On Content People, host Meredith Farley interviews creative professionals and leaders to get a behind-the-scenes look at their career experiences and turn that into actionable advice for listeners. Tune in to hear from experts in various media, and get inspired to find contentment in your own creative career.
Episode #3 Summary
Get ready to be inspired by the career and insights of Cliff Stevens, VP of Global Marketing Planning and Operations at Rapid7. Host Meredith Farley chats with Cliff about his experience in the creative industry, his thoughts on the evolution of content, and how he balances internal and external agency work. Plus, Cliff shares his tips for keeping creative teams motivated, efficient, and excited to tell big brand stories. Tune in to learn from Cliff’s experience and get your creative juices flowing.
In Episode 3 of Content People, I chat with Cliff Stevens.
Cliff’s an industry power house. He’s worked on brands like Cadillac and Clorox, and done time at shops like McCann and Hill Holiday. His resume has a real “Mad Men” vibe.
Our convo covers his impressive career, his thoughts on content evolution and how he built out Copper Giants, Liberty Mutual’s in-house agency. (Since taping, Cliff has stepped into the role of VP of Global Marketing Planning and Operations at Rapid7. Congrats, Cliff!).
Our chat includes:
- How Cliff navigates unknown challenges as a leader.
- His best tips for nurturing and retaining creative talent.
- Strategies for maintaining work/life balance and avoiding burnout.
- His tactics for inspiring and motivating creative teams.
Listen to the full episode to hear more from Cliff and get inspired by his journey.
This was such a fun convo to have. Hope you find it useful.
And, thanks so much to all of you who have been following along so far. If you have comments, feedback or ideas for Content People — we want to hear them! You can email ContentPeople@Brafton.com to reach me and our producer, Ian Servin.
Thanks for listening!
– Meredith Farley, COO at Brafton & Host of Content People
More Content for Content People
Cliff Stevens: Stop by Cliff’s LinkedIn page to learn more about his impressive career.
Copper Giants: Check out what this in-house agency is all about.
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Hi, everyone. Welcome to Content People, a podcast where we talk to smart people about creative work, creative leadership, and their career journeys. This podcast is produced by Brafton.
Brafton is a content marketing company powered by a global team of creative professionals and marketing experts. My name is Meredith Farley. I’m the COO at Brafton. I oversee our creative production and service teams. I’m here with Ian Servin.
Ian’s our creative director video who’s producing this podcast. Ian, thank you so much for doing this.
Absolutely. I think we have another really standout episode with Cliff today. I’m super excited about this one.
Yeah, I’m so glad that we got to talk to Cliff. Cliff Stevens is the VP and managing director of Copper Giants, which is the in-house creative agency for Liberty Mutual Insurance. Cliff spoke with us about creating a best-in-class in-house agency, the unique challenges and opportunities of scaling and nurturing a creative team in that fast-paced and demanding environment.
Cliff also just has such a full, robust, traditional madman style ad agency background. I feel like he was really fun to talk to.
What did you think about the conversation? Did anything about it surprise you?
I related a lot to just some of the challenges of working in-house. I’ve worked in-house before and I’ve also worked with other in-house agencies. I did a project a long time ago with Team Detroit, which is Ford’s in-house agency. You see some of those same things, those same challenges, but also the same opportunities and resources too. It’s really interesting hearing an actual leader from an in-house agency talk about how they very intentionally built this thing, which it’s really cool.
Yeah. I think intentional build is the right way to frame what he’s done there. I liked it a lot. I feel like Cliff’s been really creative. We dig into it more in the conversation, but traditionally in the creative world, I feel like there’s always combos about agency versus in-house. I feel like they’ve got the pros and cons.
Agencies are like a fire hose of experience, information, constant learning, constantly expanding your network and your portfolio, but also it’s a lot and it can be really tiring. In-house is sometimes deeper and more specific work, but over time, people can start to say, oh, I’m a little bit bored or I feel like I’m not growing my experience, but he’s done a really cool thing by running in in-house agency where he’s also started to look for opportunities outside to bring in just so that his staff can get cool experience like the local brewery that he’s working with seemed like a really cool project. I thought it was a really interesting way to do that and try to keep his folks around for as long as he can.
