Q&A: Joanne Kim, partner & chief idea officer, Marcus Thomas

Joanne Kim, partner and chief idea officer at Marcus Thomas in Cleveland, on company culture, office dogs, and the misuse of technology.

Q: You’ve said creativity is “in the air, in our DNA, and it can get messy. Really messy.” So, how messy are we talking?

A: Every agency right now—if it’s being honest with itself—is trying to figure out what the [magic] bullet is to be truly integrated. Before it was like: Here’s a creative idea. It works great in print and TV and we’re done. Now it’s messy. Who comes up with the idea? How does the idea come to life? It’s not about ownership or black-and-white roles anymore. We’re trying very much to roll around in all that and revel in it, as opposed to being stuck in an old way of doing things.

Q: What’s the culture like at Marcus Thomas? From your website, you seem like an extraordinarily happy, pleasant bunch.

A: We put an emphasis on work/life balance and also on individual responsibility. For instance, if your kid has a soccer game at 3 p.m. and you really want to go, but that means you have to be up until two in the morning to get your work done, that’s OK. You’re expected to meet the deadline, but you choose the balance you have with work and personal. I’ve seen East Coast agencies and West Coast agencies, and it’s kind of like hip hop; every place has its own personality, and we’re down-to-earth.

Q: How do you deal with the potential friction between creativity and practical marketing strategy?

A: A great idea can come from anywhere; people have said that in the past, but now we’re working at really embracing it. Anything goes in our brainstorming sessions, but everyone knows at the end that, “Here’s the line.” They have to put their pencils down and then we all edit together and ask, “Is this doable?” You can have a great idea, but if it’s not doable, it falls apart.

Q: Say a brand wants to try something you know isn’t going to work. How do you let a marketer down gently?

A: A lot of brands are attracted to the shiny object, whatever that might be at the time, and they want to jump right in. Pinterest, for instance. A lot of people just wanted to do it, but there were things we had to figure out first, like, will it even work for that brand? It’s a matter of knowing the client and having [that] trust factor.

Q: QR codes: useful or way past their marketing shelf life?

A: Nine times out of 10 when you engage with a QR code it’s a total letdown, but that’s the fault of the marketers [who] didn’t put the right content or interactive content at the other end. It’s not the technology’s fault; you have to back the technology up with something that’s worth it.

Q: Your dog Beau Beau is absolutely adorable! What’s up with all the dogs at Marcus Thomas?

A: Tracing back to our Midwestern roots, dogs are really a symbol of what our clients want in their relationship with us: loyal companions who are with you on the journey. They point out the dangerous spots of the way and, at the end of the day, you also just want to hang out with them.

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