When Tiffany Rolfe departed the world of the traditional ad agency to join Co:Collective as Chief Creative Officer, she was asked why she decided to leave advertising. “Advertising is trying to leave advertising!” was her response. Here Tiffany talks about what organizations can do to thrive in today’s tech-enabled environment where authentic relationships, transparency, and greater purpose are the new norms.

June 2015

Advertising at its best often isn’t really advertising; that was the impetus for starting Co:Collective. When you look back at some of the greatest agencies and brands working together, they were true partnerships—developing new product innovations and more. Even the grilled cheese sandwich was the invention of an ad agency. A modern example is a platform like Nike+ where product and communications blend. But unfortunately for the majority, advertising over time has just come to be defined as “TV commercials” and “print ads.”

I came to Co: three years ago when it was just starting out. It intrigued me because it felt like a brave new experiment in how agencies could work with clients. Co founders, Ty Montague and Rosemarie Ryan ran many ad agencies from small independents to large multinationals and had worked with some of the world’s most famous brands. On that journey, they discovered that brands needed solutions to their business problems that went beyond advertising. They wanted to create a company that could develop the right solutions, not just predetermined executions, and they wanted to have the freedom to collaborate with whomever individuals and partners were needed to make those things real.

We believe the way companies think both about marketing and about innovation need to change. Today, inside most companies, marketing really just means marketing communications – as in traditional advertising – and innovation means incremental product improvement in the core business. Both of those functions live inside silos and often never meet.

At co:, it’s about breaking down those walls and working cross-disciplined. Strategy and creative work together throughout every project, rather than passing the baton, and we bring in co-conspirators to add particular specialties as we need them and can work with them in a much more nimble way.

Part of what we talk about at co: is StoryDoing©, which is about doing your brand story, not just telling it. There are new types of companies today which we believe are great examples of “StoryDoing” companies. These new types of companies, such as Redbull or TOMS think of innovation AS marketing. Every action they take is actually an opportunity to share their story with people.

We help companies become StoryDoing companies, by connect their marketing and innovation efforts and organize themselves around a “quest” – that higher purpose that the business is trying to serve, a big positive change in the world that people can believe in and join. Then with that quest, what are the iconic innovations that the company has to do to make that story true? Today it isn’t enough to tell people. You have to behave differently, make things differently. There are new expectations and transparency makes it too easy to know if those stories are true or not.

And we think this also applies to communications. How does this quest also lead to iconic content that truly engages people and create fans rather than just broadcast one off messages to audiences. It’s about building relationships with people over time. A great example of this type of content is what’s happening with creators on YouTube. They’re creating content for an ongoing 365-day-a-year relationship--responding and creating to the needs and interactions of their fans.

What all this means is that the best sort of “advertising” doesn’t have to be an ad; it could be an audacious product development, business model, service innovation or serial content. Building out iconic innovations and content from a quest can even reduce the need for major media spending. Behaving as strategic and innovative marketers, we help our brands put their story out there through bold actions, which can be more powerful marketing than any “ad” ever could be.