Creative Marketing is the Name and Storytelling is the Game (with Chris Thomas, Creative Director at Cohn Marketing)
Creative Marketing is the Name and Storytelling is the Game (with Chris Thomas, Creative Director at Cohn Marketing)
Creative marketing is the name and storytelling is the game for Chris Thomas, long-time graphic artist and current Creative Director at Cohn Marketing in Denver, CO. We sat down with Chris to learn more about the role creative content plays in a marketing agency, and the strategy behind turning a brand’s marketing needs into engaging rich media assets.
Some of the topics we covered:
- What does the Creative Director role look like in a marketing company (as opposed to a media agency).
- The process of developing creative content that solves pain points for clients (hint: step one is LISTENING!)
- How graphic design influences storytelling, calls-to-action, and branding
- How to answer the big creative-content-ROI question
- The Positivity Marketing trend and why it’s having an important cultural moment
Announcer: What's up, guys? Welcome to The Toby Agency Podcast Network. We just launched our third show called Entrepreneurship Sucks, hosted by Andrew Hong, CEO of Tobe Agency. If you've ever wondered what the not- so- obvious personal challenges of being an entrepreneur are, you should definitely check out this insightful podcast. You can also listen to new episodes every other Tuesday wherever you get your podcasts. For more information and content like this, head over to tobeagency. co/ podcast.
Chris Thomas: Here's that dirty secret, right? We always think that we're smarter than our clients and that we know more. Well, we don't. I had to learn that a long time ago that they actually know their business and they know what their pain points are. It's up to us to listen to that, to listen to what their needs are, and then to be able to start crafting solutions. In order to do that, we have to sit with them. We have to have conversation with them. We have to get on the same page and the same team with them.
Jared Sanders: That's Chris Thomas, Creative Director of COHN Marketing. On this episode, we sit down and talk to Chris about what it looks like to create a brand, how to differentiate good versus bad design, what the biggest difficulties of merging creative and marketing are, and, what does it look like to be a creative director for a marketing agency? This is Lights, Camera, Grow. Hey, what's going on guys? Welcome back to The Lights, Camera, Grow Podcast. My name is Jared, and on today's podcast we have Chris Thomas. Chris Thomas is the Creative Director for COHN Marketing out in Denver. He was so lucky, I should say we're so lucky, to have him on as a guest today. Chris, what's going on? Thanks for joining us.
Chris Thomas: Hey, guys. Thanks for having me, and I do feel lucky to be on today. I really appreciate the opportunity to chat with you guys today.
Jared Sanders: Yeah, thank you so much for taking out time out of your busy day. As myself being a Creative Director, I know that meetings last minute are usually happening at all times, so we are fortunate enough to get you on for a few minutes here to chat all things marketing, all things creative, so thanks. Let me give the audience a little background about Chris. Chris was an artist for about, I think, 13 years if I'm not mistaken, and for the last 16 years he spent his career being a Creative Director, which we're going to dive into in just a second. He's worked on some awesome projects for companies like Frontier, Kraft Foods, SCOTT Sports, just to name a few. Self- proclaimed great dancer, so we definitely got to probably dive into that a little bit. Any specific dance moves that you want to show off to the audience? We are on video.
Chris Thomas: Where did you even get that from? I have no idea. Is that-
Jared Sanders: We crosstalk-
Chris Thomas: ...on some LinkedIn profile or something? I'm going to have to change that, I think.
Jared Sanders: ...we have a pretty extensive background research team that we use for our guests here before we kick off, but real quick, Chris, just give the audience a little bit more background about yourself, but also tell the audience what COHN Marketing is all about.
Chris Thomas: Yeah, absolutely. You guys got it pretty close. I have been part of the slam bang action- packed world of graphic design and advertising for, well, since about 1990, so that dates me a little bit, but worked in a number of different industries for a number of different companies. I landed at COHN about eight and a half years ago. I've always wanted to or I've always strived to work with people who are smarter than I am, which is not hard to do, who challenge me and who help me grow and who in turn help me be the best that I can be for our clients and for the people that I work with. When I met with Jeff Cohn, it was pretty much an easy decision to go that route with COHN. We are a full- service branding agency, kind of a soup to nuts type of thing. We start from a strategic foundation working with our clients when we can. Not everybody needs the full soup to nuts, and we can do that as well, but we like to start at the root foundational level with them, helping to craft their brand, their brand voice, their brand story so that we can then help them grow in their market space. Mostly these days we work with like real estate, healthcare, a lot of B2B. It's kind of interesting. A lot of times people would say, " Well, that's not very sexy, right?" We really strive to bring out the sexy in what our clients do. I think we do a great job with that. Everything that we do, every touchpoint, we say, " Every interaction matters." That's kind of our TM kind of thing, and we truly believe that with brand. Obviously like you guys know, it's not a logo, that's not your brand. It's every piece of content, it's every piece of collateral.
