Rosie Yakob began her career working with hip hop moguls Jay-Z and Steve Stoute at their entertainment branding company, developing non-traditional ways for brand such as Altoids, Target, Wrigley and Samsung to connect with their fans. She joined Cake Group’s newly founded New York office in 2009 where she launched Motorola’s global social media presence and helped brands such as Havaianas, Sears and Oppenheimer navigate the world of social and digital media.
She also had traditional agency experience when she joined Saatchi & Saatchi’s New York office to lead social and emerging media, advising brands, including P&G’s Pampers and Olay and General Mills’ Cheerios among others.
But when Faris proposed to her, he also suggested that they sell their stuff and travel for a bit. While traveling, they started getting email enquiries about consulting work or requests and it is essentially how Genius Steals started.
The idea behind Genius Steals is that originality is a myth and the way forward is a path of new combinations and permutations from existing ideas and thus the name Genius Steals.
On the side lines of Goafest 2018, BestMediaInfo.com caught with Rosie to have a tête-à-tête on how challenging it is to be on the move every day and why it is worth the effort.
You have been nomadic for five years now. What would you say is the biggest challenge about having an agency model like this and what according to you is the biggest benefit?
The world is not set up for global nomads. When working with companies from different countries there are challenges like paying taxes, health and travel insurance, receiving mail. I have to have an assistant who scans my mails and sends them to me. These are the logistical challenges and they are really tough. You have to really want this kind of life and it is not easy.
The benefits however massively outweigh the challenges. Getting the chance to be exposed to different cultures, community, people and companies gives me a diverse set of inspiration. I want to learn things about people and feel that this inherent curiosity is fuelled by travel. It also is beneficial to our clients because a lot of brands want a global perspective. For example, we were in Bolivia and we observed that Coke was being served there with umbrellas and people were sitting down at tables and drinking the beverage. You can’t Google search this but it is a massive part of their culture. So, tomorrow if we were to work with Coke, we can tell them that we have seen how their brand is consumed around the world and these perspectives are important. Another example I can give you is of a client who wanted to do social media marketing in South America and they had these beautiful, high-resolution images that they wanted to put on their website but we knew that in South America that kind of image would take about five minutes to load. So, it is important to know what works for what market and you can’t always Google these things.
In all your years on the road what has been your biggest learning?
My biggest learning has been about making my life, my life’s work. I think that there are two types of people – people who live to work and people who work to live. I work to live. I love my job and I am very thankful for what I get to do and the way I get to live my life. When you are working all the time, I don’t think you are afforded the opportunity to think about what makes you happy and unhappy employees are not very productive or creative. So, realising that having exposure to so many different cultures actually makes me better at my job is my biggest learning.
Is it difficult to market yourselves to brands?
We are very lucky in that matter because brands tend to come to us and the people who tend to come to us already know us. It is true that not a lot of conservative brands come to us but it also true that we aren’t trying to sell ourselves to a lot of conservative brands. But we once had a chemistry call with a global brand in the luxury space. They didn’t know we were on the phone, our contact had brought us into the room and was going to introduce us later to the client; we were silent participants during the call. She asked the client if they had had a look at our website and the client said he wasn’t very sure about us because I have bright pink hair and Faris has dreadlocks. They were looking to target 50-year-old men and they did not think we were the right fit. To our contact’s credit, she asked the client to keep an open mind during the call with us and later discuss any concerns if they had any. After that call, the client immediately picked us and we did not have to pitch against anyone.
So, how do you know if someone’s judging you? The answer is they are. Because that is how we make sense of the world. We tell stories, we judge people, we try to contextualise experiences and people to fit into our own mental marks. But what I have also learned is that your work and experience speaks for yourself.
Do you think there is a need for agencies to re-invent themselves?
One of our biggest problems is that we bill by time. That doesn’t encourage anyone to do good work fast; that just encourages people to drag out the process. Also, in an agency, there are different categories, types of work and experts. The model of agencies universally is to get a salaried employee and have them sit there until some work comes their way. But we have 200+ collaborators around the world. So, if a client wants us to work on a B2B project in retail what I can do is go to our database of collaborators and find out the best person for the job. It means that the client gets the best of the minds.
You have been to India before but have you also worked with any Indian brands?
No, we haven’t but we would love to. I think the challenges here are very unique. India has such a diverse audience. If you are BMW and if you are selling in America your target will probably be 50-year-old men who are business executives but it India it could be a farmer or a businessman. There are so many different languages and belief systems here and therefore I think India will be a very exciting challenge for us. Equally, I think where we would be qualified to help is sharing all these global inspirations.
The issue of few women at leadership positions is obviously one that is close to your heart. How do you think we can combat this problem and have more women leaders?
There isn’t one single solution to this problem. I do think that we need the help of men. At the end of the day feminism is not just a cause for women, it is a cause that both women and men need to stand behind. If we want more female leaders then we need more men who are championing the cause because the truth is right now men occupy most of the leadership positions. So, if men in leadership positions don’t realise that having more women in leadership positions is important not just for the society but also for the work that we do then it is going to be an uphill battle. We also have to start at the beginning because I read somewhere that almost 60% of graduates in India were women but less than 20% were getting entry level jobs. If you start with such a small pool to begin with, there is going to be disparity. Therefore, I believe as a global culture we need to think about what we can do at the early stages to set women up for success.
Any piece of advice for young advertising professionals?
I am going to steal this from an artist called Dallas Clayton – “Make a list of things that make you happy. Make a list of things you do every day. Compare the lists. Adjust accordingly”.