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Creative Marketing: Finding Simple Solutions That Positively Impact Culture with Jesse Noll


Wavemaker US associate director on listening to the world around you, Audible projects and diving deep into new music releases

Creative Marketing: Finding Simple Solutions That Positively Impact Culture with Jesse Noll

As an award-winning content director at Wavemaker US, Jesse Noll puts storytelling front and centre in client media plans and develops custom partnership opportunities that span influencer marketing, emerging technology, or brand-funded filmmaking. Jesse serves clients to guide them in the journey to reaching consumers in engaging ways that achieve their main business objectives, all while impacting the broader culture. 

With experience with clients such as across entertainment, retail, pharmaceuticals, and CPG, Jesse has experience across a variety of fast-paced industries and with each respective client he dives deep into the messaging and cultural narratives they’re looking to influence or explore more through partnerships. 

Beyond his clients, Jesse is powered by the people he works alongside and seeks to be a champion for the growth and career development of his direct reports. His motivation to continuously learn about and maintain a healthy work-life balance for himself and his team has led him to be seen as an inclusive leader within the organisation, championing DEI and mental health in the workplace.

LBB> What does creativity mean to your brand?

Jesse> Across all the brands I’ve worked on, creativity means finding simple solutions that positively impacts culture, in addition to brand metrics. Working in the content space, I have a really special job that involves leveraging media investments to create custom programmes which help amplify a brand’s values through partnerships. The ideas and creativity that I’ve always found drive the biggest impact are ones that are simple, lean into basic human insights, and align with the values of a brand. 

LBB> And more broadly what does creativity mean to you - outside of work, outside of the sphere of advertising and marketing?

Jesse> For me, creativity is about having a curious and wandering mind. The greatest inspiration for the work we do in content and media is across everything that is not traditionally advertising or media. 

Last year, I joined Julia Cameron’s creative recovery programme called ‘The Artist’s Way’. Through the twelve week curriculum I discovered that the best way to create inspiration and creativity in my own life was through daily journaling, weekly solo “dates”, and instilling a sense of play into my life. For me, that means diving deep into new music releases, going for regular walks around my neighbourhood, visiting museums or going to concerts, and trying out new crafts that I might not be very good at. 

Last year, I decided to dabble in both playing the piano and keyboard, as well as watercolour painting, and I’ll be the first to admit that I was terrible at both. It allowed me to think more lightly about life and gives me a sense of ease and peace. 

LBB> What was the moment or experience in your career that really helped ferment the importance of creativity in marketing?

Jesse> There were actually two moments that struck me – one in my career and one from when I was studying advertising at Syracuse University. The career moment is the first time I was ever asked to lead a content programme for one of my favourite brands – IKEA. Learning about their bedroom solutions led me to some really interesting conversations with their partner agencies and ultimately, we ended up doing a massive partnership with Disney across their National Geographic and ABC brands. I learned that creativity is collaborative. Even if the idea is born out of a few select people, it takes a village to get a campaign live. 

Prior to my career, I was actually rejected from my school’s creative advertising programme. I thought the only way to exercise creativity in advertising was as an art director or copywriter, so when I didn’t make the programme I was disappointed. Around the same time, I learned about “custom content”. From that moment onward, I knew that I wanted to go into media and focus on creative partnerships to bring brand messaging to life in innovative ways. I ended up studying media at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and found that media could be a really fun and creative industry. The rest is history!

LBB> What have you learned is the key to nurturing fruitful relationships with your creative partners?

Jesse> My creative partners are people as well, and we should all be treated with grace. Often when things don’t work out, our first instinct is to run for the hills and drop our partners. I’ve always opted for being transparent with partners on both the successes and pain points. You’d be surprised to hear how many partners tell me that they rarely get feedback. It’s ensured that my team is a strategic partner which brands or publishers want to work with, and leads us to better connection, negotiation, and partnership. 

LBB> Which creative campaigns from other brands (past or present) have inspired you most in your career and why?

Jesse> It’s been over a decade, and I still have ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ stuck in my head. The way that a PSA that was created to prevent railroad deaths in Australia turned into a marketing behemoth still amazes me, and that song is just so catchy. I’m not even from Australia and I now know how to be a smarter citizen when it comes to railroad safety! Its recent resurgence as a massive TikTok sound has left me speechless. While I hope that people are no longer in need of a song to teach them the dangers of dumb ways to die, I’m curious to know how they continue to squeeze value out of the IP. While I have not made a song as viral as Dumb Ways, I think it’s subconsciously led me to some of the song-related activations that I’ve done over the years for clients. 

LBB> What campaign that you’ve worked on has been the most creatively satisfying and why?

Jesse> Last year, I started working with Audible and the first campaign we delivered looked to support their original series ‘Words + Music’. As a huge music lover myself, I’ve dreamt of working on a heavy music-focused brief. We ended up creating a massive partnership with Rolling Stone magazine. We arranged sponsorship for their annual Musicians on Musicians issue and had a custom editorial spread. Messaging was further extended with a series of branded videos, Twitch integrations and influencer marketing opportunities. We used some of the biggest music fans and other musicians, to bring the brand to life. We really leaned into every area of music discovery to reach fans and encourage listenership. The branded cover featured ‘Words + Music’ artists John Legend and Common, and is still in pride of place on my desk.