Jared Sanders: That's actually a really good foundation. A lot of the points that you just pointed out there things that we talk about all of the time. Obviously, we're doing the same thing. We work with a lot of B2B clients. One of the things we always tell them is, " Just because you're a B2B client doesn't mean you can't be sexy." In fact, one of our services is doing a podcast, so we actually help B2B companies, brands, and build a podcast. A lot of times they're like, " Oh, well, we're not sexy enough," or, " We don't have anything to say to be on a podcast," because they think automatically like Joe Rogan or any other celebrity podcast. A lot of the things that you point out resonate really well with our audience and us here as well, so that's awesome. One question that I just have to get out of the way, what's your favorite dance? No, I'm just kidding.
Chris Thomas: No. We're not going to be able to drop that.
Jared Sanders: No, no. I get asked this question all of the time working with a ton of creative directors on more of the ad agency side. In my former career, a lot of them asked, " Okay, so what is a creative director in a marketing agency?" It's a little bit different, but I'd love to hear from your perspective when you get asked that question.
Chris Thomas: Well, that's an interesting question. For me, a creative director no matter what part of the business you're working in, whether it's in- house or agency side, advertising or marketing, a creative director needs to be able to take the 30,000- foot holistic view of the brand that you're working with and be able to craft creative and working with a team to craft creative. Obviously, we don't do it all. We've got amazing people that we work with to be able to craft stories that resonate with our audiences, to be able to craft creative that is outstanding visually and, when we can, pushes the boundaries a little bit for our clients. I think that that's one of our main jobs is to be able to question and to try to push, like I say, the boundaries. I think that when you're working at a marketing firm and, specifically with ours, we do work from a strategic foundational level, so I'm at the very beginning of that process, even from the new business pitch on. For me, I never really worked at a" ad agency," so I guess I can't really say that world or can't speak to that world, but for me, I have to be so aligned with the client's strategic focus and then our internal team and how we're moving forward with that. I think from a creative director standpoint, I just need to be an advocate for our client, an advocate for their users, and just always be thinking about how we can best position them. That's a long- winded answer.
Ho Son: I watch Jared a lot and as a Creative Director, every creative is different, creative mind is very unique. From what you do, from a marketing standpoint because that always has to be in the back of your mind, which annoys Jared a lot of times because he's like, " I want to have fun, I want to make it sexy and all that kind of stuff," so-
Jared Sanders: It's those boundaries, man.
Ho Son: Right. Where do you like to start? Can you walk us through that thought process of like, where do you start? How do you get to the goal that you're trying to achieve?
Chris Thomas: Well, I will tell you that for me the starting point is listening. I think it's easy to have something already pre- crafted in your mind and then just here's that dirty secret. We always think we're smarter than our clients and that we know more. Well, we don't. I had to learn that a long time ago that they actually know their business and they know what their pain points are. It's up to us to listen to that, to listen to what their needs are, and then to be able to start crafting solutions. That's number one for me. Our kind of main brand strategist and writer, C. J., he always says that we need to become part of their tribe. In order to do that, we have to sit with them. We have to have conversation with them. We have to get on the same page and the same team with them. That's where the kind of key starting point is for me always. Then, from there, well, let me talk a little bit about our process. Maybe that'll-
Ho Son: Yeah.
Jared Sanders: Yeah, please.
Chris Thomas: For us, once we start working with a client, we like to have these kind of kickoff sessions and discussions, discovery sessions. From that, we work through what we call USPs, unique selling propositions, brand voice, et cetera, and as that's being worked on from the written side, I'm a graphic designer by trade, so I'm not much of a copywriter. I can do it, but it takes me a long time. It's like-
Jared Sanders: You and me, brother. Same crosstalk boat. Yeah, I'm a visual guy, man.
