Working her way up the ranks from production coordinator through to SVP, director of creative services, Jenn Dee racked up 26 years of agency experience at McCann Health’s flagship office in Parsippany, New Jersey.
With an interest in production, and having collaborated with Taylor James for years as a client, Jenn was excited to take an offer to join the creative production studio as vice president, studio lead.
Bringing her invaluable agency expertise to Taylor James, Jenn oversees the overall quality of work produced by the studio, and is responsible for operations and performance for all craft production services.
In this interview, Jenn shares her unique perspective on what it takes to breathe life into a brand, and how she hopes to develop Taylor James as a business.
LBB> Before moving into production, you were in the agency space - can you tell us a little bit about your background and experience?
Jenn Dee> I kind of stumbled into this business when I was running a restaurant in my early 20s. I had a customer who used to come in every week with her family for dinner and she said to me one night, “You know you'd make a great producer”, and offered me a job!
Something inside me said go for it and I gave my two weeks’ notice and then spent the next 26 years at McCann Health New Jersey working my way up. In my final role as SVP, director of creative services, I led a 28-person team spread across multiple production disciplines, but my focus was developing a very robust in-house studio.
LBB> You had worked with Taylor James on the agency side for over ten years before you made the move into production. What enticed you to move over and why Taylor James specifically?
Jenn Dee> After working with Taylor James for over a decade as a client, I already knew the level of work they were producing was the best in the business, but it was joining an end-to-end production company that does it all that attracted me the most. For the last few years, I had been interested in transitioning over to the production side so it was hard to pass on an opportunity to work with industry leaders like TJ when they came knocking.
LBB> What excites you about where it’s at right now and where it’s going?
Jenn Dee> The Taylor James approach is based on the foundation of ‘think smart, craft smarter’ and that allows us the opportunity to be very nimble in an industry that is so competitive.
Taylor James has focused the last few years on diversifying its portfolio and that is what keeps the opportunities we see coming through our doors so exciting, as we continue to push ourselves to seek new ways of supporting the ever-changing industry. Our independent spirit gives us the freedom to partner with clients and agencies alike. We are an equal opportunity partner, and we understand the value in that.
In 2022 Taylor James will continue to develop those partnerships by building on our strong culture that is committed to attracting and retaining the best talent in the business which, in turn, produces the best work for our clients.
LBB> Why do you feel agencies really need a production-led model like Taylor James’ to support their work?
Jenn Dee> If there's one thing I know from all my years in the business it’s that what matters to advertising agencies is to maintain their creative and strategic input when it comes to their client’s brand. What everyone is looking for is a strong, trusted partner who can execute that vision and bring it to the next level in a cost-effective way. Taylor James is a creative partner, not a third party vendor. We are as versed and committed to the creative product as our clients are and we are delivering that on every project.
LBB> What trends do you feel have led to this demand?
Jenn Dee> It's an interesting time because the demand has shifted due to the pandemic and digital transformation has really taken the lead. Back in March of 2020 I was producing a project with Taylor James and within 24 hours they were able to shift the entire production from a live action to a CGI production. This nimble approach helped set Taylor James apart because they were providing real time solutions during one of the most challenging times in modern history. And as we find our way out of this pandemic and live action is coming back into the fold, we've expanded those capabilities in Latin America, creating a model that is also financially feasible while maintaining the quality we deliver on every project. That's what sets Taylor James apart - we provide solutions to problems.
LBB> Do you think it's important for agencies to work with someone like yourself in the production world that understands how things tick in an agency?
Jenn Dee> Hiring someone like myself who comes from an advertising background on the production side helps bridge the gap effectively from a business perspective for a group like Taylor James. We have a rich history of deep-rooted agency relationships via our tenured and well-connected sales team, but I understand the importance of all the players needed when it comes to breathing life into a brand. It gives TJ a strategic upper hand for sure.
For years there was the idea that production companies could come in and replace advertising agencies for brands and the reality is, that's not true. We are here to execute your brand vision in the best possible way and to do that effectively partnering with an internal or external agency is the key to being successful in that effort.
When George Rex first approached me about this opportunity it was the thing that interested me the most. At first, I thought why is he looking for an agency person to run the studio but very quickly it became clear through our many conversations how beneficial a hire like me would be for the business that he has truly taken to another level over his short tenure.
LBB> And when it comes to your role at Taylor James, what do you focus on?
Jenn Dee> My partner Andrew Hall and I are focused on the day-to-day running of the studio and the continued development of the Taylor James brand. My focus is the creative and production side of the business while Andrew oversees the sales and marketing side.
Together we are responsible for Taylor James as a whole and we’ve put together a solid leadership team with the heads of our creative, production and automotive sectors that work closely with us to pitch and execute our broad offerings but also spend time collaborating on what’s next for Taylor James. Together we make up a strong team who understand how to deliver end-to-end creative production solutions at all levels and budgets.
LBB> You mention you have a people-first approach; can you tell us a bit about your philosophy?
Jenn Dee> For me, at the core of business success exist the people who are behind it. I learned a long time ago that if you can develop relationships with the people who support you, together you can produce the best work possible. The thing I love most about Taylor James is that we are a true collective of talent with a shared commitment to doing great work.
It’s my job to make sure those individuals feel heard, acknowledged, and more importantly, empowered to participate in their career trajectory. A great idea can come from anywhere, so I treat everyone like a great creative talent, and it has worked well for me thus far. So, I am only as happy as my team is and in turn, that produces happy clients and great work.
LBB> What inspires and motivates you outside of work?
Jenn Dee> I am inspired by the strength and resiliency of the human spirit and what motivates me is finding ways to celebrate that strength in everyone, especially those struggling. Back in 2013, my longtime partner lost his battle with mental health and from that day forward I knew I wanted to find a way to help people truly believe that life is worth living.
I had an idea about raising awareness and breaking down the stigma of suicide, especially in teens, and the Orange Project was born. Myself and a small team consisting of my McCann colleagues spent more than three years focusing on collecting and sharing messages of encouragement and showing our youth how to connect with one another especially in a time of need. The ask was simple, write a note of encouragement on an orange post it note.
While we won many awards and even broke a Guinness World Record (we collected 34,244 notes from schools and LGBTQ events all over the US and abroad) what mattered most to me personally was the idea of being able to save one person from thinking that their life wasn't valuable enough to keep going. Becoming a Mental Health First Aider has allowed me to continue contributing to help break down the stigma around mental health.