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You're a What?

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Chief clutter buster, meet the chief imagination officer

Cynthia Adolphe was minding her business at a staff meeting at her agency, LLKFB, last year, munching on some fruit. "Suddenly I heard my name, and I looked up, wondering what I had done," remembers Adolphe, 54. What she'd done was greet visitors with charm, professionalism and grace for three years, so executives at the New York direct shop decided it was time to reward her behavior. They presented their receptionist with a plaque bearing her new title: director of first impressions.

"She just loved it. She thought it was so great," says Harry Koenig, agency COO. Receptionists are often looked down on, says Koenig, but LLKFB wanted Adolphe to know she was celebrated. Plus, he says, "Everyone likes to be director of something."

Many other agency and client executives are taking liberties with their titles. In July 2001, Ken Calwell took the top marketing post at Ann Arbor, Mich.–based Domino's Pizza. His title? Evp, build the brand. David Filo and Jerry Yang are chief yahoos at Yahoo!

Koenig says LLKFB is considering jazzing up other titles too. "So many are old-fashioned," he says. "We're trying to get more modern."

Tenet Healthcare's Nancy Franklin has already funked up her title. Franklin, whose official title at the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based company is senior director of marketing communications, is known as senior diva of marketing communications. The title is not on her business card, but it is on her e-mails and fax cover sheet. "It catches people's attention," says Franklin, 50, who works in Tenet's Santa Ana, Calif., office. The 14-year company vet says the title is an icebreaker that stimulates dialogue. "People get caught up about what your title is and where it puts you in the company hierarchy," she says. "Senior diva of marketing communications" shows staffers that she has a sense of humor and is approachable, Franklin says.

Franklin's tongue-in-cheek title change was sparked by the official switch made by Colette Brooks, CEO of Tenet's ad agency. After buying out her partner in 1995 and changing the name of her shop from Brooks Gruman to Big Imagination Group, Brooks, 45, became chief imagination officer. "When I see a bunch of names on a door, it's all about ego," says Brooks. She's not the only one at her Culver City, Calif., shop with an alternative title. Copywriter Andrea Giambrone is chief clutter buster.

Corporate titles just don't reveal enough information, Brooks says. "Titles like 'founder' and 'CEO' don't say what I do," she says. "Chief imagination officer really does." Plus, the title "disarms people who might otherwise have been closed," she says.

Marie Smith, who goes by agency mother at Ground Zero, says execs at the Los Angeles-based shop also like monikers that illustrate what they actually do. "We have a dim view of titles here," says Smith, who handles general administration and HR. Her husband, Jim Smith, is the agency's chairman, chief cook and bottle washer.

What does Franklin, the diva, think of traditional titles? "They're fine, as long they don't have to be the be-all and end-all of who you are in a business relationship," she says.

Brett Shevack, 53, is BBDO New York's vice chairman, brand initiatives. He's often asked what he actually does. Since joining the agency in July, Shevack spends his time coming up with "any and all ideas on how to help grow our clients' brands and initiatives."

Madhu Malhan is Ogilvy & Mather's minister of culture. Hired by former chief creative officer Rick Boyko two years ago as director of creative projects, the former executive director of The Advertising Club primarily helped the shop prepare for awards shows. Ogilvy co-creative heads David Apicella and Chris Wall recently gave the 37-year-old her new title at the New York office. "My task is to make work fun for creatives," says Malhan, adding that she's charged with "nurturing their souls and their brain cells." She makes sure staffers are aware of cultural events in New York and on the ad circuit, and is working on bringing in speakers to pontificate on music, art and pop culture.

"There's a certain amount of curiosity surrounding what I do," says Malhan. But, like the senior diva of marketing communications and the chief imagination officer, the minister of culture also says her title tends to open doors and communication lines. —