Chris Thomas: I am so in awe of people who can write good copy. It blows my mind. Such a talent. Anyway, and that's what C. J. is. As he's crafting that along with our account team, we're starting to think about, " Okay, what's the creative expression for this? How do we differentiate these folks?" That's the other thing about COHN. There's nothing cookie- cutter. I would need to just retire if that's what we started to do, or move on to something else inaudible but because everybody's got their own personality, their own look and feel that we need to define, so we go through that process with the creative process. We have a wonderful creative team who supports me and we have a really good back- and- forth collaborative kind of mix and thought process as we're moving into that. The goal, I guess, is to not say, " Oh, well, let's look at Pinterest and regurgitate what's going on." You know, that's bogus, man. It's always about coming up with something that's authentic and true to the brand. I think that we've done that in spades throughout the years and I and the other Creative Director, we actually have another Creative Director, Jessie, on staff, we kind of both work on separate clients, but he and I are always trying to push the envelope. We always want to do something different. We always are looking at new technologies or new ways of pushing content like podcasts. I mean, hell, I'm really interested in podcasts now. Anyway, it's just trying to come up with both a visual that's really different, that ties to the creative strategy, and then, how can we push that live? How can we push that out? What are the mediums? Always looking for new stuff.
Jared Sanders: The interesting thing that I think we always battle is like sort of extracting that out of the client sometimes. Like you said, they know their business better than anybody and rightfully they should, but sometimes you have to really push to extract it. I think having the writing element sometimes makes that a little easier to sort of start to define that, so that's interesting that you guys start from the writing standpoint.
Chris Thomas: Yeah, exactly. I mean, you have to craft a story somehow, right?
Jared Sanders: Right.
Chris Thomas: If you're working in a vacuum it's really tough because it could just be anything. Do I love like completely open borders? Yeah, but it is nice to have something kind of defined that you can move forward with because, obviously, if they're nodding their heads to the strategy, to the written part, then they should be nodding their heads to the creative part because it all kind of intertwines and ties in together. We found that to be kind of the best proven process for us, and I will say, too, our account team generally leads the discovery sessions and they've got just these remarkable questions that they've already crafted. They do their research, they do their homework, so when we get into those meetings, Jared, if we're not getting those answers, I'd be surprised because we just keep digging, right?
Jared Sanders: Yep.
Chris Thomas: I love it because a lot of times even the client gets surprised by the answers, you know?
Jared Sanders: Yeah.
Chris Thomas: You have a bunch of different stakeholders in the room and they may agree or not disagree, and that's really interesting to see how that all plays out. I tell you, the toughest part... Well, that's not true. One of the toughest parts about this whole COVID situation that we're in is not being able to be in a room with clients as we're doing these kickoff-
Jared Sanders: Hard to read the room.
Chris Thomas: ... because you don't get... Yeah, yeah, exactly.You just don't get that feeling of personality and that back- and- forth and that interplay of vibes and personality. We're doing our best. We're making it work, but I can't wait until we can get back into a room and we're all together and-
Jared Sanders: I did notice on the COHN website that there's a video portion, so it looks like you guys also focus on some video content as well, so dive into your... Do you work on that? I know you mentioned that you're a graphic design by trade, but do you help craft any of the video side stories as well?
Chris Thomas: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, as you know, video is such a great leading form of content. It's got some of the highest click- through rates. It's one of the best ways to tell your story in a succinct matter, and so, yeah, man, I get stoked anytime we can do video. I really feel like... I pat myself on the back here. I was able to help bring a little bit more of our video production to COHN over the years and we do some stuff internally, the more simple stuff like QD animation, editing, that kind of stuff. Anything else we outsource it. We've got great partners, a lot local, some national that we partner with depending on the need, but I love crafting stories. That's what this is all about. It's all about crafting stories and communicating those stories in an engaging way. There's so many different ways to do that with video. I just get really excited about that process, so you know, I mean, for us it's like a lot of times just get to the white board and just start sketching stuff out from a storyboarding standpoint. Nothing excites me more than picking up the phone or getting into a room with our production team and really saying, " All right, how can we bring this to life? How can we energize this brand?" It's just that interplay, it's that back- and- forth of ideas and brainstorming on that stuff that's just crosstalk.
Ho Son: Yeah, I get that. Just kind of to piggyback off that, what have you seen recently in terms of... It's something that you could have created or like something you saw on YouTube, who knows, really, right? What have you seen recently that it's like, " Oh, I love that?" Kind of have that invoking that excitement inside of you?
Chris Thomas: San Diego Tourism Board just recently did a series, and I can't remember the exact name. It's Moments crosstalk of Bliss. Yeah, it's Moments of Bliss and what I love about that is they are not asking you to think. It's like it's just happiness within our box here to watch. I feel like that is so well done at the right time. It engages me as a viewer, it makes me laugh, it makes me think. Well, not really think because they don't want me to do that, but it makes me laugh. It just gives me that moment of pause and just a nice break in the day. I think they've done a hell of a job with that and it really is on- brand. You know, I feel like it's those kinds of ideas that are more in the moment that people have pivoted with. God, there's that word, pivoted.
Jared Sanders: I know, man. I'm tired of saying it, too.