LBB> Of all of the puzzles facing marketers right now, what’s the topic that’s perplexing your team the most right now?

Jesse> To say there’s economic uncertainty right now is an understatement, and as marketers we need to be cognizant of that for two reasons. One, clients are trying to streamline costs wherever possible. The value of leaning into media-led content is that it marries these investments together. Second, it’s understanding the consumer mindset. We need to be mindful of the very real situations a lot of people are facing right now with layoffs, rising costs of living, and tightening of budgets. Now is a great time to focus on brand building, and helping customers navigate this world. It’s never been more important to extract the most value out of a campaign, to make sure it’s an effective use of media dollars.

LBB> What areas of marketing are you seeing most exciting potential for creativity?

Jesse> There are many areas of potential, and building relationships with younger generations is an area I find exciting. They’re such a unique and diverse group and are always pushing us to think more creatively. 

LBB> You must see so many ideas pitched to you - and have had to sell in so many ideas to the rest of your company. So what’s the key to selling a great idea?

Jesse> Truly believing in your ideas. I’ve presented so many ideas, but I’ve also heard ideas presented to me and without passion they tend to fail. When you’re being creative, you need to be excited about the ideas you come up with. Even if you yourself are not necessarily the target audience, you should still love the creative idea. Often the best ideas are when the people involved with the development of it truly believe in its potential and are open to it transforming throughout the creation process. 

LBB> In your experience how can marketing teams drive creativity throughout the rest of an organisation?

Jesse> Creativity is bred out of creativity. If you’re not letting your employees become creative problem solvers or exercise their creative muscles, you’ll never foster an environment that is driven by the creative spirit. 

My team focuses on creative storytelling every day, it is fundamental to the culture of our team. Teams that don’t rely daily on a creative spirit are more than capable of injecting that into their day to day. Whether it’s pulling together an impromptu brainstorm or building a learning program that focuses on building creative muscle, it’s possible to weave creativity into the workplace.

In addition to driving media led content programmes, I also work with the wider team to help them think on their feet. I’ve had members of my team host mock debates to build their creative persuasion skills. I’ve also run a workshop which included random topic presentations unrelated to our day-to-day jobs and only gave them 30 minutes to prepare. It helps the rest of the team to learn how to think quickly in moments of perceived crisis. Even those exercises, while not focused on creativity in the general sense, allow for people to build skills that are integral to the creative spirit. 

LBB> How do you encourage creative excellence among your team?

Jesse> By living life. You cannot be creative by just thinking about creativity all the time. You need to go experience the world around you. That can be simple things like a walk through the park with a cup of coffee in hand or a glass of wine and a book at a wine bar. Or it could be going on vacations, going to concerts, or taking art classes to learn a new skill or hobby. Also, consuming the media around us can also drive inspiration and creative excellence.

LBB> The big question. We know creativity is effective but when you’re assessing an idea that’s totally original and new, how do you figure out if it’s brilliant or indulgent?

This is a great question and is so hard to answer because creativity can be so subjective. But for me, there are some set criteria that I run ideas by when evaluating:

  • Is it aligned to the strategy? If it doesn’t lean into your strategy, keep thinking.
  • Is it born out of a simple human insight?
  • Does it feel natural to the brand? The best ideas feel effortless.
  • Is there a unique twist on the idea that hooks you in unexpectedly? 
  • And because I work in media – is it scalable? If people aren’t going to be able to see your creativity in action, is it worth the investment? 

LBB> Tell us about a time you’ve really had to fight for a creative idea - what was the idea, what was the obstacle and why was it worth it?

Jesse> Without naming the brand, a couple years ago we had a client reach out asking about doing a series of talk show integrations to promote a campaign. In our assessment of the brief, my team saw more potential. We wanted to create a feature length documentary to bring the message to life. After a series of storytelling workshops, creative RFI’s and presentations, we went into several months of discussing with the clients the pros and cons of the various options.

The client decided to commission not one but two projects – a testament to the work we crafted with our media partners. Both projects are now preparing for release and once they go out into the world, I see them being highly effective sources of IP that the brand will be able to leverage for many years to come. 

LBB> What one piece of advice do you have for marketers at the beginning of their career who’re still figuring out how to drive impactful creative marketing?

Jesse> Explore your curiosity! You have a long, fruitful career ahead of you and while you’re likely already bursting with ideas – use the beginning of your career to find ways to keep yourself inspired! Working in a creative field can and should be fun! By finding passion points that can influence your work, you’ll be able to make something special. Go to museums, book concert tickets, and just look at and listen to the world around you. Inspiration can be found on a quiet walk, during a work brainstorm or experiencing the work of other creatives. 

Jesse Noll is associate director, content at Wavemaker US. For more information visit here.

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Wavemaker US, Wed, 03 May 2023 11:55:00 GMT