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Q&A: Co:Collective's Content Chief Tiffany Rolfe Takes on Fortune 500

  |  June 18, 2012   |  Comments

Rolfe offers a glimpse of where tomorrow's digital marketing consultants, agents, and vendors may be headed.

tiffany-rolfe-2Tiffany Rolfe was a creative player at ad industry darling Crispin Porter + Bogusky before she jumped ship this month to become a partner at Co:Collective, a small, next-gen brand consultancy. It's a grand leap - from a world where digital changes are challenges to be mastered, to a world that depends on digital turmoil to bring in new clients.

Rolfe spent her entire ad career at CP+B. She started as an art director in 2002 and in the ensuing decade worked on campaigns for VW, Mini Cooper, Burger King, American Express, and Old Navy. Last year she was appointed co-executive creative director at CP+B's Los Angeles outpost.

But the excitement of New York and the post at Co:Collective beckoned. The innovative 15-person consultancy collaborates with a collective of marketing, design, and publishing specialists to plan and implement growth strategies or "reinventions" for clients. The collective model is an experiment, Rolfe readily admits, and digital creative work, aka content, is a key ingredient.

A week into her new job as partner and chief content officer, Rolfe tells ClickZ how the ad agency and the business consultancy worlds compare and offers an intriguing glimpse of where tomorrow's digital marketing consultants, agents, and vendors may be headed.

ClickZ: What does your title "chief content officer" mean exactly?

Tiffany Rolfe: In many ways it is similar to a creative director at an agency. Here we call the creative ideas and creative work "content" and I oversee that. At the same time I'm expected to be involved with the social community, technology, and strategic elements. There are no silos here.

Our company helps businesses reinvent their brand or invent new products. My contribution is to bring forward creative ideas to reshape their business. That could include internal communications, mobile apps, a variety of things. Then I work with Co to find partners to carry out the ideas.

Unlike at agencies, our work is project-based, so I work for a variety of clients instead of just a few ongoing accounts. In my first week here I've already seen five clients.

CZ: Can you tell us about some of the Co:Collective clients?

TR: Clients come to us because they are trying to change, and they don't want that [information] out, so I can't give names. It's a mystery.

But I can tell you our clients are often Fortune 500 level companies in certain industries. One is the media industry, where businesses are trying to understand what they are at their core. Another is retail, especially in the luxury category, which is struggling with the impact of online commerce. Also we work with technology companies that are launching new products. In addition, we work with companies that have a division that needs to change or perhaps they have a single brand that is not working. This fall you will see some of the product launches that we are working on now.

CZ:How does digital technology and marketing fit into your work?

TR: It is the essence of our work. The digital transformation of their industries is why companies come to us. Digital issues are a major concern to them. The majority of what we talk to clients about involves innovation and we are all about helping them into the [digital] future.

Personally, digital communication and tools have always been my emphasis. For instance at CP+B, I worked on Old Navy's mobile shopping app "Snap Appy" that launched at the end of last year. My biggest accomplishment was pitching and launching the America Express Open Forum about four years ago, which started as an online marketing project and grew into its own business.

CZ: What lesson from your past digital work do you bring to this new job?

TR: Often projects are temporary [communications] efforts that consume lots of work and resources. I've learned it is better when they are designed to last for the long term and they turn into products or platforms that create value for the brand.

CZ: You were on top of the ad world and would have been a key hire for any New York ad agency. Why did you leave advertising?

TR: Advertising is trying to leave advertising. Every shop is learning how to work with change. I never saw myself as doing ads only. What I love most is handling lots of brands in different ways, but the higher I went in the agency world the fewer brands I worked on. Also at agencies you work so hard to convince clients they need to change. And only sometimes do they respond.

In this job, we are aimed at businesses that already know they need to change and are ready to take risks. They don't come in with a defined marketing or ad assignment for us to carry out, like at an agency. Rather it is our job to figure out what they need and find a way to do it, [using our collaborators]. I like the idea of being a partner in a great experiment that is starting small. Then we will figure out how to bring it to scale.

CZ: How about this idea of being a collective, rather than a one-stop consultancy-agency?

TR: At a one-stop shop there are so many pieces, there are so many specialties, particularly in the tech and digital fields. It gets expensive for clients. We provide the range - from strategic expertise to execution - but we don't farm work out to [hidden] vendors, there are no hidden veils here. As a collective, we work with our vendors as partners, we all present our views to the client. Also, unlike vendors, our specialist partners can meet with clients separately. I think you get more talent and inspiration that way.

Another plus: when specialist partners are exposed to the client firsthand they can see the process better. That way they can get what we are doing and what the client expects. When they understand the client better you get smarter work.

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Joan Voight is a Contributing Editor to ClickZ. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, she has covered online and offline media, marketing and advertising since the mid-1990s for several business publications. She spent nine years at Adweek magazine, where she was San Francisco bureau chief, national senior writer and contributing reporter.

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