R/GA’s global CCO speaks to LBB’s Addison Capper, in association with Adobe XD, about beginning her new role in the middle of the pandemic, how the agency is supporting employees in light of increasing racial inequalities, and how a five-second Super Bowl ad for Reddit came to life
Adobe XD is a proud supporter of LBB. Over the upcoming months, as part of the sponsorship of the ‘5 Minutes with…’ channel, we will be spending time with some of the most innovative and creative minds in the industry.
Up today is Tiffany Rolfe, global chief creative officer of R/GA. Tiffany stepped into her new, global role in September, in the midst of the global pandemic and unable to travel to R/GA’s offices around the world that she is now working with. That pandemic has also completely revolutionised the way many businesses - clients - operate, do business and market themselves. What’s more, the killing of George Floyd last year spurred R/GA, like countless other companies, to take a deep and thorough look internally, evolve and consciously create the correct kind of culture.
To put it lightly, Tiffany’s life as a global CCO began in testing times but also a time of opportunity and huge change. LBB’s Addison Capper chatted with her about how the digital transformation of the past year plays into R/GA’s hands, how the business has evolved and supported its Black and Asian employees in light of increasing racial inequalities, and how a five-second ad for Reddit - an LBB favourite from this year’s Super Bowl - came to be.
LBB> The past year has obviously caused massive changes across all corners of the industry, but internally at R/GA, there have been some big changes and departures too. How have those changes influenced your focus and aims as global CCO? And what is that focus looking into the year ahead?
Tiffany> I came to R/GA knowing I was entering at a moment of major changes. And that’s a big part of what attracted me. It is an exciting opportunity - to define what the next phase of R/GA is. At R/GA, change is a feature, not a bug. It’s the only way to survive and thrive as the industry and our world moves forward. R/GA has an incredible history of disruption and was already ahead of where so many agencies are. As we made another shift, departures were a natural part of that. You can’t change without changing things. Sure, I didn’t expect the curveball of a global pandemic. But crisis creates opportunity. It further propelled digital transformation and has meant we can rethink everything. It’s not just about the kind of work we do, but how we do it. And then the killing of George Floyd happened. As we faced this as a company and with our people, it meant looking deep within to define the culture we wanted to create. We brought in new voices. And put EDI at the centre of our operations. Our new purpose of ‘Designing Businesses and Brands for a More Human Future’ has been our guidepost.
LBB> You recently said to AdAge that "R/GA has been forecasting and preaching digital transformation for years. The pandemic accelerated it even more." What does that acceleration mean for R/GA? Does that play into your hands, or does it cause further need to adapt and evolve?
Tiffany> The digital transformation does play into our hands. The way we think and make is aligned with a culture of digital proficiency. But that doesn’t mean we can’t stand still. To be ahead of where things are is hard work, and you never just coast. R/GA, just like all brands, needs to adapt and evolve constantly. We think of brands as operating systems - ‘Brand as OS’. I just like an operating system; they should think of launch as a beta and release updates over time as people use them and as needs change - be iterative. Brands need to be able to respond to their context and culture. That was demonstrated clearly over the last year. Some succeeded, and some failed based on how they responded to a pandemic and a racial crisis. Those with a clearly defined purpose knew how to respond and act, and others were paralysed.
LBB> R/GA's Super Bowl spot for Reddit was one of my favourite from this year, it was so cheeky and different. How did that come to be, and what do you think work like that says about R/GA as an agency?
Tiffany> GameStop and the Reddit r/WallStreetBets community became a huge story just one week prior to the Super Bowl. It was the perfect time to amplify what Reddit stood for to a broader audience. We knew we had to do something. So did our client. She briefed us on that Monday, and instead of waiting, we brought ideas to the meeting. One of them was a one-second Super Bowl spot. But we had five days before the game. And had two days to ship it. And no media bought. And it would cost the entire next year’s marketing budget. But our brave and amazing client, Roxy, said go for it. After realising one second was impossible and mostly being told five seconds wasn’t either, we pieced together enough local buys to feel national and made five seconds happen. Then the team got to writing it. It was written in one day collaboratively with the client and then designed in a day and shipped in time for the Super Bowl. The media company thought we’d sent them the wrong file. They said, ‘you really want to run this?’ And we said, yes, just run it.
I love this work. It shows the power of what we can do as a lead agency partner. We’re not often the ones with the Super Bowl spot briefs. But a spot should never be the brief. It was about creating a disruptive moment during one of the biggest cultural moments. And we did it in a way that no one else would have. It’s because we think of media as a creative discipline. And we created an experience in those five seconds. When you design experiences, you need to understand behaviours. This year people would be at home watching the game. Not in a loud bar and not during a loud party. People would have remotes and could pause. And we understood the Reddit community and how they’d receive it. We made it for them, and we designed it to be shared back on the platform as a celebration to the communities on Reddit and in a nod to the underdog community that made the GameStop event happen, we hacked the system just like they did.
LBB> You were North American CCO prior to taking the global role - how have you found the experience since? What have been the biggest changes since working globally compared to before?
