The curator of this issue’s Digital selection, Tiffany Rolfe, Global Chief Creative Officer at R/GA in New York, champions R/GA’s creative vision across the agency’s six U.S. offices and works in partnership with Global Chief Experience Officer, Ben Williams, to lead creative teams that work at the intersection of business and culture to deliver transformational work to global clients.
Hello Tiffany, first of all thank you for picking your 15 favorite digital works from the past months for this issue of Archive magazine! Can you tell our readers a bit about R/GA and your role in it?
R/GA is always changing. We transform based on how technology is changing the world and the industry every nine years (more needed like every 9 months these days!). R/GA started as a digital filmmaking company, then an interactive agency, and a digital transformation company. We were already in the midst of another 9 year cycle before Covid hit and launched a new purpose: “We design business and brands for a more human future.” As a digital-first company, we believe in the power of technology but also feel we have a responsibility to make it as human as possible – tech in service of people and not the other way around.
I’ve been at R/GA for 2 years, so almost half in lockdown! And I just recently became Global CCO (from the US). I would have never expected I could do a global job while working from home. While typically I would be needing to travel the world, meeting with teams and clients, I’ve had to do that from afar. It has meant a lot of late-night video meetings. However, for the first time ever, we are all in the same place in a sense, because we are mostly all working from home, all everywhere, simultaneously. So in that way, we have become more global than ever, even though we are not together.
At your last agency, Co:Collective, you were Partner and CCO and acted as lead partner on the YouTube and Puma accounts. Can you tell us a bit about what that was like?
We were one of the first agency/consultancies (before it became cool to be a consultancy). But really it was about partnering with brands more deeply and ensuring that marketing was more than just the responsibility of the marketing department. Brand’s need to have a purpose – at co we called it a quest – that guides business decisions and actions. Our philosophy was storydoing vs storytelling. Your brand’s actions are more critical than your messaging.
When we worked with YouTube they had just hired their first CMO and they were trying to build the YouTube brand while also helping advertisers understand the power of the YouTubers on the platform. So we launched their first big campaign across the world catapulting YouTubers into stardom. Within a few months they were being interviewed by President Obama and became some of the most powerful celebs on the planet.
On Puma, we worked really closely with their internal team – working more like an embedded team. We helped strategize new product launches and helped define partnerships like launching their new basketball brand with Jay Z.
How were your early beginnings in advertising and your first job at Crispin Porter + Bogusky in 2002? What were some of the highlights of the decade working for CP+B?
I worked on so much career defining work there. It was a special time and Alex was a bold leader. We had tapped into the pulse of culture from Miami, a place not known for advertising. There was a spirit of experimentation and passion that led to some amazing work. There were many work highlights. One was leading the Truth, the anti-smoking creative campaign and brand. It was the most successful cessation campaign of all time and one of the top campaigns of the decade, according to Ad Age. I always say that’s the work that will get me into heaven. Another was leading American Express OPEN and building the small business community and content platform, OPEN Forum among other initiatives. We were able to help American Express to build a small business community and become the leader in supporting small business.
I also look back at some of the work we did for Old Navy that was ahead of its time. An app called SnapAppy, which let you scan any Old Navy logo to get surprises and deals, was a new kind of loyalty experience. That was pre-Snapchat. Or being the first to create a shoppable on-air commercial – using Shazam. Some of these things are just now, 10 years later, launching more widely.
What did you do before that? When did you first get interested in design and advertising, leading you to your education at the Arts Center College of Design in Pasadena?
I moved to Los Angeles straight out of high school – the mid nineties! – and my neighbor was starting a web design company for the film industry. I took an assistant job there and taught myself how to program and design websites. We worked with Disney and Pixar designing web sites that I’m sure few people had good enough Internet for. We were designing T1 line level work while everyone had dial-ups. It was early days. It was through this experience that I decided to go to design school. There weren’t really web design programs at the time so I tried advertising. The rest is history!
