Indie L.A. shop Zambezi has looked outside the agency world for its newest executive, hiring entrepreneur and entertainment industry veteran Dawn Thomas for the newly created role of head of culture, strategy and content innovation.
What does that mean?
Most prominently, Thomas will lead the Samsung business. She will also oversee “all agency client initiatives to elevate creative strategy, brand narrative and cultural IQ.” You know the score. The agency’s newest hire reports to chief strategy officer Kristina Jenkins, who moved over from mcgarrybowen in 2015 and also recruited Thomas for the new job.
“I believe in finding inspiration and talent from unexpected places,” said Jenkins of Thomas, adding that she “straddles a range of industries leveraging a deep understanding of people and an exceptional network” and “truly knows what it takes for brands to create with culture in powerful and meaningful ways.”
The incoming head of culture had this to say about her new role.
“For me, culture is truth and stories are powerful. Culture is a phenomenon that is constantly changing, refusing definition, and rejecting formulaic tropes. It appears across many passion points and is fueled by music, art, entertainment, fashion, technology and more. It doesn’t ask for permission and it can’t be bought. My intention is to continue building a collective of culture’s muses, invest in and amplify their passions, and architect strategic blueprints for brands fueled by authentic story narratives.”
We hear lots of talk about people with unusual backgrounds, and that is certainly the case here. Thomas began her career as an analyst with the banking industry, earning her law degree and a masters in new media business before moving to Los Angeles and making her way through the entertainment field starting with a role at CAA and eventually becoming a producer and senior developer at Overbrook Entertainment, the company founded by one Will Smith. She launched that business’s interactive marketing division, leading multimedia campaigns to promote its own titles like I Am Legend while developing content promos involving comics, video games and brand partnerships.
She then launched her own consultancy that focused on helping brands like Verizon, Walmart, Ford and Reebok better reach female consumers via creative/content strategies and, in 2016, launched an interactive VR content platform called Koi Media that also focused on reaching young women. Coincidentally, Thomas is also a skilled front-end developer.
Zambezi CEO Jean Freeman called Thomas “a gladiator,” adding, “She thinks out loud, challenges the status quo, and is fearless. She doesn’t play it safe or stay within traditional boundaries. She has no interest in that—and neither does Zambezi.”
Thomas is Jenkins’ second big hire. Earlier this year, Wieden+Kennedy’s Danielle Pak joined Zambezi as its first director of communications planning.
In May, the agency also launched its own production/post-production shop, Blink Studios.