To celebrate its 100th Anniversary, the 4A’s has partnered with The Drum to pull back the curtain and look at an industry full of problem solvers, creative types and analytical minds. But what keeps them going once the briefs are written, the campaigns executed, and the pitches won (or lost)? The Drum is now interviewing 100 people at 4A’s member agencies — across all disciplines, levels, regions, and agency types — to get a glimpse into what drives them at work and what fuels them in life.
Jonah Disend started Redscout as the founder and chief executive of the agency in 2000 to work to change a consumer’s perception of a brand by changing the way they experience it. From his Manhattan apartment to offices in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and London, he has built Redscout from the ground up. According to the agency, Disend organized it around the belief that innovation is the most powerful form of marketing. They note that their team of “Thinkers and Makers” invent, prototype and commercialize new products, services and experiences that help brands.
Before building his own company, Disend was a planning director at DDB Worldwide where he ran strategy on the Johnson & Johnson business.
His passion for his agency work was coupled with a desire to do good. He serves on the Board of God’s Love We Deliver and has built a social change practice at Redscout focused on bringing the discipline of innovation to organizations with ambitions to better the world.
Disend’s agency that he built from the ground up, as well as his philanthropic pursuits, show that he is living beyond the brief.
What was the biggest surprise when you started in advertising?
I ended up in this industry by accident and continue to feel like an outsider looking in, even after 20 years! Every day is full of surprises and challenges. I often find myself asking questions like: Why don't we all own the creative idea, regardless of discipline? Why don't we help clients create and hone their products and services, rather than just advertising them? Why do we still pitch for business?
What’s the biggest issue the industry faces? How would you solve it?
Early on, I learned an important lesson from an amazing boss — we rise together and we fall together, but always together. I had immaturely jumped ship in a creative presentation when the client was less than pleased with our output. "I tried to kill it" came flying out of my mouth. That was the last time I ever did that after my boss gave me an extremely stern and well-deserved talking to. I'll never forget that conversation.
The toughest conversation you had with a client. With a boss?
Agencies are too willing to accept what clients ask of us at face value. We lose a tremendous amount of capacity, energy and creativity going down the rabbit hole in front of us, rather than taking a step back to ensure we are solving the right problem. At Redscout we call this the Problem Genome, and we believe if you don't crack the problem first, you will miss the real brand building opportunity.
What’s your favorite thing about your hometown? What (in)tangible thing have you taken from there?
I am from Boston, and there is a unique blend of toughness and intellectualism (with SO many universities) in that city that has helped influence and shape me. They don't call us “Massholes” for nothing!
What’s a virtue that you live by?
My background is in theater and performance arts. For me, I see life as a performance - only without a script. The same goes for brands. It’s critical for brands to realize that every behavior is currently on stage for consumers to see.
If you went back to school to pick up a new skill, what would it be?
I would love to learn the craft of design. I have always considered myself more of an artist than a businessman. However, my inability to communicate visually has been a major frustration for me. Because I have always wanted to find a way to illustrate the random thoughts in my head, this led me to build a design practice at Redscout to help bring our work and ideas to life in the world.
To pitch someone from a 4A's member agency for Beyond the Brief, please complete this linked form.