Yeah. I love it. He talked, I think, a lot about innovation and I think as a concept, innovation sounds really cool, but it’s so challenging to figure out how do you do innovation? How do you foster that? I think talking to him about some of those specific strategies was really useful.
Yeah, that was a great, really fun combo. We are just starting this content people podcast journey. We hope that you guys enjoy it and stick with us and that you like our conversation with Cliff.
So Cliff, thank you so much for spending some time today.
Thank you for having me. I appreciate it. You’re so nice. I’m excited. I’m excited to do this.
Yeah, I’m excited too. So Cliff, can you explain to everybody listening kind of your current role now, but I’d also, well, I’m also going to ask you about your career journey and how you got to where you are, but right now you’re at the head of Copper Giants. Can you kind of explain to folks who aren’t familiar with it what that is and what you do?
Sure, happy to. So Cliff Stevens, I’m the VP Managing Director of Copper Giants. Copper Giants is the in-house creative agency at Liberty Mutual Insurance. So big Fortune 100 company, a long time ago, about four or five years ago, six years ago, they decided to make an investment in building the creative capabilities for Liberty so they could have options. Can they work with external agencies? Could they work with their internal teams? And so they made an investment to say, look, let’s try and build this thing out. And so I got called in 2016, 2017 to help create a new vision and initiate for that.
So my current role is overseeing a small agency inside Liberty. We’ve got about 30 full-time employees. We average about four to six contractors in any given moment, any given month. We also have a global onshore partner and a global offshore partner so that we can flex our work. So we’ve got sort of options to manage the capabilities for Liberty Mutual. And our team is made up similar to other agencies that you see out there. We’ve got a creative department headed by an executive creative director. So you’ve got writers and art directors and email specialists and illustrators. You’ve got a design studio, a design team with our associate design director leading the charge there. We’ve got project management and production. And then we’ve also got our operations.
So that’s our strategic operations that really looks at our current state of our organization. What’s our financial value? What’s our tech stack that we’re working with? And then how do we basically create all the work for Liberty Mutual that we oversee within our scope?
Man, thanks. Now, I realize one thing I’m actually not sure of is when you started, were you kind of creating copper giants from scratch? Was it like the startup within Liberty Mutual or was it already in existence in some form or another when you came into the picture?
Great question. So it was already in existence in some form. It was the creative group. So right, like a lot of in-house agencies over the past five to 10 years have really started to make that investment into their in-house teams. And so my predecessor was actually, I was fortunate to work with at a previous agency. So I got to know him and I knew a few of the folks that had joined him as part of this growth. Once they part of ways, they said, we needed someone with a business development and an account management based background to shape the operation. And copper giants was born out of our five year plan. And that was the first task.
They said, look, like there’s some great people here. We’ve got, you know, a good group of folks. We just need a new path and what its new value could be to Liberty. So can you help us with that? And that’s where based on my agency experience, working at different companies and agencies and brands, try to figure out with my leadership team, what’s the best thing that we could do here? And that was where we eventually basically created copper giants. And that’s what we’ve been working on it for the past almost five years now at this point.
Got it. That makes sense. And how did you come up with the name copper giants? I’m obsessed with it. I love it. You say it and I picture like enormous monumental statues. It’s just so great.
Thank you. And to be honest, I would say it’s probably one of my favorite briefs I’ve ever had to help write for our agency when we were kind of starting out. But it was to create the identity, right? So one of the key stakes of our five year plan was, let’s really make sure that we can create a good culture for our team. And how do we also create great relationships with our marketing partners? They want to work more closely with us. And Mark and identity came along with that, right? We wanted to feel that we were this mighty group that could kind of take on any type of creative challenge in front of us. And we could do it with the right kind of positive energy out there.