Tiffany> Well the biggest change since before was that I did it in a global pandemic. So, it’s hard to compare the job to what I did before considering it’s an entirely different way of working than I’ve ever experienced. But the main difference is how deep I’m involved across the network. I know more about the projects and know more of the teams. My job is to connect and curate teams. And to elevate the creativity with more creative tools and inspiration and accountability across all the offices. We’re now more global than we’ve ever been because we’re all working remotely. I’ve found my role a critical one during this time when geographical boundaries have been broken down.
LBB> The global CCO role is also something that I think is changing. Some agencies have parted ways with long-time holders of the role, and haven't even replaced them after. Both within R/GA and the ad industry in general, how do you see the role today?
Tiffany> I think there will be a resurgence for the global creative role. The pandemic taught us how connected we all truly are across the globe. And as we all began working from home, we began working even more across offices, which was already a lot. And we’re working towards a hybrid model, so we’ll never go back to the way we were, rooted in locations. So, it will be even more important to create connections and culture and help facilitate great work across a whole network.
LBB> As a CCO, I imagine a chunk of your responsibilities involve nurturing talent and listening to your teams to ensure they're able to work to the best of their abilities. What is your approach to this side of the job, especially considering the lack of opportunity for in-person meetings and the stressful environments that the past year have offered up?
Tiffany> Much more communication and care has been needed during this time. You have to be more intentional about how you are connecting with people and also remember how much people are dealing with personally. The pandemic is one thing, but adding on everything that’s been happening in the Black and Asian communities brings even more personal burdens to many of our employees. We’ve had many listening sessions and Brave Spaces for communities affected. We’ve been doing company-wide bias training sessions, so we can open up the hard conversations that need to happen. And working from home meant I needed to connect teams more closely and regularly. At the beginning of the pandemic, I started meeting with all the creative leads across the globe all together three days a week - which has since become weekly as this became normalised. I’ve also made an effort to ‘meet’ many of our new creative hires personally. We can’t run into each other in the halls like we could in person. It’s important for people to feel like they are joining a group of people, not just a Zoom call. We also created an office wide app on Slack to connect employees called ‘Stir it up’. It pairs everyone up with another employee randomly and we donate 100 dollars to a charity after their coffee date is complete. It’s a great way to meet someone you’d never run into and give back. We’re all needing to find new ways to create company culture.
LBB> What was your first role in the industry? What are your fondest (or most horrifying!) memories from that time?
Tiffany> CP+B was my first advertising job. And I stayed for 10 years. The fondest and most horrifying memories sort of all blended together. It was as equally as fun as it was challenging. As equally exhilarating as it was exhausting. We all just worked all the time, but we were on this big high where it seemed we could do no wrong. It was like we had cracked the code for breakthrough marketing. One of my fondest was working on the Truth campaign when I had to live in a carnival out in the middle of Arizona for three weeks. We built rides within an actual carnival (rides you could never get off as a metaphor for smoking) and I ate big turkey legs and funnel cakes every day which was pretty awesome. One horrifying memory was getting locked out of a vendor’s office one late night. My producer and I were building a web experience for VW and we were pushing for changes late into the night. We went outside for a breath of fresh air and they locked us out of the building and quit the job on us the next day. We didn’t quite know our limit back then. I’ve learned to be a better partner.
LBB> During those 10 years at CP+B, is there a piece of work that you were involved in that you are most proud of?
Tiffany> Truth. It was the most successful cessation campaign of all time. Hundreds of thousands of teens didn’t become smokers because of that work. And it won dozens of creative awards. It was with that work that I realised the power of what I could do as a creative person and what we could do as an industry.
LBB> We've spoken about your leadership responsibilities and need to nurture talent, but is there someone in the industry that you look up to or someone that has been a great mentor?
Tiffany> I’ve been able to work with some of the best creative people and business leaders in the business. At CP+ B, I loved working with Andrew Keller. He always knew which questions to ask and was committed to the brief. I think there are some creative people who have magical craft abilities and solve work from that angle. Mine is very similar to Keller’s, where it’s looking at creative work through a strategic lens. Rob Reilly has also been a great friend since CP+B days and is someone I’ve been able to get advice from over the years. To watch as he took on McCann at a low point, and turn it around creatively was a huge achievement. He has been a cheerleader for me and my worth and helps me see it for myself. Another important person for me, at a significant time when I was becoming a working mother, was Rosemarie Ryan. I’d never had a woman role model or boss to look up to. So my years at co: I grew as a leader - learning about myself and building confidence in how I’d lead as a mom. And along the way I’ve gotten great bite-size bits of advice from Susan Credle, who told me to have patience as I started at R/GA. She said it can take around three years to know if what I’m doing is working. The first one or two years in these big roles can wear you down, so it takes a while for everything to come together. And Colleen DeCourcy has been someone I’ve reached out to regularly, as I think she’s done an amazing job of leading the business and culture at Wieden through their values.
LBB> Outside of work, what's kept you busy and sane over the past year of lockdowns?
Tiffany> I moved to a small town outside of New York called Shelter Island during the pandemic. It’s name took on a new meaning. I felt very privileged to have fresh air and nature walks while others were having to continue to work or be in small spaces in the city. And slime. Slime has kept me sane. My daughter likes to make all kinds of slime, so we make it together. Colourful slime, glittery slime, and scented slime with great names we make up, like Gooberry.