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Creatives out of Their Comfort Zone: Jonathan Hoffman

Chief Creative Officer Becomes Chief Experience Officer

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Ever wonder what happens when you transplant a seasoned creative into a media agency? A melding of the left-brain and right-brain, according to Jonathan Hoffman.

Mr. Hoffman most recently served as president-chief creative officer at Campbell Mithun, and before that served as executive creative director at Publicis' Leo Burnett. Now, he's made his way back to the French holding company in a new creative role at Starcom MediaVest Group. His official title is chief experience officer, and he started the new job -- his first at a media agency -- earlier this year. Ad Age chatted with Mr. Hoffman for a bit about what he's learning from the media-agency world, and what he hopes to bring it.

Ad Age : What inspired your move?

Mr. Hoffman: The invitation came from Laura Desmond and Lisa Donohue [CEO of Starcom MediaVest Group and CEO of Starcom USA, respectively], who were sensing the change going on. We're all sort of standing in the way of the same giant wave of information and ideas and creative and technology. The position that [a media shop] has always occupied has been much closer to the intersection of consumer behavior and brand, with data and analytics. I won't make a value judgment on what's a better place to live, but for me, a lot of the most brilliant thinking is happening in this space.

Ad Age : Tell me about the transition and any challenges you encountered when you joined.

Mr. Hoffman: The difficulty, in the face of one of my ideas, is to pass the bar internally and it's getting the client to recalibrate a bit and understand how to digest it. For example, it's answering a specific brief, but putting the idea on paper to something that gets realized and built. That's still the stage I'm in. I'm not finding rejection. I'm hearing, "Wow that 's awesome," and then not knowing what to do next.

Ad Age : What can you learn from media folks and what can they learn from you?

Mr. Hoffman: For me, it's a process to get used to the importance of the language of analytics. I certainly have a long way to go to fully immerse myself in his world. I also think that people need to be given permission to approach things differently than the way they've been trained. We're not all left-brained. That's hopefully some of what I bring to this. I see the people here really responding.

Ad Age : Are there things you won't miss about being at a creative agency? For example, did you ever struggle with or sense that egos could be a little much at times? How do they compare to those at the media shop?

Mr. Hoffman: That's becoming an old stereotype. I worked with the best, most talented people with creative agency backgrounds. We're looking for new cool ways to connect with people and thinking and brands and that 's what I see. I'm a New Yorker by birth and progressed my career in the Midwest where that sort of egotism is a blind spot. That egotism is an Achilles heel and not what I would want to stand for today.

Ad Age : Your position is a unique one, so how does that affect the way in which you are compensated?

Mr. Hoffman: To Laura's and Lisa's credit, the initial brief was to roam across the portfolio and however you do, make it known with the other members of leadership that this resource is now available. The hope is that clients look at [the position] and are intrigued and find a need for it and sign up for it, but I think it depends on a specific contract with a specific client. It'll be built into scope or fee to include me.

Ad Age : What's the first thing you do every day?

Mr. Hoffman: The very first thing I do is check various feeds to see if there's anything interesting and applicable to projects that run the gamut. It could be creating a crowd-sourced game show that lives online but is mobile-activated and uses a hyper-local component via Google Goggles, for example. I spend time trying to infect a virus of creativity and ideas from the inside-out, but also from the outside-in. I spend a fair amount of time with the outside platform partners we have. Those are the big ones: Facebook, Google, the publishers.

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