In October, global communications agency Citizen Relations announced a refresh in brand design. Reflecting the success the agency had seen in the past two years - having adjusted to the realities of new ways of working with the onset of the pandemic across their eight global offices, all while emerging from the period with over 20% growth - this refresh saw a complete transformation in Citizen’s operating model in order to grow a team of experts who can continue to use innovative communications strategies to build, protect and drive reputation and results.
At the helm of this, specifically from, as he puts it, ‘an executive point of view’ was none other than the chief creative officer of North America, Josh Budd. Having joined the agency from No Fixed Address in April of 2021, Josh found himself excited by the opportunity to help enhance Citizen’s creative storytelling capabilities. Bringing a strong sense of discipline, structure, and a legacy of success, with many plaudits including an Agency of the Year (Strategy, Canada) at No Fixed Address, Josh is excited to be part of the evolution of earned-first storytelling across the North American network at Citizen Relations.
Speaking to LBB’s Josh Neufeldt, Josh Budd discusses what compelled him to join, his personal values, and the three lessons that he tries to keep in mind each and every working day.
LBB> When LBB last spoke to you, you were at No Fixed Address. But, in April 2021, you moved to Citizen Relations. What led to your decision to join?
Josh> I don’t think it’s breaking news that the lines between paid and earned ideation have blurred, both in terms of what agencies are offering and what clients are expecting from their agency partners. The opportunity to join Citizen was a unique and really clear one: help a best-in-class PR agency evolve its creative storytelling capabilities. I liked the vision Nick Cowling (CEO) and co. were proposing, and believed in our collective ability to execute it. And so, here we are.
LBB> Prior to the move, did you have any expectations for what working at Citizen Relations would be like? Has your experience been what you expected?
Josh> My wife works in PR (and used to work at Citizen), so I was pretty well briefed on the nuances. I would say my expectations going in and my reality today were aligned, which is all you can really hope for when starting a new role. Ultimately, I was welcomed onto a team of great people who are excellent at their craft, respectful and supportive of one another, and hungry to challenge the status quo.
LBB> How’s the past year been? Have there been any big differences you’ve had to adjust to or valuable lessons learned during that time?
Josh> The past year has been inspiring, challenging, motivating, humbling, and exciting – all the things that come with an agency’s evolution. We all have the same ambition, but it took a bit of time to learn each other’s shorthands, processes, and working styles. Like any team, it takes a bit of time to gel, and for common language, reference and process to establish itself.
Compared to advertising, there are three main differences I’d say:
- PR people are communications swiss army knives. There are many who really love the creative part of their jobs. So, learning how to embrace their passion for ideation and integrating that into a ‘traditional’ CW/AD creative process is critical to getting buy-in for what we’re trying to do. Is it always smooth? No, but we’re OK with a little bit of collaboration chaos, so long as our intentions are aligned. I think more often than not though, we’re living up to our vision of being a creative organisation vs. an organisation with a creative department. And, our output is starting to reflect that
- We make less, but it’s more interesting work. Creatives at ad shops produce constantly, but let’s be honest, most of it is pretty boring stuff - not portfolio worthy, and certainly not award worthy. We produce less volume, but each opportunity is more interesting and has way more potential than the average ad brief.
- We can’t rely on the crutch of paid media. When a client spends a few million on media placement, the agency knows something’s gotta fill that real estate. Even if the client doesn’t love it, and the agency doesn’t love it, something’s going in that billboard or that pre-roll buy. In PR, there’s no million dollar buy, so if the ideas aren’t great, it’s much easier to fold - to continue the analogy. This is a great challenge that forces us to really understand the ask, the internal politics of our partners, and what will break through and deliver the impact they’re looking for.
LBB> The agency recently has done some rebranding, alongside hiring some new leaders. Please tell us more about this! What inspired the new identity, and what was your role in the rebranding process?
Josh> Thanks for noticing! Our rebrand is much more than ‘new clothes’ for the agency - it’s a reflection of the personality and ambition we’re growing into each day. Human. Confident. A bit of boldness. Our geographic regions are working closer than ever before. We’re prioritising collaboration across disciplines (of which we’ve added a few key skills recently, from digital to tech to I&I (intelligence and insights)), and the freedom to lean into our courage and belief of what we’re capable of as a team. We’ve developed into a modern, globally-competitive communications organisation (that is still A+ at bread-and-butter PR, let it be known), and took the opportunity to update our perspective and aesthetic to shepherd us into an exciting new chapter for the agency.