And so the idea of copper giants was a brief. We came up with hundreds of names, we narrowed it down, and we knew that we kind of had certain criteria. We wanted to make sure that it could stand the test of time, you know, as a name, if you’re going to name an agency, something that you want to have to rename in three to five years, but you know, has some longevity. We want to make sure there was a connection to Liberty Mutual because we’re built from Liberty. It couldn’t be something that felt random or too cool for school, right? We wanted to make sure it was, you know, had that nice connectivity to the brand. You know, we wanted to have this idea of this magnetic culture.
And so that magnetic culture was really about the relationships we were building and creating it and also the energy that we provide as a group. So ultimately we breached it in and copper giants is Lady Liberty’s original nickname, right?
Oh, I didn’t know that.
Yeah, it’s got a little bit of history there. And it’s a nice nod to that. So it really has been sort of the mark, the identity and sort of the rallying cry for our teams and we want people to be kind of proud of that badge that they can wear.
Yeah, oh my God. That sounds like such a fun naming process. And I feel like you guys nailed it. It’s so evocative. I love it.
Yeah. Seeing, you know, the team created an award for like the name of the identity and having them go on stage, I think it was a highlight. I think one of the highlights of my career was to see that group. And you know, young people just creating the name of names seen alone is probably one of the best creative opportunities you could provide. So love that they’ve had that.
Yeah, man, that’s great. All right. So what is your average day like? What’s a day in Cliff’s life?
It’s a great question. You know, personally, I wake up and I try and get to work out and then I try and feed the kids before they get on the bus, especially now that we’re all been remote for the past three years. And I like that time with my kids because I get a chance to see them grow up in this early age.
But my professional side is is a range. It can be a range of, you know, anything from connecting with some of our global markets about what we’re doing in the United States and how we might be able to help support them with some of their initiatives. It could be meeting with my leadership team to do some of our planning and looking at our operations and how things have been running so far throughout the first quarter and the second quarter. It could be what’s our new opportunities that we’re planning for down the road and how our teams managing towards that.
It could be talent based scenarios where we’re looking at, you know, who is doing really well and who were the areas that we need to support certain people, both professionally and personally, especially in the state and age, where we want to make sure that, you know, people have really good balance at work. We want to make sure that we’re looking out for our crew in a really good way. It’s also a lot of leadership conversations with my peers and with my boss, Jenna Lebel, who’s our CMO, and having good rich conversations about where the work is, what, you know, what’s next, and how do we kind of make sure that our team is providing, you know, best in class creatives so that we can actually move the needle for the brand.
So it literally is a huge range. It’s, it’s operations, it’s support for teams. It’s meeting with different partners across the organization to understand what they’re doing on the business so I can translate that back to the agency so they’ve got context on how the business is doing. So a lot of those kinds of crucial components to make sure that our team is super efficient and knows what’s happening across the board, but then can get their work done in the best way possible.
Yeah, no, it makes sense. I feel like one thing about, you know, big management roles like yours and from everywhere is that at the start of the day, I feel like you never know what the day will truly bring because it could bring great news, but also it could bring potentially stressful, disruptive challenges that need immediate and urgent attention.
And like one thing that I feel like I’ve noticed is that I think when people, like for example, managers on my teams who maybe when they move up to like a new level, the greater responsibility, the thing that’s actually most stressful is there’s a greater number of potential unknown unpredictable problems that could come at them at any point in the day. And like that can be stressful to like get used to. How do you deal with that?
That’s I love this because this goes to that operational side of like my brain that I connect with them. You know, whether it’s a catalyst of being at Liberty Mutual, which assesses risk, right, on a regular basis or just the nature of like my experience before here is how do I make sure that I’m set up for any of those types of challenges? So that could be a talent challenge, right? Like if I have a talent challenge that says, Hey, you know, a couple of years ago, we had some tough conversations with some of our employees and we had to let some good people go. So but being able to manage for that conversation, like we had prepared for that, right? Like how do we make sure that we’ve got the right, you know, conversations
How do we get our teams ready to say, Hey, this is what’s happening in the business and this is why and make sure that they still feel that value. So I think it is like, how do I make sure that I’m always trying to stay ahead so that if I get a huge piece of work, I know how to plan for that, right? And how to manage that so we can prioritize it the right way. Or, Hey, we know that we’ve got another team or another market that’s looking to understand what copper giant says, can you jump on our call to talk them through that? Or, you know, Hey, we during COVID, we needed to figure out how to build the customer auto relief fund, which was giving, I think it was around $250 to $300 million back to customers during that time, which a lot of insurance companies work. So we had to be ready to create a name in less than 48 hours and make sure that it could work for the insurance category.
