Karen Monahan moves to BBH, New York

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After notable tenures as director of production at Big Spaceship, managing director at Perfect Fools and EP at R/GA, Karen Monahan has made the move to BBH, New York. The digital expert, who has been proselytizing the medium for over ten years, spoke to Creativity about her new role.

What motivated you to head to BBH, New York?

KM: The big thing is that I've always been in digital. All of the shops that I've worked for are great. I've loved them all—Big Spaceship, Perfect Fools, R/GA. But, I think it was some increasing frustration of trying to evangelize digital and always being on the outside. We've all got to figure it out together and find unified brand direction.

Do you think it's figured out yet?

KM: I don't think anyone's figured it out and I came here because I think we're the most likely to figure it out. I like the size of the company and the brands they work with. They made some really good digital hires in the last couple of years and I think BBH is really poised to figure it out.

With your extensive background in digital-focused shops, what attracted you to a traditional agency?

KM: I've always considered myself a digital evangelist and tried to convince traditional agencies I partnered with when I was in small shops why digital is important and how it should fit in. But then, it was always like you need to understand digital better and not looking at it as this one-sided thing. But maybe it's not that the traditional shops need to just understand better; maybe us digital experts need to understand the traditional process a little bit too and have it become more of a synthesis rather than digital experts always feeling like they need to teach the traditional. I think it's more of a collaboration and exchange. I really love the collaborative environment that BBH functions under. They're super collaborative here. It's not siloed off; there's not these separate broadcast versus print versus digital departments. There are those folds but everybody sits together, mixes in and collaborates in coming up with a direction for the creative. It's really exciting to see the work that's coming out of that process.

Was there a need for BBH to focus on digital?

KM: Definitely. It just makes so much sense that instead of a brand having a separate relationship with a traditional shop and a separate relationship with a digital shop that it should be one unified brand direction and campaign. These things don't function as separate entities. The way that you're going to be able to surf the web on TV, it's all coming together eventually anyways. Trying to look at the solutions as separate entities doesn't make any sense. So, it's the space that BBH wanted to get into but also the clients are looking at having unified direction as well. But there's a little bit of both. There are some clients that are really asking for it and there are some clients where there's an established traditional relationship with that we're trying to show the value as a service provider.

What originally inspired you to get into digital?

KM: Before I got into digital advertising, I was working at Parsons School of Design. It was really out of need. I was working as an educational administrator and tracking students' progress. My undergrad was in fine art, and because I went to Parsons, I really understood the student need of how they're getting through school rather than having those indecipherable course printouts and transcripts. So, I started getting into using the internet to track their progress and show how many credits they needed. I was teaching myself different software capabilities. It's why I ended up getting my graduate degree because the digital design department saw how much work I was doing on my own as an administrator. They said I should join their team, get this degree and this is what they were all about. It was this really natural process of having multimedia technologies coming out and finding practical uses for them in the job that I had. We were doing LED displays in the lobby showing course listings. It was not as sexy as some of the work I've done in my career but it was really exciting to start using technology in a useful way.

Having worked on web, mobile and gaming, is there a specific area you intend to home in on at BBH?

KM: Actually, rather than become a specialist in one area, we're going to develop a lot of partner relationships with experts in each different discipline and not try to necessarily to become a niche expert here or there. We really want to be able to work with different partners in providing any kind of solution. It's about owning whatever the brand direction is and not trying to push a certain type of media. It's about using media that seems relevant to the campaign and apply. It's really what is appropriate for the brand and campaign.
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