When two highly accomplished people combine forces, it doesn’t always lead to success. In fact, strong personalities can often clash and burn when they come together. But in the case of the two founders of new agency, Joan, success is just part of the equation.
Jaime Robinson and Lisa Clunie are a powerhouse duo, with years of experience and success behind them. Their past wins (awards and business alike) can certainly translate to their new New York City-based agency – one that does business in a different way.
Clunie built her success with leadership roles at Ogilvy and Mather, Saatchi and Saatchi, BBH NY and Fallon, before becoming COO at Refinery29. Robinson was with Pereira & O’Dell before serving as Co- Executive Creative Director of Wieden+Kennedy’s New York office.
The two racked up plenty of awards, including Effies and Cannes Lions before realizing that joining forces would be a good idea. Robinson and Clunie knew each other for awhile, but didn’t meet in person until last fall. The connection was instant.
“It was immediately like we’d known each other for years,” said Robinson. “I texted my husband after (they first met in person) and said, ‘I just met the most amazing woman. I feel like she’s been my best friend forever.'”
What was most surprising, though, was that even though the initial energy was there, an important component for starting an agency manifested itself right away — trust.
“I think that the interesting thing is that the foundation of trust is there for me and Jaime,” noted Clunie, who has worked with brands such as Harley-Davidson, Unilever, Time Magazine, Pepsico, Brown-Forman, Sunbeam and Charter Communications. “Frankly, it’s surprising that it could be this strong so early. There's something about our chemistry together and our backgrounds and our desires and our histories and all those things that just perfectly align.”
One of the underlying storylines that emerged upon the agency’s launch announcement last week was the fact that this was a women-owned shop, led by two extremely accomplished and talented individuals. Indeed, the name of the agency itself is an homage to powerful “Joans” in history.
“Our name was inspired by all of the Joans throughout history who have brought big changes to the world – from reshaping rock and roll, transforming comedy, putting a new face on protests in the ’60s and, of course, the Joan who triumphed on the French battlefield. These Joans knew that the combination of talent, ambition, curiosity, imagination, work ethic and a completely irregular perspective from the norm would allow them to question, challenge and change things,” said Robinson. “Lisa and I want to commit all of our positive energy to creating a different kind of client relationship - one of listening, understanding, collaborating and making the best work possible, together."
But that is only one part of the story.
“Obviously we want to be known for our work, mostly,” said Robinson. “I think seeing the response that being woman-owned is having through social media and just in general is something that is clearly meaningful to people. If we're starting with a banner of inclusiveness, in the beginning, helping people overcome their own fears or anxieties about what they can do, then we're happy to help push that along. Especially if they want to come and be a part of what we're doing, then we're really happy to help. The opportunity that we have to change things for a lot of people, if we do this right, is so great — it’s a driver for us.”
They are currently working with General Mills as a launch brand, and are also realistic about how to pace themselves in this brave new world.
“It is tempting to expand too fast or take on too much. Scaling is such a critical thing to really show sustainability both personally, because how do you actually do it all, and professionally, will the business sustain that?” stated Clunie. “I think it's going to be day to day, one foot in front of the other. Should we take on this new client or should we pitch this thing? How many people can we hire? Those are all the everyday decisions we’ll have to make.”
What Robinson and Clunie are also realistic about are client expectations and how to differentiate themselves from the old way of thinking and doing business with brands. The lengthy, traditional process of briefs, conversation, concepting, presenting and approvals is making way for a much more collaborative process, what the agency is calling “codeveloping.” This not only eliminates some of the bloat in the process, but avoids the pitfalls in the process, especially as it relates to communication and a collective sense of ownership throughout.
“What we're endeavoring to do is to actually bring the client into the concepting of the work,” said Clunie. “The client briefs us, we sit together and come back one week later with clear strategy in every way you can possibly think of. We evaluate those ideas, then we think of more. We then come back at least a week later with new refinements, and each one of those meetings is meant to generate. It's very much on the abundant side — generative versus passive — and a very fun atmosphere.”
Speed is one thing, but putting themselves in the shoes of the brand is another critical consideration.
“Clients have a lot riding on the line, because, the agencies go away (in a more traditional approach) for a time. (Clients) have deadlines, and if the agency came back and the work isn't right, that's their job, that's their careers,” said Clunie. “We’re incredibly empathic to the positions that clients are in. Also, they're often really good at thinking up great ideas. It's been a real joy with our existing clients to work in this way. They're really invested, and frankly, the ideas are better.”
The Joan "way" — more collaborative and fast-paced — is enticing, but both Robinson and Clunie acknowledge that it may not necessarily be for everyone.
“A client that doesn't really like working that way will probably not come to us,” said Clunie. “If there's a sense that the agency and the client are not aligned, like we don't actually believe in the same things or that brief isn't going to work for the client, then I think we have to have a harder conversation about whether we're the right partners for each other. The truth is, is that the world is spinning so fast. The most important quality that we can all have is to get it moving, agility. If the client has no problem, that changes the way we work together. It comes from a real concern about their business. We are interested in helping them, whatever that is.”
For their parts, both have identified certain “superpowers” that coexist well with each other — a kind of “yin and yang” that ticks the right boxes and sets Joan up for success.
Clunie points out Robinson’s penchant for having “so many creative ideas. She is a fountain of ideas, and in some ways the bigger the problem, the more ideas that come out. It's so fun to be around. Sometimes there's stress before a meeting, like we have this fun idea, we need the client to buy this. Not with Jaime, it's like there’s 20 million more where that came from.”
Robinson cites Clunie’s intelligence, firm beliefs and manner saying that “When she starts talking, even though she's not yelling, she's not pounding her fist, you're like ‘holy crap, this woman has got such a point of view. It's really smart.’ She’s incredibly persuasive, because she's able to communicate her point of view in a really kind and generous way.”
Though it’s still early days for Robinson, Clunie and Joan, there is no question that the trust built so early has both thinking well beyond just creating strong work for brands and the accompanying, associated accolades.