But the reality is that the system that we’ve set up can plan for that. And that’s where I think like the opportunity really lies is that we can constantly think ahead of not necessarily like to be a risk adverse, but to be a risk advantage. That for me is a true opportunity. And it’s a constant learning. Okay, what else could happen? And it’s not that you’re, you know, saying, Hey, this could be the worst thing that happened. How would we plan for that? You just make sure your, your system and your groups and your people are empowered and, and running on all cylinders. And that way, if something changes, we can adapt to it really well without it being emotional or impactful, we can kind of plan for it, adapt and then get back to like our day to day work without it kind of taking us over for lack of a word.
Yeah, like, in kind of like volatile environments, maybe like agencies, I think what you’re saying is you need to be planning, you need your systems to not just support, but also kind of thrive in moments where there’s a sudden but unexpected input of some kind.
Yeah, 100%. I would say we look a lot regularly at our operating report for our team. How much work are we handling? What’s working well? How can I help as the leader, you know, with situations that might be happening or, Hey, we’ve got a team that is giving us an influx of work when they were planning that over the course of three quarters, like, can we have good conversations there? And those for me at this point are difficult. They’re just the net reality of the business as opposed to, Oh my gosh, we just got overload with all this work. What are we going to do? It’s like, no, we can handle that. And then it’s about how do I translate that down with the teams and think about a different way.
So they feel good that we’re making the right decisions, we’re making the right relationship calls, and we’re prioritizing that work. And so we do have a pretty good rigorous prioritization model that’s helped us to kind of set that criteria. And our partners have been great along the way to work with us on that and also understand what we can and can’t do. And at the same time, if we can’t do it, then we’ve got other options. We’ve got a global offshore partner that might be able to help us out with some work or we’ve got a big freelancer network. So there’s the work side of it. There’s also like new things that could come our way. And how do we take that on? And we get into that prioritization model, say, okay, what’s the most important thing for Liberty? What’s the most important thing for our employees? And we look at that on a pretty regular basis to balance how we can make those calls pretty easily.
Yeah, no, it makes sense. And I feel like a benefit to like, time on job, you start to know and learn, you’re like, okay, these are like the 18 problems that I can run into, they may be skinned in different ways. But like, these are the solutions, this is how we build to be able to handle them. And then I think the next challenge, which I think you’re kind of referenced to is like, then training your folks on like, hey, guys, oh, you stay calm. This is what you do when this happens. This is how we’re cheerful as opposed to stressful about it.
Yeah, 100%. And the other side is, that’s where you’re going to bring some of the, I’ll call it the hungry, you know, a younger town up into those real conversations. Like that’s something I think I’ve learned throughout my years, when I was on the external, he says, I always want to know what the leadership was talking about. Like, how are you making those calls? What were those in the room moment types of situations? And if there’s anything I can do now is, okay, who are the, the champions within my team that can help with that? So I got good feedback from that. Like that was great feedback saying, Hey, we want to make sure that there isn’t as much of a gap between you and the color front lines of the day to day work. How do we fix that?
And now we’ve got more integrated leadership where we hear from our project managers and our leaders there to say, Hey, how are the conversations with one of their partners, anything I can help with? And so it becomes a much more fluid conversation rather than situation, swap team it, figure it out. It’s like, okay, how do we just consistently optimize what we’re doing? And can we do something better next quarter? You know, could we do a post mortem on how that works so we can make sure that the next project we work on gets better and better? Because that’s always this continuous improvement mindset. But it really is like, how do you be transparent with those folks?