Chris Thomas: In these unprecedented times, we've pivoted crosstalk, but it's that kind of stuff... Some things don't have to be overly produced. You can do it quickly and succinctly and, boy oh boy, it just gets the message across, so I really like that. I think that's great.
Jared Sanders: Yeah, it's interesting. The last point you just made, it doesn't have to be overly produced and just gets to the point at the moment. That's how we feel about podcasting because it's such a great format for that. It doesn't have to be super crazy, it doesn't need to be professional. In fact, a lot of times, the less professional it is the more authentic it is, the more people are actually going to engage with it. That's how we feel why this medium and format is such a great way to express ourselves for clients and so on. That's an interesting point that you put out there. Obviously, if you could add the video component, then you can see the eye- to- eye contact.
Chris Thomas: I love that you guys are doing this. I'd like to ask you guys some questions. Is that okay?
Jared Sanders: Sure.
Chris Thomas: Or is this all about me?
Jared Sanders: No, no-
Ho Son: No.
Jared Sanders: ...no, no, man. This actually makes it more interesting. A lot of times we only go one way, so-
Ho Son: Yeah.
Chris Thomas: Well, talk to me a little bit about how you guys got to the podcast space. Did you first determine you were going to try this for your agency like as a test capsule and then you were going to go to clients? Or was it the opposite? Talk to me a little bit about that.
Jared Sanders: Yeah, this is a great question. Okay, so we started out... My business partner and I, who's actually not here, he's usually on the podcast with me, but he and I when we started the agency, it was just the two of us. We needed content and we were like, " Man, we got to produce content. People have no idea who we are. We can't hire anybody because we don't have any clients to pay people with money. We're not even collecting money ourselves, so how are we going to do this?" We were like, " Oh, well, let's try a podcast. It's easy, we can sit down." At the time, we sat down like on a table like this similar, but we had one mic between the two of us and we recorded with really bad audio. In 30 minutes, we knocked out an episode. I was able to edit it and put it online. We started thinking. We were like, " Okay, well, this is an interesting format. We can start to get some longer tales out of it if we think about, 'How do we dissect this longer piece of content?' No one's going to listen for 30 minutes most of the time. That's just unless you're Joe Rogan or you're really, really interesting or you want to see Chris dance. Go to your YouTube channel. He's going to dance later.
Ho Son: Yeah.
Jared Sanders: No, most people don't listen more than like 15 to 20 minutes in a podcast. The numbers show that. The good thing is you can pick it up. You can listen now while you're walking the dog and then you can pick it up at the gym, you can pick it up in the car, so there are other opportunities if you're in a longer type of podcast. We were like, " What if we deliver that content in bite- sized versions? Let's take that 30 minutes of audio or so, chop it up, and we can have a whole month's worth of content for our publishing schedule for social, for our blog, for whatever it is, taking these snippets out of that one conversation that we have, similar to what we're going to do here. We're going to talk about something. It's going to be a great hot take. We're going to take it out and we're going to put that all over the internet. We were like, " Okay, this is an interesting way to approach this. We can get volume at scale and not put a ton of effort in like we would with like blog writing or even just shooting videos." Videos take a lot of work. We've all been there. We know just getting on camera takes a lot of work. We started to do that more and more and we started to see a trend like, " Oh, wow, this is actually working." That's when we were like, " Okay, maybe this is a service. Maybe we can actually pitch this as a service."
Ho Son: Exactly.
Jared Sanders: As time has grown on, we figured out that we can create a ton of content for a client in these seasonal- style formats, so eight episodes, 12 episodes, whatever the amount of episodes are, we can fill their entire content calendar for a year out of 12 episodes. We can release a podcast every month, we can release it bi- monthly, whatever the cadence is, but then we get all of that microcontent out of the back end that fills their social channels. It always give them like top of funnel, top of mind- type content that they can produce out. I don't know if that answered your exact question, but that's sort of like the long way how we ended up getting into offering it as a service.
Chris Thomas: No, absolutely, and I think it's brilliant, by the way. I really do because as you were talking about it, I was thinking about keystone content and being able to chip off little pieces of that. It is hard to produce, so Kelly Grega, who's our content kind of production specialist and social media guru, et cetera, I don't know how she does it because she's constantly finding exciting, interesting new content. Can you hear the crazy dogs?
Jared Sanders: Yeah.
Chris Thomas: Both for us and for our clients, so having something like this, this kind of medium, is truly ideal and I think it's just fantastic you guys are doing this. I listened to a number of the podcasts before I came on just to kind of see what I was getting into and I was really impressed. I was impressed with the guests that you had. I was impressed with the knowledge and the content they were delivering. I didn't check anything out for your specific clients, so that was a little different, but I can only imagine that they're happy with what you guys are doing for them. Then, when you talk about videos, so then do you guys kind of outsource your video stuff? Or how does that work for you?