Your CV on Linked-In says that you lead creative teams that work at the intersection of business and culture to deliver transformational work to global clients. Could you elaborate on this a bit and give some examples?
It’s about finding where the truths and value that a business can bring, intersects with something meaningful in culture – whether it’s a moment in time or a movement, a cause or crisis.
Most recently a couple of examples are:
Pay it Forward: Live – as a response to the impact COVID-19 had on SMB’s. We knew the value Verizon could bring, serving the purpose “to build the networks that move the world forward.” We could bring people together during this time with Verizon’s technology and partnerships and at a scale no one else could. We brought dozens of musicians, athletes and gamers together to live stream from their homes to entertain people twice a week for two months, during the time when entertainment became an essential need.
One of the key things about connecting business to culture is moving at the speed of culture. So making decisions to act in real time. You have to be there when it matters. And the word “act” is also key. A brand’s actions matter far more than their words.
Another example of businesses intersecting with culture is our campaign for the Samsung Galaxy Note 9. Instead of marketing it a phone for business, we realized we could tap into the cultural phenomenon of mobile gaming to turn it into THE phone for gaming. Instead of advertising through TV, we knew the best way to reach gamers was in a game by launching a skin that everybody would want and that you could only get with a Samsung Note 9.
What are your interests outside of your professional life? Do you even have time off from championing R/GA’s vision across the agency’s 14 global offices?
I really don’t have time. But I do try to make time. I’ve never been much for hobbies. I tend to make more work for myself as my hobby. Offering my time to design my kids’ school yearbook or family photo albums or helping out a friend with their small business’ website. I can’t help but stay busy. And I try to dedicate as much creative energy to my kids as possible. So their birthday parties are pretty epic!
What inspires you?
Lately, I’m actually inspired by everyday people utilizing tools and platforms to make amazing creative things that become part of culture. Recently, there was a huge viral success featuring a TikTok video from a guy, (DoggFace208 on TikTok) singing Landslide by Fleetwood Mac and drinking some Ocean Spray Cranberry juice on his skateboard. He tapped into a joy that all of us needed right now. But beyond that, it became a brand moment. Ocean Spray became relevant again overnight. I think there is a lot to learn from the value and role we will continue to have in discovering and curating these real moments that just happen in the world. And how we as brand leaders need to be open to ideas that aren’t our own. Instead, we are co-opting in a good way, bringing people into the brand, recognizing them and amplifying them. I think it also ensures that we continue to represent brands with as many diverse perspectives as possible.
What has been the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on your life and work?
One of the positive impacts is that we are working even more closely with our clients to stay on the pulse of what is happening in the world. Sometimes clients and agencies can live in their own marketing bubble and focus on what the brand wants to say, then map out marketing calendars months in advance, not as attuned to people and culture in real time. Luckily we have seen clients needing to be more attuned to what is happening in the world so they can enter conversations in an authentic way, and find their way to add value to peoples’ lives. We’ve also seen an even stronger focus on action over ads. People want to see brands making impact and helping to make real change.
Personally, I’ve moved to a new town outside of the city, my kids are in a new school and my husband is navigating a new job after he lost his from the pandemic. But my family is healthy and we’re both employed so I can’t complain!
What are your hopes and plans for a time after pandemic?
I think we’ve proven we can work in new ways and reinvent the traditional structure of work life today. However, we all are feeling the lack of connection to people. IRL human connection can never be replaced. It is definitely more challenging building a creative culture, teaching young people how we do what we do. I miss bumping into people that you might never have meetings with, watching someone work through something on a whiteboard, reading a room (vs reading a Zoom!).
But I do think the 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, everyone in the same place at the same time may become a relic from the past. It’s about designing an experience that is more flexible for our employees--finding talent in more places and accommodating life choices. Not to mention the bad impact our industry had on the environment with the amount of unnecessary cross country travel and global flights for client face time and shoots.
But we also experienced more than a pandemic in the US. The racial crisis was a huge awakening for our industry. And so as we redesign our new way of working, we do it with equity, diversity and inclusion at its core. It is time for real change.