I think that’s part of that has really helped me, at least for copper giants is to say, look, this is the reality of where we’re at. And so building that trust with my folks, and the, and the people there, so they can be like, okay, I kind of know where we’re going with all this and I can understand the decision making on it. Or can you just reach out to Cliff and ask, right, like, instead of time. So being accessible for that.
Yeah, no, it makes a lot of sense. And I feel like probably in a role like yours, like the fact that you come up through the ranks through different, different roles at different spots really helps to empathize and understand and communicate effectively with, with your whole team. So actually, I’m really interested. It would be great for you to walk through like, what is your career journey thus far? How did you get to this spot?
All right, good call. I’ll try and make this quick, because I’m a talker, as you know. But I started in New York as a young assistant account executive. I was working on Listerine Pocket Pack strips as my first account. This is right out of college. You know, I got any little about the, you know, the advertising industry, but I really started to understand the impact of marketing creative and also learning the linear process. So I worked on Listerine, Benadryl, there’s pocket mist as well. So like, consumer product, consumer packaged goods within sort of the Pfizer healthcare world. And then moved over to Domino’s Pizza. So I was working on QSR, right, like high speed, volume of production, lots of work there, made a move over to Draft FCB in New York. It’s still in the account management track, working on Gerber and Kraft. Based on this is 100 calorie packs. And then got an opportunity to go down to Crispin in Miami to work at a hot creative shop back in the mid 2000s.
And so to see Bogusky and his crew there, how they would create work. So I was working on BW. After Miami, and when I went down to Miami, I had this five year plan to basically say, I’m going to go down to Miami for about a year, year and a half, and then make my move out west to kind of learn and see what the, you know, the Good Bees, the Benables, the McCanns out there were doing and see if there was sort of a different point of view from a West Coast perspective, and also just to live there because it’s the beauty of advertising.
So I moved out to McCann and worked at McCann from 2007 to 2009 on the Microsoft business. So learning more a little bit on the B2B side, the IT director route after McCann, moved back to Boston, worked at Hill Holiday for seven years, which was, you know, as I’ve said to others, like where I grew up. That was that moment where I finally got a chance to really help shape work for Bank of America, worked in new business, helped win new business, worked on Cadillac and ran the Cadillac account working with partners in Detroit and different teams.
I moved over to Dunkin, and then after a few years on Dunkin, which was an amazing account to work on, I got a great opportunity to go out to McGarry Bowen in San Francisco to run their San Francisco office. And I had a managing director based in New York, but it was really about that group there and how to shape that team and scale it and its value. And when I was out here, I was working with two awesome clients. I was working with Intel as our sort of major client, and I was working with Clorox with two of their brands, and I was watching both of these organizations build their in-house creative capabilities in front of me, right?
So as an extra agency team, I’m seeing Teresa Hurd, who’s amazing, build a 90-person shop in two years, and she’s creating this amazing digital creative content and a very turn-key-based production approach to basically going and capturing that content and scaling that value for Intel. And on the flip side of that, I was watching Clorox build a very systematic-based in-house agency with very good, easy systems so that they weren’t really leaning into their developers or engineers as much. They actually had cross-consumer packaged goods. So I had two different versions of in-house agencies, and I wasn’t going to be able to really grow a lot of scope within those scenarios.
So I was like, okay, this is interesting to see what’s happening. That’s what I’m really calling today. Can you come help? And I had enough of an idea of, well, I’ve got two great partners here that I can learn from, and then could I do something differently at Liberty where I can use that external agency world, and then what I’m seeing from the in-house agency trends that are out there and create this group that we’ve done with CopperGiants. So that was the fastest I’ve ever done on that Meredith, so. And it can go on for quite a little bit, so thanks for asking.
No, I mean, it’s an exhaustive roster of impressive moves and moments, though. And whenever you’ve talked about your background, I picture you in a Mad Men vibe. I’m picturing you in a suit. It’s the 60s. You’re going out west to see what’s happening at McCann. It’s so cool. I feel like you have to have a really good book in you about your career thus far, I’d imagine.
