Partners for brave change: Rokkan LA's new leadership team on their bold future


By Doug Zanger | Americas Editor

July 28, 2016 | 6 min read

Sometimes, the path to a “dream” team can be circuitous. For Rokkan’s Los Angeles office, the path had a Mulholland Drive feel to it — plenty of twists and turns, with three key players finally coming together to solidify the leadership team: Brian Veasey (as general manager, new biz), Bill Carlson (creative director) and Billy Veasey (creative director).

Billy Veasey (an American with no relation to South African Brian Veasey) and Carlson were together at Rokkan in New York but made their way to LA to help grow the business there.

The two Veasey’s worked together about 10 years ago on the Red Bull business.

But, finally, the trio got together in LA and are primed to keep making some sweet music.

“The momentum we’re seeing in Los Angeles is just the beginning of what we anticipate for Rokkan as we look ahead,” said Rokkan CEO and co-founder John Noe. “We’ve made giant strides to re-imagine what it means to be a digital agency in a digital world, and we’re thrilled to see how an LA version of our NY hub will stretch our potential.”

The Publicis agency’s LA has been on a roll of late, snapping up important partnerships with REI, Pantone, Eyeconic by VSP and Cadillac — with the commensurate work that is being lauded for its craft, care and impact. “Make Home in Yosemite Valley,” a digital film for REI, is an important part of the Seattle outdoor retailer’s #LetsCamp campaign. The “Daring Pursuits” web films for Cadillac (Rokkan is Cadillac’s social agency of record) have made waves and invigorated the brand.

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Brian Veasey believes that the spirit of independence and independent thinking is critical for Rokkan’s success in LA — but it’s also the Rokkan “way” of breaking down barriers to progress and growth.

“That’s what I love about this agency. We're not just a number,” enthused Brian Veasey. “There's no long discussions, no red tape to go through. (Rokkan founders) John (Noe) and Chung (Ng) look at each other literally and go, ‘Cool, let's do it.’”

Independence is an LA hallmark. Another piece of the story is the white-hot technology and startup markets. Weave the two together and it makes for an undeniably exciting time.

“I think a big part of my reason for coming out here and wanting to move things out this way too was (the independence and opportunity),” said Carlson. “There’s so many startups here. There's so much cool stuff and that we've just over the years watched so many people from New York make the move out here. The scene has changed quite a bit over the years too. I think that's something that really drew us to this place.”

For his part, Billy Veasey feels the same way, sees what’s in front of them and feels that technology and startups have a willing partner.

“Those really are the types of companies that we want to work with and help grow and make special and unique,” said Billy Veasey. “It's something we all have a passion for in the agency. Every office has that passion and desire to work with these cool up-and-coming companies and independent thinkers.”

Additionally, there’s also the ability to spread out and “breathe” a little more — a New York and LA ying/yang — that Billy Veasey sees as a creative advantage, especially as they work with companies primed for the next phase of success.

“[There’s] the attachment in nature and more passion for living your real life which is a nice benefit of being in LA, but I think that that can help to inform work in a creative process well,” noted Billy Veasey.

Rokkan’s drive emanates from the ethos of “partners for brave change.” Part of that bravery and change is to be real and, as Brian Vesey pointed out, comes directly from the top.

”One of my remits is to make sure the agency culture develops into something that we all feel a part of,” said Brian Veasey. “It’s not every day where the founder sits you down and goes, ‘Okay Brian. Yes, it’s about growing the agency. It's about getting revenue, but I really want the team in LA to feel loved. We need to make sure they've got everything that they need. We need to mirror the culture that we have set up in New York, Chicago and Singapore. Do the same thing in Los Angeles, but feel free to get the guys together and come up with your own position and formula to make things happen.’ That is very inspiring to me.”

Carlson acknowledged that professional self-awareness fits within the narrative as well, but it all sits at the altar of growth and progress.

“I think (it’s important to have) the willingness and ability to step outside of what's normal and to be questioned and to question yourself,” said Carlson. “I think that takes quite a bit of bravery especially in this day and age when budgets are tighter than ever, competition is stiffer than ever. We're taking risks. They're calculated risks, but they're risks none the less. If you don't do it you won't get anywhere.”

Internally, the partnership and bravery conversation is one thing — being able to transfer that to willing clients and partners is another. At that moment, trust becomes an important window that opens. For Rokkan, Veuve Cliquot, a brand that, for all intents and purposes, never advertised, presented just the right opportunity with the simple ask of “How do we crack this thing? How do we introduce ourselves to the American market?” The result was an impressive array of films, featuring award-winning actress Juliette Binoche, teaching modern life lessons and targeting millennials through the lens of Madame Cliquot.

“They didn't have a problem with market share, but they've visionaries in terms of thinking a little bit further down the line,” said Billy Veasey. “That's a good example of a brand or a client that's ready to change and they found the right partner in us to take them through that risky, full of crazy, process.”

Down the road, wins are of paramount focus. The practical wins — new clients and revenue — are obvious. But the bigger picture, continuing the brave approach with strong partners that trust Rokkan LA, will ultimately nourish the new leadership team and produce a 360-degree level of success.

“We want to grow this and bring in new people and see it turn what it is now into something bigger and create its own vibe, its own flavor, its own personality, its own energy — and just have it feel like it's really running on it's own power,” said Carlson.


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