Jared Sanders: Yeah, so we're similar to you. We actually do produce a lot of video in- house, so we have an in- house production team. My background, I came from the production and the visual effects world, so I know the pipeline pretty well. We were able to kind of create a small team internally to execute small videos, like your normal about us- style videos. We have done a lot of video podcasts, so live action in like a studio setting with nice lighting-
Chris Thomas: Yeah-
Jared Sanders: Yeah, exactly. Multiple camera angles, nice lighting, and we've done podcast interviews like that for a couple of clients, so that's most of the time how we approach local video. Obviously, if we have to go out of state or we have to go national, then we'll get bigger production teams in. Then, obviously, client budget always dictates that. How big is your production team based on the budget you have available? One thing I just want to go back to just in the podcast format, and this relates back to the beginning of our conversation where we're talking about story, so one of the things we found out was there's no real better way to tell a story than if you're journaling it. Using a podcast is a really great way to journal that story in real time. For instance if we have a client that, again, they don't think they're sexy but they know their product, they know clients or their audience better than anybody in the world, of course when they talk about it, they're going to talk about it with more passion, more conviction. They're going to get into details that we'd never think of if we were just trying to craft it in a two- or three- minute video. Over this long- tale format, they're able to really dig into those personas deeper for themselves, and they can tell their story without even realizing that they're telling their story, which is the best thing.
Chris Thomas: So good, so good. Yeah, I love it. We actually... You know, I wish I could take credit for this. I didn't think of this, but one of our clients, we're just starting a podcast for them and it's being externally produced. Obviously, we don't do that in- house, but it's about getting around and commuting, which I'll talk about a little bit later. The cool thing is there's a lot of different things about that that are very interesting to their audience, and so I'm really interested to see how that's going to all roll out, you know? That's kind of-
Jared Sanders: Yeah.
Chris Thomas: ...our first dipping the toe into it, but the client was super excited. It's not a huge pull on the budget to do that, and so that's another kind of appealing aspect of it, so-
Ho Son: I think to further your point a little bit, it totally makes sense like if we pitched to our clients that you need a blog, it's not as fun.
Jared Sanders: Right, and usually it's more like, " Ugh, we got to do that?"
Ho Son: Yeah, yeah.
Jared Sanders: That type of thing, but if we pitch like, " Hey, instead of a blog, why don't you just talk and we'll chop that up and we'll put it on your website?" Then it becomes a little bit more digestible.
Ho Son: We turn those into blogs.
Jared Sanders: Then, you can turn those into blogs.
Ho Son: Yeah.
Jared Sanders: Jumping back into... I want to talk more about graphic design. I think graphic design actually doesn't get enough... it doesn't get enough love anymore. I started off as a graphic designer myself. I was a DJ. I needed flyers and business cards and that kind of sort, so that's how I go into it. The cracked version of Photoshop and went down that whole realm, so that was my graphic design stint, but from your point of view, now that things are so accessible, I guess you would say-
Ho Son: Everyone's a graphic designer.
Jared Sanders: Everybody... Stop. Everybody feels like they're a graphic designer. Things like Canva and crosstalk yeah, yeah. Everybody thinks they're a web designer, too. That's another one. Just from your standpoint, what is a differentiator in good design and bad design? I always get asked this question and it's hard to tell people without like offending them almost.
Chris Thomas: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I mean, no, you're right, and, well, the funny thing is, you know good design when you see it.
Jared Sanders: Yeah, absolutely.
Chris Thomas: Anybody knows good design when they see it. Sometimes, they just don't recognize it within their own brands or they don't recognize that maybe they need to change a little bit. For me, I'll tell you what, the number one thing about design when it's done well is that it communicates. That has got to be number one. I love out there poster design and whatnot just for the simple aesthetic of graphic design. I love that. That's great, but I have to look at it from a standpoint of, " Is this really going to tell the story that we were trying to tell? Is there a clear call to action with this?" It's all about visual hierarchy, it's all about being true to the brand. Now, that's kind of the boring stuff. Okay, but those are the nuts and bolts. If you don't have that foundation in place, well, then, screw it. That should be tossed out the window.
Jared Sanders: Yeah.
Chris Thomas: Are you using typography and using it well? Are you using colors and using them well? Are you working within the space and compositionally making it work? For instance, I think Adobe Macs, of course, Adobe does great stuff, but the Adobe Mac stuff was killer because every piece that I saw was different. They had the max, but in different iterations, whether it was illustrated or photographic or graphic or 3D or whatever. That's the kind of stuff that really turns me on is when you can say, " We're going to bring this to life in different ways and shapes and whatever," but you're always going to recognize it. It's Adobe Mac, let's just say."