That would be fun to write. That’s the best part about advertising and marketing is the people you meet, the stories you have. I still reminisce with so many of the great creators and teams that you go through the trenches with and certain castles you work on, the road trips that you do to leave New York, and you’re in a rental car trying to make it home because all the flights are done. Things like that just, well, I’ll take with me forever, and I love that. And I’d still reconnect with all those folks.
I still try and make sure that I can reach back out to folks that I worked with early in my career that had an impact on me or folks that I’ve worked with in the last few years just to reconnect and see where they’re at in life because everyone’s being, everyone’s taking different journeys, and I love learning from that, and I love reconnecting with different people on that. But yeah, it’s been fun. I would say I can’t say I don’t love my job for sure.
No, I get it. And I mean, well, you’ve had such a, like, super, in some ways like really like you’ve hit the traditional like stops along the way of like some really big name agencies. And then, and I think probably worked on some pretty like, you know, cutting edge projects. And like one question I have is that I think, so I don’t mean this as shade at all against insurance companies, but when I think insurance companies, I don’t necessarily think like agile creative disruptors like kicking the doors in and pushing boundaries.
But I feel like the work you like to do is very, you know, thoughtful and not necessarily like just following prototypes. So what is it like to be trying to create something new and maybe a little edgy in an environment like an insurance agency?
Sure. Great question. So let’s see. Two parts of it. I get a lot of credit to the leaders that hired me and asked me to come. Like, right? So like Emily Fink and Jen LaBelle were awesome. They’re great now. Like they’re just, they’ve got a great perspective on the brand and what they wanted to create. And then it was like, Hey, we need your experience to help shape this thing. Like, we, you know, there’s something here. We know there’s something great. And that was really where we set that five year plan. So that alone gave me a little bit of the autonomy to build that year over year, right? Like, what are we going to do year one and create Copper Giants? So we add additional value. What’s the additional value you’re going to build year two? And so I’d say the, the flip of it is like the operation helped us create two things, a really efficient operation that had value to the organization by saving the company millions of dollars every year by doing this work at house. And so that was a good bottom line of trust and value that the organization is like, okay,well, now can you do the work? And it’s like, yeah, we can do the work.
So now it’s about like, what’s that talent that you can then attract? And that’s where this sort of I won’t say give and take, but just the parallel nature of like, let’s make sure this really works for Liberty, but let’s make sure that we’re always bringing great talent and can we, you know, attract and retain that talent? And do they buy into this idea of moving in house and, you know, what is that opportunity for them? And so that vision was part of it. I’d say the flip of that is like, you know, hitting really more on the like agile and the creative side and how do you create great work? There is a ton of that actually at Liberty that people probably aren’t even aware of.
I have a peer who runs a UX design based group that is all about the unique experiences and modernizing them for Liberty Mutual. And that is a very big focus as, as most companies are, whether you’re going through a digital transformation, you’re going through a CX transformation, you’re going through modernizing your product portfolio. There’s an entire team of analysts, researchers, PO’s, scrum masters, squads that are all focused on modernizing the physical experience with that. And then for us, as we look at that consumer facing media, how do we champion that? How do we create new work that creates entertainment value for our people? And what’s the evolution of that work? How do we make, you know, the Statue of Liberty work, for example, right? That’s been, that’s been out for over eight years, but it’s a perfect opportunity to give it a fresh look with fresh ideas, with new creatives that can have a good look at it. And that’s where we hired great talent to be able to do that. We hired a guy named Bill Gerard out of Arnold’s after 22 and a half years there to say, Hey, you worked on progressive for a little while, like what else could you add is value to this work?
And I knew right off the bat that this is an area that he could absolutely add to that. And how do you create that environment? So that was, it’s been interesting. Like I would say that the disruption is really about the evolution for us. And how do we constantly think about how we make this thing better? Because we’re not a challenge brand. And that’s the flip is like, if we were a smaller brand, and we were trying to, I’d say we’d probably have a slightly different strategy. Now it’s about how do you play with the, the guy goes to progress of the state farms to garner market share. And what are those, what’s that way to do it? And I think it comes down to super efficient operations and great creative talent that actually can scale that value and has enough experience to say this is what can happen next.
