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How did you both get started in advertising?

Lisa Clunie: I was a receptionist at an agency in St. Louis called Simmons Durham. I took the job after my roommate resigned from the role to work for Eddie Bauer Home. I was such a pest; I had no shame or concern about making myself heard, weighing in on every presentation and document that was sent to us. Luckily, I worked for some very nice people who recognized my passion and quickly moved me into account management.

Jaime Robinson: When I was eleven years old, I saw the movie Baby Boom and knew that I wanted to do whatever Diane Keaton’s character did—advertising! I don’t know if it was the shoulder pads, the fact that they called her “Tiger Lady” or both. Right out of college, I lucked out and landed an internship at Mad Dogs & Englishmen. When my internship was over, the team hired me as their creative assistant. And when they realized that I was actually a really terrible, disorganized creative assistant, they made me a copywriter.

You launched your own agency, Joan, this past year. How is Joan’s rotating cast model cracking the mold of the traditional advertising agency, and what are the benefits?

Clunie: Because we don’t use staffing plans, we are free to truly assemble the most powerful team to work against a client brief. That means we partner with all kinds of interesting people—artists, entertainment writers and filmmakers, journalists, etc. This gives us new inputs and sources of inspiration. Clients also benefit from working with content makers who actively converse with their audiences in nonbranded work. That isn’t to say, however, that we live off of a freelance model. It’s very important to us to have a stable infrastructure and give our employees the freedom to assemble teams that inspire the work and client, brief by brief.
Joan is a very certain kind of name that comes with a certain kind of woman.

You’ve said that the name of your agency was inspired by the great Joans who came before, from Joan Jett to Joan Didion to Joan of Arc. How does the name Joan inform your approach?

Robinson: Joan is a very certain kind of name that comes with a certain kind of woman. Nobody named Joan is hiding her opinion or holding back. In fact, when we started, there was an influx of e-mails where people would tell us about their badass aunts, professors and best friends named Joan. One person even told us her car was named Joan, and that Joan The Car rolls whatever way she wants to. We try to bring this spirit into our work. We speak daily about these exemplary Joans and try our best to defy conventions the way these women did. And just like them, we aim to do it with a spirit that is inclusive and kind at heart. When we are stuck on a decision, we ask ourselves, “WWJD (What Would Joan Do)?,” and it always points us to the right answer.

The first work you put out—a social component for Netflix called “Rules for the Modern Woman”—gave a tongue-in-cheek lesson in how to behave like a lady in present-day society. What are some clichés you’ve seen in advertisements that try to appeal to women, but fall short?

Clunie: How many times have you watched a show and said, “That stuff only happens in sitcoms?” Many of the ads targeting women do just that—they make work from long-held stereotypes. The angry woman who has a chip on her shoulder from being treated unfairly. The mom who is pulling out her hair because she has so much going on—the pot is boiling over, the baby is crying, the phone is ringing. The sexy woman who wants a man to feel manly in her presence. There are so many, and they don’t come from things that are true at their cores. They come from rumors, suppositions and imaginations.

Robinson: So much of the problem is that work for women is so vanilla, so empty that it disappears into thin air. The people who make these things are usually good people—they’re just afraid to say the wrong thing and offend their audiences. But that’s actually the most dangerous cliché of all, the cliché that your audience of women are these fragile creatures who can’t handle anything provocative or have real conversations.

What can advertisers learn from the media?

Clunie: Media companies have long cultivated relationships with their viewers and readers. They program their channels to the tastes and desires of their audiences. They understand that people return to their channels for a variety of reasons—they found the content useful, they were entertained, etc. Brands need to understand that their work is skippable and avoidable. So if they are to be embraced, they need to use the tools of the media in a much more service-oriented manner.

Can other agencies truly foster diversity without initiatives like your Joan Foundation for Diversity in Advertising?

Clunie: My feeling is that anything is possible, but you give yourself a greater chance of succeeding when you create clear metrics and make them public—then there is some accountability as you make decisions.

Why is now a great time to be a creative in the world of advertising?

Robinson: Budgets are shrinking, yes. But that’s actually a great opportunity because it means that being creative is a very important key to stretching media dollars. If the work is engaging and relevant, it will get shares and interactions in social. It will get PR. There’s an actual business reason to make great work!

What resources do you rely on to keep pace with all the media your advertisements must compete with today?

Robinson: A really simple, completely free resource that each of us has at all times. It’s called the “Would I Give a Crap about This If I Wasn’t Working on This Brand? Metric.” Basically, we ask ourselves: Would we give a crap about this if we weren’t working on this brand? Would we share it? Would we take the time to watch it from start to finish? Would we reply or participate? We ask ourselves these questions not as marketers, but as actual human beings. It’s pretty effective, since we all are—at some point in the day—actual human beings.
Prior to cofounding Joan, Lisa Clunie was the chief operating officer for Refinery29, the fastest-growing digital media company for millennial women in the world. At Refinery29, she focused on revenue growth through deeper brand partnerships, and drove quality, speed, efficiency and effectiveness for monthly content on every major platform. Clunie helped guide both the launch of Refinery29’s influencer network Here&Now and audience development through such highly focused content and distribution strategies as a full Snapchat operation, state-of-the art analytics and testing labs, and new product development. Previously, Clunie held executive and leadership roles at BBH NY, Fallon, Ogilvy & Mather and Saatchi & Saatchi. Over her career, she has led strategy and partnerships for such brands as Harley-Davidson, PepsiCo and Time magazine. She is a four-time Effie award winner, two-time mother and one-time wife.

Jaime Robinson is the cofounder and chief creative officer of Joan. Prior to Joan, Jaime served as co–executive creative director of Wieden+Kennedy New York, helping shape work for clients like Clinique, Delta Air Lines, Equinox, Brown-Forman’s Southern Comfort and Sprite. Previously, in San Francisco, Robinson helped build Pereira & O’Dell, where she held the title of vice president, executive creative director and led creative development for headlining campaigns, such as Intel and Toshiba’s miniseries The Beauty Inside—which won a Daytime Emmy Award and three Cannes Lions Grand Prix awards, in film, cyber and branded content. At Pereira & O’Dell, she also helped create multi-award-winning work for Airbnb, LEGO, Mattel and Skype. Robinson’s approach to creativity and marketing has earned her a spot on Fast Company’s “100 Most Creative People in Business” and Ad Age’s “40 Under 40.” In 2014, she served as jury president for mobile at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

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