Jared Sanders: Okay.
Chris Thomas: Anyway, from a graphic design standpoint, I actually started out... I did my two- year stint at art school. That's all that they offered at the time, and then I started off with working with an illustrator. We were doing airbrush and colored pencil on board and pen and ink. It was all for... It was like really cool, exploded, cutaway illustrations of equine anatomy or the way a rocket ship works, that kind of stuff back in the really like the hey day of illustration back then in the early'90s. Then, we got into Photoshop and it was like, " Oh, we'd scan our pieces in, we'd Photoshop the hell out of them. We'd print them back out. Then, we'd airbrush them." It was really cool, and we ended up getting the Harley- Davidson account and then he went on to just do that. That's all he does now. For me, I was like, " Well, I love illustration, but I'm not a good enough illustrator to make that be my full- time gig," and I had more interest in the wider world of design and marketing, about more use of typography, about more use of space. Then, I started working with a couple of different agencies and mostly brand agencies and kind of worked my way up, like I said, to COHN, but always having that graphic design focus in mind. The cool thing about graphic design is it's not just obviously the printed piece, it's the video piece, it's the AR piece. I mean, we just created crosstalk-
Jared Sanders: Yeah, I know. It's all over.
Chris Thomas: Yeah, dude, and we just created an app for one of our clients, which was the first that I'd ever done and crosstalk it's been a long process, but a long learning process. Then, it gets into the UX design-
Jared Sanders: Yeah crosstalk yeah crosstalk it's a whole different level, right?
Chris Thomas: Whole different level, but really fun to learn about and really fun to iterate on. I'm really pleased with the project and it's really gone gangbusters for their specific audience.
Jared Sanders: That's awesome. Yeah, UX is interesting because it always gives you that insight into the human interaction of it and you're like, " Wait a minute. Are we really this easy?"
Chris Thomas: You guys have seen The Social Dilemma, I assume?
Jared Sanders: I actually have not yet. It's on queue for this weekend, but I have not seen it.
Chris Thomas: Yeah, that's when you really start to think about how easy we are.
Jared Sanders: Yeah. Several people that I know have removed themselves completely from social media because of that documentary, so-
Chris Thomas: Yeah. I have a hard time removing myself from Instagram because when you talk about design, man, there's so much inspiration on there-
Jared Sanders: Yeah crosstalk-
Chris Thomas: ...and people crosstalk are doing crosstalk so much cool crosstalk stuff.
Jared Sanders: Yeah.
Chris Thomas: I just don't know if I could take myself out of that particular-
Jared Sanders: Yeah, I'm the same way. That's my go- to app just because, again, I'm a visual person, so I'm always going to try to look at whatever the prettiest picture is to learn more, to get inspired, to whatever the case is.
Ho Son: I hate social media personally, so I deleted all of my social media before I started working at Tobe, but they told me that I had to work on social media projects, so I have to have it now, so yeah crosstalk-
Jared Sanders: At this point crosstalk that's a necessary evil, unfortunately.
Ho Son: It is, yeah, absolutely. We have to know what's on the cutting edge, right?
Jared Sanders: Yeah, the same thing.
Ho Son: Yeah.
Jared Sanders: We have to... That's actually an interesting point. When you're strategizing early on in the beginning, are you already thinking about, " Where does the content live?" One thing that we always preach to the clients is like, " Yeah, you can use your YouTube video on Instagram or LinkedIn or whatever, but the same person may be looking at it on YouTube and LinkedIn, but they're not the same person when they are looking at it." They're a different mindset, completely different thought process. They're going there for a different reason. How do you guys think about content socially when you're in the beginning?
Chris Thomas: Well, I mean, at the very beginning, I try not to be that tactical with it. Again, it's-
Ho Son: I like that.
Chris Thomas: ...more about the overarching brand and that story, but obviously as you're starting to think through creative, you have to be thinking about that. Is it going to work across all of the different mediums? It all, I guess, just depends on what the media mix is going to be as we're working through that. For me, it is kind of funny, though, too, because even though, let's say, that we're pitching a new client or a prospect, I like to be able to, if I can, kick out some ideas for them that they might not have thought about that is, let's say, social- focused or something like that that is like a different way of teasing out their content. I guess you do have to be thinking about it from the beginning, now that I mention it.
Ho Son: Yeah.
Jared Sanders: Yeah, so again, it's that necessary evil where you got to think about the campaign and like, " Okay, well, we've got this campaign, but what's actually going to go in it?"