Yeah, no, that makes a lot of sense. That’s really interesting. I like what you said to you about like, you’re not really disrupting, but it’s a continued evolution of, of a successful and established company. But like the talent that you’re touching on, like everybody is in a talent war. It’s crazy right now for managers, leaders, businesses who are trying to find the right people and then keep those folks around with them and satisfied and energized and not, you know, feeling curious about other options and or burned out. Like, what do you think creative leaders need to focus on right now to try and keep their best people around?
You know, I have a soapbox and it’s called like vision and like five year chapters. And I believe in that inherently. I’ve had some great conversations with some leaders recently. And I think the best thing that we ever did was that original ask from Emily and Jenna, can you build us a five year plan? And to kind of, I keep hitting on that in this conversation with the other probably dancing around it a little bit. But the reality is that five year plan needed true north. And the true north was like, let’s become a best in class agency. And how do we define what that is? And the reality is that what have we got so good that we could not only work on just Liberty Mutual work, but we could work on external brands and people are like, wait, what? Like, you’re an in house agency.
Why would they, why would they let you do that? You know, and the reality was it was this pinnacle moment that we have now reached after being here for five years, but it helped us scale the capabilities, the value, the talent, the teams. And we’ve been able to retain the majority of our talent for about four or five years because they wanted to build this best in class agency. Because at the end of the day, once we met that, you know, that moment, they now would have an opportunity to work on more than just Liberty Mutual. Right. So we’re working currently right now with Harpoon Brewery. And it’s an awesome partnership where teams have a stretch assignment. It’s not a big project, but it’s a great project for us to help out a local based brand that we all know and love, especially in the boss scenario and create some good social content. And then the teams can also take that energy and put it back into the Liberty Mutual work. Right. So there’s this give and take and that’s where we’re going to start to scale that, call it project-based work over the next year, two years, and then figure out where it can actually go at that point.
So that’s something that’s unique in category that we didn’t see in other areas. I think other folks have thought about their talent model, but that helps me attract talent, helps me keep it. And now we’re hiring, like I said, some amazing talent like a Bill Gerard from Arnold. And we just hired Josh Tatro, who’s the, you know, former global creative director for Kuma, who was at Arnold for, you know, a number of years of that helping take flow out of the super store. And so these are great talents that are something like, oh, what’s Copper Giants doing? And it’s like, hey, do you want to get a chance to work on Liberty Mutual and help shape this brand for the future? And also, hey, by the way, when you need a breather, you know, a side project, why don’t you do that here because it’s a great development opportunity for you and it can be part of our plans here.
Got it. No, I mean, I think it’s so smart. So let me try and say this back because I think what you’re saying is that you were, you’re like, okay, here’s the five year plan for Copper Giants. But as part of this, both from a talent interest and retention perspective, and also probably I’d imagine maybe from a commercial perspective, you wanted to scale an in-house agency that could take on external clients.
So you give your staff and teams the opportunity to build out their resumes while they’re with you, focusing on Liberty Mutual, but also, you know, trying out interesting projects. And there may be a little more enticed than they would be otherwise to stay with Liberty Mutual or just any way one brand for a while, because they’re kind of getting best of both worlds, in-house agency, and then some really cool side projects. Is that
You just articulated that way better than I have.
No, but the reality is exactly that, right? Because we look a lot going back to that operation, we look at our cycles of where our work’s coming from, right? Like just like any in-house agency or external agency, you’re going to have certain peers where you’ve got people maxed out and they’re, you know, burning them in at home. We try not to do that. Obviously at Liberty Mutual, because we want a good work-life balance, but they might be working a 40 or 50-hour work week or maybe a little bit more. And then there’s other times where projects are a little bit lighter because we’re in a planning mode for the company.
And so at that moment where maybe people aren’t maxed and they’re like 60 or 70% usage, we want to fill that bucket so that they can actually have something that inspires them while they’re doing the rest of their day-to-day work. So if we can kind of keep that nice equilibrium throughout the year with folks, that’s a nice sweet spot. It creates good balance for the person. It creates good growth for them.