We’re also proud to have handled 100% of the rebrand internally - an opportunity to show our evolving offering in design, evidenced by our first ever Design Agency of the Year (Strategy, Canada) shortlist nod. While I led the project from an executive point of view, I’m no designer (and that’s an understatement). Anton Mwewa (associate creative director) took on the Herculean effort with support from MyoNaing Illidge (designer), Mike Lo Nam (creative director), and Mike Mangal (art director). Travis Myers (associate creative director) and Abeer Verma (creative director) led the tone and language, with support from Justin Bellmore (content writer).
LBB> Josh, you’ve been in advertising for 16 years. What has your experience been like, and how has it developed and changed in that time? What keeps you sticking around?
Josh> This question makes me feel really old, but also really lucky. I entered this business as a way to pay the bills while writing film and TV, and quickly found that I loved the chance to tell stories that actually got made. That’s what keeps me around – the chance to tell stories. Mediums and trends come and go (and some, like QR codes, come back again), but the opportunity to create narratives and have people engage and respond to them makes this job pretty special, despite our penchant to whine about it.
LBB> What are your main aims and ambitions for both your work at Citizen Relations, and Citizen Relations as a whole? How would you define your leadership style?
Josh> The ambition for the work is relatively simple: set a high standard for our product, and hit it as consistently as possible.
Leadership style… I feel like my team would be better suited to answer this than I am. But, I’d like to think it’s somewhere in the realm of ‘high standards, high praise’. I have very high expectations for myself and my team, and a relative impatience for anything less than full effort, but I don’t think I’m shy to support us in achieving that and celebrating when we do.
LBB> A big aspect of Citizen Relations is the emphasis on championing equity, setting the standard and doing what’s right. What does this mean to you, and how does it impact the work?
Josh> We have made a conscious effort to really unpack the meaning within our agency’s name. What it means to be a ‘citizen’ in 2023 is, to me, quite inspiring. To be a modern citizen is not to be blindly obedient, or to bite your tongue when there’s an opportunity to better the world around you. I would say our values reflect the power inherent in the name Citizen, and the responsibilities that come with it; create space for others, treat them as they deserve to be treated, lead by example, help your teammates become the best version of themselves, stand up and speak out (especially when it’s hard), etc.
I’m hoping this can be seen in the creative and strategy team we’ve built at Citizen - reflective of the global perspectives and experiences we believe can best communicate with the modern citizen of today.
LBB> As CCO, how would you describe your personal values? And how do you go about reflecting them on a day to day basis?
Josh> My personal values aren’t tied to my role as CCO - otherwise, they wouldn’t be personal. I value effort over excellence. Internal motivators over external. High fives over wrist slaps. Courage over cowardice. Measuring twice over figuring it out later. And overall, I really believe there’s room for everyone to win - so using our time and energy to undercut, shortchange, and be snide with one another in this industry is a shame and a waste.
LBB> An effective leader is always seeking opportunities to learn. What important lessons have you learned during your time in the industry, and how do you keep both your work, and the agency on the cutting edge?
Josh> There are three lessons I try to remember each day. Firstly, it’s more than OK to sleep on it. Secondly, admitting you’re wrong isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. And finally, you can play to win, or you can play not to lose.
In particular, it’s that third lesson that pushes me and the agency to evolve our work, our offering, and our standards.
LBB> In your last interview, you said that you ‘feel the winds of change a little stronger every day’. As such, as of now, has anything changed? And where do you think the country is headed going into 2023?
Josh> My initial comment was on the financials balancing between paid to earned media – something that I can see economic factors expediting in 2023. That said, the looming unknowns around the economy (and everything else, frankly) makes it really hard to prognosticate where the country is headed in 2023, and I’m not even sure how helpful that is anyway. At the end of the day, an agency is only as good as its ability to adapt to changes in technology, culture, channels, behaviour… etc. What never changes, thankfully, is the impact of a story well told.
LBB> Is there a piece of work from the past year that sticks out as being particularly important for Citizen Relations? And if so, why?
Josh> My heart is always a little warmer for cause-related work (of which Citizen does plenty), but I feel like the more appropriate answer to this question is our recent work with long-standing client Pepsi. On ‘The Cheadle Cheeto’, we developed everything from strategy and creative through production and PR, and it gave us the chance to do what we do best: develop a compelling narrative and then seed it so that it becomes a part of culture. The results are pretty astounding, and it has become a standard internally and within Pepsi Canada.
LBB> What do you like to do outside of work? What helps you destress after a long day?
Josh> I’m a long time Crossfit guy (but, like, not one of those people who always talks about Crossfit… I think), and have been starting my days with what is more or less fitness torture for more than a decade. I consider it ‘pre-destressing’, as it sets me right for the day. After work, I cringe to say that I enjoy walking with my wife, a glass of wine, sweatpants, and a good show. That really makes me sound way more civilised than I actually am.