Chris Thomas: Exactly right. You're right.
Ho Son: Well, yeah. In that sense, as a creative director, how do you handle that ROI question? The ROAS? As an agency, it's a necessary evil, right?
Chris Thomas: Yeah.
Ho Son: What the client needs to know or most of the time they want to know-
Chris Thomas: Right.
Ho Son: ...what is this going to get me? Right? How do you deal with that?
Chris Thomas: Boy, that is the million- dollar question, isn't it?
Ho Son: Yeah.
Chris Thomas: We're always being asked that and we try in our case studies to show what that ROI value was. Sometimes you can, sometimes you can't. Sometimes it's qualitative, sometimes it's quantitative, right?
Ho Son: Sure.
Chris Thomas: The best that we can do is try to show examples that show clicks or show form fills or whatever the drive needs to be. From a strictly creative standpoint, I try to come at it from the idea of if we aren't able to engage the audience and get them to pause for two seconds in their scrolling or whatever it is, or turning or driving or whatever, and think about the brand, that's a win right there. How do we do that? We do that through engaging graphics and design and amazing headlines and copy. That's what also constantly drives me to be better, always try to be better for our clients because if we're just... Pardon my French here, if we're just pooping out copy, well, then we've failed and we're not doing a service to them or to us.
Jared Sanders: In our case, I know... Not to regurgitate more, but jumping back into like the podcast realm, there's no better format to get in somebody's ear for 15 or 20 minutes than a piece of audio, so that's the power.
Chris Thomas: You know, the thing about the podcast thing, going back, continue with that, is that you can create it. Just like a website, you can create it, but then how do you get people there?
Jared Sanders: Sure, sure. Yeah, that's a great question. We usually use... YouTube is a pretty big way to get because of the search volume, so that's why we lean on why video's important to have with your podcast. It's hard enough to get ranked in Google. We all know SEO is like a nightmare these days, but if you can at least put yourself in the second- largest search engine, which is now YouTube, the chances of discovery become a lot higher. If it's a two- minute snippet of that video and you can grab their two seconds of attention for them to then click over to the rest of the podcast, that's obviously a win. That's one way that we try to approach it.
Ho Son: I'm in a new role as a Business Development Manager, so that's a fancy way of saying sales, right? Sales and partnerships-
Jared Sanders: Yeah.
Ho Son: ...and I have to go out and pitch these products like a podcast, and Jared is the creative guy pulling me this direction. I don't know if you can see in the camera, for the listeners, I'm pointing behind me, but our CEO, Andrew, the marketing guy, sits back there. He's always asking me the questions that he has to answer for the clients, so I'm just like, " I don't know."
Chris Thomas: Yeah, I'll share it.
Ho Son: Yeah.
Chris Thomas: You have to live in both worlds, Ho. That's the crosstalk-
Ho Son: Exactly.
Chris Thomas: Right?
Jared Sanders: Yeah. I often have to live in both worlds as well.
Chris Thomas: One of my favorite parts of the job with being a Creative Director is the creative is awesome, but then it's also the ability to really interact and engage with our clients on a more personal level, on a more... If you're a designer kind of just starting out, you're probably not going to be doing that as much. How do you feel about that?
Jared Sanders: Yeah, that's one of my favorite parts as well because I love getting to know their story and, " Okay, how can we think about this so that everybody loves your story?" That's the thing I love the most is just getting to know them and how they got to today. " How did you get to today? What did it lead up to? How can we help you tell the world how great you are for whatever reason?" I agree. I love talking to the clients as well and getting to know them.
Chris Thomas: Yeah. I mean, you really form those long- lasting bonds and relationships even outside of business, which I think is excellent. This is a passion for us, obviously. It's work, yes, but it's passion, but at the end of the day, I also want to know about people, right?
Jared Sanders: Yeah crosstalk-
Chris Thomas: They're not just clients, and so I do. I think that's great and I've kept in contact with a lot of our... Not even just at COHN, but even going way back clients who have moved on for whatever reason because you do, you form that kind of personal bond. For a long time there at our agency, there were kind of walls that were put up like, " No, you don't talk to the creative. You talk to the account person." I get it, I get it, because the account person needs to know what those conversations are-
Jared Sanders: Sure.
Chris Thomas: ...and where things are headed. A lot of times if the client could just go straight to the creative director, then they want to circumvent all of that. At the same time, I kind of like the idea of being able to be a point person, of being able to interact directly on a daily, so-
Jared Sanders: Okay. One last question. What trends are you seeing right now that you're just like, " We need to hitch our wagon to this and figure out either how we can do something similar to this, or how do we build upon this?"
