Born: New York
Worked in: New York, Chicago and Minneapolis in the USA, as well as Warsaw and London.
Which clients do you work with now? Jonathan works across all of Starcom USA’s clients including Anheuser-Busch, Bank of America, Best Buy, Kellogg’s, Samsung and many more
Name an innovative idea or business solution for which you are most proud.Making something out of nothing. When I was working in Warsaw, Poland for Leo Burnett, we had been trying for months to win an assignment from Ikea. We finally landed a half page newspaper ad to announce a store closing for renovations. On the surface it didn’t look like a big win, but we saw a big opportunity. It was small space for a big idea.
Ikea was one of the first Western retailers in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Iron Curtain, and subsequently an enormous positive emotional space in the hearts and minds of Polish people. Our team realized what this store closing could mean to the community so we decided to make it a much bigger deal. We started a grass-roots movement using drama students from the local University and organized a “mock” protest. Actors played petitioners telling local citizens that Ikea was planning on closing and they needed signatures to oppose this.
The campaign took off. Half the city participated. What started off as a half page store closing ad turned into a heartfelt thank you note from Ikea to the city and its people. The ad announced because of their customer’s loyalty, Ikea would be reopening an even more beautiful store. The grand re-opening was so well-attended that the whole commercial district in the city basically shut down for the afternoon.
Why do people see you as an innovator?I know that the future of media is ideas. There is a space between the physical and digital world and that is where I live. While I greatly appreciate the importance of left-brained thinking on the agency level – which includes the data and analytics space – we have to become more right-brained if we’re going to affect the behavior of people.
I see innovation and creativity in everyone. Creativity does not just exist in an agency’s creative department; everyone has the ability to share ideas. Some ideas are good and some are not so good. But there is great importance in encouraging and nurturing ideas and innovation. Innovative people strike out 9 out of 10 times and that’s okay – innovation is often born in that 10th idea.
What is the biggest challenge you face in applying innovative thinking to international projects? My biggest challenge is clients who are afraid to push the envelope and are stuck at status quo, thinking that what has worked in the past is just fine. The way I overcome this challenge is by starting from a place of empathy. I try to imagine where they are coming from – from a professional standpoint and a cultural standpoint. Their fear oftentimes comes from a place of unfamiliarity with the ideas that my team and I present. From there, I figure out a way to get them to see why I think their brand would love this and why people will love it and I try to leverage the conversation from that standpoint.
Someone I respect greatly told me he takes an index card into meetings with him and on the card he as written – “What if he’s right?” It’s a reminder to think of the other side’s perspective. If you come from that place of humility, you are at the right place to share your innovative ideas.
Dictionary definitions aside, how would you characterize innovation in the work you do? Transforming our clients' communications from making people want things to making things people want. I’m trying to meet an unmet need. People care less and less until you give them something to care about. If advertising is not going to be the stuff people want to avoid, we have to occupy the space between ideas and experiences in a compelling way. Consumer data and partnership access is vital to our business, but so are ideas. Ideas will move us forward. Ideas will create human experiences that connect brands with people in the most positive, authentic and meaningful ways.
Any other interesting aspects to your international background? The Leo Burnett Warsaw office was in the Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw. And as a Jew, it was a great experience for me to take in. My great aunt was a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp and it was an incredibly heavy and profound experience to be able to spend time in that area and see evidence of her life there.
Any internationalist trivia about yourself?Back in 1999 when I worked out of Leo Burnett’s Warsaw office, there came a time when I literally thought that I would get thrown in jail for one of the campaigns I worked on. Made in Poland ten years after the fall of Communism, this highly controversial brand statement for beer brand EB Beer created enormous buzz when it was shown in cinemas across Central Eastern Europe. So much buzz in fact that the broadcast networks wouldn’t run the commercial and the federal police threatened to shut it down for being politically inflammatory. However, that one ad propelled EB into the number one position in the Polish beer market attracting younger drinkers. You can check out the ad that caused so much commotion here: http://jh-ideas.com/#/portfolio/project25/