On the Spot: Colleen DeCourcy

NEW YORK Colleen DeCourcy, ex-CCO at Organic, entered the big agency network world in July in the new post of chief experience officer at JWT, New York. She functions like an ecd, working primarily on HSBC, Diageo and Kimberly-Clark’s Kleenex, with the goal of creating interesting content, digital or otherwise, around a brand’s positioning. Reporting to New York CCO and co-president Ty Montague, DeCourcy works alongside Montague and co-president Rosemarie Ryan.

Last week, the 42-year-old Canadian was named to Cannes’ Titanium Integrated Lions jury.

Q: How was your role at JWT first described to you?
A: It’s an ecd role, working with the other ecds to help them tell better brand stories across less-expected [channels]. The hidden word was digital, because I really didn’t want to jump into that place. I was [already] in a place where if I was going to do digital, that’s where I’d have stayed. The idea here was not to have digital and non-digital. The idea was to mix. So, I became their first poster child for, “Let’s throw her in and see if she swims, and see if anyone else gets value from it.”

Has that role changed in the eight months you’ve been there?
I have realized what different worlds [digital and non-digital] are, and how from either side, the other one seems so simple. And coming in, I kind of pocketed away inside what I know about digital. I mean, what makes something great? It’s not just that it’s viral, it’s not just that it’s funny, it’s not just that it looks great, but that you can measure it. Clients are way more heated up about measuring digital than any other platform. How do you create architectures for word of mouth? And I [thought], “This will be easy.” But it’s really hard.

So it’s as difficult for people in “new media” to understand the traditional side as it is the other way around?
Yes. Fundamentally there are people who think well with both sides of their brain—business and creative. And I think that the structure of a traditional agency historically has been to keep both sides safe from each other. Digital puts you straight into the middle of the game.

What’s been the biggest challenge so far?
Keeping my confidence. And not being on top of the heap anymore.

How do you work with creatives and strategists?
I work with creatives and strategists the same way any ecd does. I also work with other ecds, partnering with them to create online experiences for their clients. We look at the strategic idea, investigate where the audience is for that idea online—what their habits are, what kind of behaviors they have online, what kind of messaging they respond best to—and we design an experience for them that encourages the most engagement possible.

Which JWT client is the most adventurous when it comes to content or new media?

What makes a good or bad client?
A good client is always exploring, is excited by things they haven’t seen before and comes at each presentation with a sense of partnership and encouragement. A bad client is sure they know what will work and just want you to give them a “creative” version of what they already want.

What inspires you creatively?
Laughter. If I’m in a room with someone and we’re tossing back and forth an idea, the first time a laugh comes out, I’m just all over it like a fat kid on a Smartie. And I’ll just keep poking, poking, poking and poking. … [It’s a] confirmation, a human connection. I can be obtusely intellectual about things, but when I’m being creative, I think it’s that laughter that jolts me from one place to the next.

What are the pros of working at a big agency network?
Just the ability to execute. You’re never really limited by, “Oh, I’d love to do that, but how would we?” There are just people popping up, saying, “Hey, I hear you want to whatever.” … [Also], I really am someone who likes to change a lot. So, the opportunity to work with people from other offices or with people from other floors [is another pro]. And big brands. In this instance, historical brands. That’s fascinating to me.

What are the cons?
It takes a lot of organization to have impromptu conversations.

What’s on your nightstand?
The politically correct answer is my BlackBerry, which is pathetic. It’s my alarm clock. More pathetic would be the copy of Star.

What three words would other people use to describe you?
Impatient, tenacious, mercurial.

How would you describe yourself?
Growling, happy and a challenge.

Who has had the most influence on your career?
I feel that I’ve been making it up as I go along. There have been people who have reached out to me and helped me grow. I heart Andrew Robertson, Ty, Rose. People who said, “Come on, I think you can do this.” But on the whole, it’s a very weird time because digital was just starting when I went [to Organic] and this integration in advertising is just starting. So, it’s always sort of, “Be fearless, be brave.”

Do you remember your first ad?
Yes. I knew I had no chance of getting something sold through this group since I was so young. It was for Towers, a Canadian department store, and its line was always “Towers, we’re part of your family.” There was a promotion on Henckels knives and I did a piece with Charles Manson and Henckels knives, knowing it would never get bought.

What ideas did you contribute to the Kleenex campaign?
Kleenex was well under way when I arrived. Really, what I did was a lot of tuning and tinkering with models with the way people would use it. Making it mobile and fluid. The campaign inherently is cultural—the blogging aspects of it. The distributing content network aspect. … Working on that distribution model, which was a lot of fun in a new world. The way that it works, the flow of the function, is really about seeding that content, which I think was my biggest contribution.

Talk a bit more about the distribution.
It’s being aware that putting yourself somewhere and saying, “Hey, I matter, come and upload your content to me,” is just not really credible or valuable. So the way I work a lot is [around] the idea [of] being where people are, being what they’re interested in, encapsulating ideas rather than Kleenex. … In working on the media plan with MindShare, it wasn’t about putting things places where Kleenex would be. It’s putting things in places where emotions are present. Allowing people to partake of other people’s content without necessarily having to come by the site if they didn’t want to. Our role as well as the brand’s was to curate stuff that we thought was great. It’s really starting to take effect.

When you say, “places where emotions are present,” do you mean sites?
Yes. It might be a movie site. It might be Oprah’s site. It might be where groups of people gather—bulletin board lists to talk about things, communities around the subjects. Anything that the brand can facilitate. Because nobody really wants to start a community around Kleenex. “Quick let’s run there now!” (laughs). Though, I love Kleenex.

Which of the presidential hopefuls best understands the Web?
This is a funny bunch. In past years, you had real standouts of using the Web, right? And this year I feel it’s just sort of really back to traditional in a funny way.

Are they basically doing what they always did and just transferring it to the Web?
I think so. I just don’t think that it’s a focus. No one’s trying to prove anything with the Internet right now.

How did you get into advertising?
Like all things, it kind of picked me. It was actually my first job out of school.

What was the job?
Copywriter at a retail ad agency in Toronto, Saffer Cravit & Freedman.

What did you work on?
A little bit on everything. I was two minutes out of school. It was half, “Go get this coffee,” and half, “Hey, you want to write some copy for a Towers flyer?” I was like, “Yes, yes.” And it really didn’t click for me the first time. I didn’t love it. I was seduced by television and production. The first time I was on a set, I [knew I] was never going back.

How is having a 12-year-old daughter helping you in your job?
If anything, it has provided life lessons. I decided to get into digital while I was pregnant and spent the months that I stayed home afterwards deep-diving every bookstore, everything that I could get my hands on, computers, every William Gibson novel. Obsessed. And she sat on my lap in front of the computer all her life. So, really it’s not about, “Isn’t it interesting how she uses media?” because I tend to use media the same ways.

She doesn’t make any distinction between different media types?
No. She finagled her way into having a Sidekick because she was on a cell phone and I use my BlackBerry and she said she couldn’t keep up with texting with me. I would send big, long chunks and they would come through in all these little bits and she hated that. I’m a text-aholic.