Chris Thomas: Yeah, absolutely, man. Great question. It kind of dovetails with... I've been hearing a lot and been asked a lot, too, like, " Well, how is marketing changing these days?" Or, " How is creative changing these days?" In a nutshell, it's not. We still have to do the same things we always did, but what I'm finding and what we're seeing more and it ties back to that San Diego tourism campaign, it's this idea of joy marketing. This is what I feel like we really do want to kind of hitch our wagon to because right now, we all need a good dose of joy and happiness in our lives. When it seems like the world is just going to hell, it's nice to know that there are some good stories to be told out there, like what is it, John Krasinski's Good News Update?
Jared Sanders: Mm- hmm( affirmative).
Chris Thomas: I started watching that at the very beginning and it was like, " Holy crap, this guy is on to something here." I feel like audiences want to engage with brands that are truthful. It has to be truthful to the brand and it has to have that context to it, obviously, but how do we spin it from a much more positive angle? How do we bring moments of joy and just a smile to people's day? It doesn't have to be something that's going to be Earth- shattering, but just enough to bring a smile to them, right? And so-
Jared Sanders: Yeah.
Chris Thomas: ...to me, I think that there are some brands that are doing that really well right now. You look at some of the candy companies, what they're doing for Halloween. There's a guy in New York that I follow, Jason Naylor, he's doing just great work. It's vibrant. It's mostly mural work. Big, vibrant, beautiful pieces with messages of love and joy for all kinds of different brands and I'm like, " Man, I want to do that. I want to help make a difference in people's lives." Frankly, I've been doing this long enough that what gets me most excited and most interested is making a positive change in the world. I don't just want to work for any brand, I want to work for a brand that's actually making a difference. I feel like our clients do, especially like I say in the healthcare industry, we work for this amazing brand, Way2Go. They're part of our local smart commuting solutions. They're a governmental entity, and by being able to get people out of their cars or being able to get people to drive, or I'm sorry, to bike or walk or telework, that's an easy one, but it reduces pollution, it reduces stress. It helps your brain out. These are the kinds of things that I want to be doing and that I think will be more on the forefront as we move forward.
Ho Son: Spoken like a true Denverite.
Chris Thomas: Yeah crosstalk I know. I mean, after this, shoot, it's like... Let's see, it's like 60 degrees out there. I'm ready crosstalk to take a bike ride after this, you know?
Ho Son: Yeah, and I see all of you Climb 14ers behind you.
Chris Thomas: That was actually our first one, and we did that in October. It's crazy because I'm actually a Colorado native and people are like, " Well, you never climbed a 14." I'm like, " I never really cared much to," but once we did it, it was like, " Holy shit, I've got to do more of these now," because it really is. It's exhilarating. You're standing there on top of the world.
Jared Sanders: I'm from Colorado, too, and-
Chris Thomas: Right on.
Jared Sanders: ...yeah, I don't go snowboarding, so it's like it's a thing for me, yeah.
Chris Thomas: Yeah, exactly.
Jared Sanders: Chris, where can everybody find you and COHN Marketing?
Chris Thomas: Yeah. Well, that's easy, cohnmarketing. com is a good place to start. I think we've built up a pretty good presence online there. I'm on LinkedIn, Chris Thomas. I'm on Instagram, @ derf, D- E- R- F, thomas. Don't ask why, and those are crosstalk-
Jared Sanders: That's another podcast.
Chris Thomas: ...yeah. Those are kind of the main places for me.
Jared Sanders: Thanks so much for your time today, Chris. This was an awesome conversation. It was cool, though, to get a little insight on yourself and COHN Marketing and all of the great stuff that you guys are doing. Keep up the great work.
Chris Thomas: Man, thank you so much and I really appreciate what you guys over at Tobe are doing, and thanks so much for the time. I appreciate you letting me spin some tales for a little bit.
Jared Sanders: Thanks for joining us on this episode. Thanks to Chris for being our guest, and thanks to our production team who put this together. Don't forget to check out all of the latest podcasts on the Tobe Agency Podcast Network. All you need to do is head over to tobeagency. co/ podcast, and if you liked this episode, don't forget to rate, subscribe, and tell a friend about The Lights, Camera, Grow Podcast. We'll see you on the next one.
Small Business Marketing: Golf Edition (with Leo Rooney, Director of Performance at Urban Golf Performance)
How HubSpot Attracts More Leads (with Kyle Denhoff, Head of Global Acquisition Campaigns at HubSpot)
Marketing Content - Covid Edition (with Mykim Dang, Executive Video Producer of America's Test Kitchen)