working in London as a bouncer, semi-professional basketball player, human guinea pig at Guy's Drug Research Hospital and about six other part time jobs. My happy accident was meeting someone from Saatchi & Saatchi who explained what advertising was and let me follow him around for a few days. I whittled nine jobs down to one in a week.
LBB> How are you keeping busy during lockdown outside of work? Have you picked up any new hobbies or is more a case of just keeping busy and sane?
Noel> I’ve done nothing besides work, watch Netflix and spend perhaps too much quality time with my family.