They get to work, you know, at Liberty, which has an amazing amount of benefits of working in a big company, a Fortune 100 company. And also to your point, like we can actually have talent that gets excited about, hey, look at all this work I made. It’s not just Liberty, which is awesome, but I’ve also got, you know, some great social content for Harpoon or maybe it’s another type of brand that they’ve had a passion for, or maybe it’s just a channel that they never had an opportunity to work on. Hey, I’ve never built a landing page or website.
Is that something you can help with? Yeah, I’d love to help you with that, right? So it does help a ton. And it’s been one of those things where people, you know, like our team has been amazing about that. And that also helps them create advocacy for not just themselves, but for the group as well and to create different things. So yeah, well, it’s interesting. Like one thing I feel like you’re touching on that I think is really interesting is that I think sometimes as managers, it can be or that some managers might feel it’s uncomfortable or worrisome to be having like consistently open conversations with their teams about what do you want to do next and how do I help you build your resume here?
It feels threatening, but I actually feel like it’s imperative because just because you don’t talk about it doesn’t mean it’s not like a present and real force in everyone’s life. So it seems like you take a really open approach where you’re like, Hey, look, I want to keep you around. What rands do you want to work on? How do we keep you energized for as long as we can here? And you’re kind of having like really collaborative, thoughtful, directed and open conversations and plans with your individual team members. Is that is that kind of right?
100% I would say that valuable transparency and also the advocacy for those folks like I’m going to get them to as much as I can for them. I live in each one, right? So if you’re a junior and you’ve come in, let’s figure out that path looks like over the next four or five years and how do we kind of champion that? And that is a reciprocal relationship because then they have goals and they’re clear and they know how like where they can work and then you can have transfer conversations when things are working well, when they’re not working well. I’d say for a lot of those folks that are trying to figure out like in mid year in their career is like, what’s next?
I’ll map out those five years with them. I’ll sit down with them, right? Hey, like what do you want to be when you grow up? Like kind of like what we said with the agency, but from an individual, Hey, if you’re a project manager do you want to go be a product owner on the Liberty side? Or do you want to go be head of project management and external agency?
And so I want career paths that people are inspired by and then say, look, do this with us for the next two to three years. I had a thought when I first got here, because I noticed the cycles of turnovers at external agencies was something that was challenging, right? Like when you’re in an agency, you’re there for like a CMO sometimes you’re there for like 18 months to three years. And so I had a goal is like if I can keep people for four years, that’s more productive. I’m not onboarding. I’m not training. I’m not recruiting like all of those components that can take away from the day to day work and development. I can reduce that.
Then I can actually make the work incrementally better every single year. So that takes more effort for me and my leadership team to lean in and say, okay, so how do we help shape your next not like year, but like what’s your next two to three years? And so some of them are having just the year conversations, which are good and that keeps me and some people are having conversations that are about, Hey, in two or three years, let’s figure out whether we can do something here for you at Liberty Mutual.
And if not, then I’ll help network my butt off for you outside because you’ve put in all this effort and energy into our team to shape who we are. And so that that’s those conversations that I love having with folks in our teams. And then at the end of the day, like they hopefully appreciate it or if they do leave, then at least they leave with, you know, good thoughts about Copper Giants and it was a badge of honor rather than like, I’m out of here, you know, so free, finally free. So I want people to say, you know, this was a tough call and I got a great opportunity to step in my game. That’s, that’s the best moment for me in my career is when I see someone kind of grow shape and then all of a sudden, like there’s, you know, you say those comments, like, I’m going to work for you someday.
They actually mean it, you know, so yeah, so it’s, it’s, I think those are those key things is like, how do you kind of build up those chapters in your life and what does that look like? And I said,
I got that from some good advice from someone recently and I just was like, Oh, you know what, I always think in five year plans, but the chapters is sometimes kind of get a nice nuance to it that hopefully I can pass it on to the next generation too.
Yeah, I like, I like that idea of chapters. I think it’s nice and I think it’s, I think kind of the advice that I understand you’re giving managers who want to keep their folks around is like, you need to be open, you need to be serving them, you need to be listening to what they want, thinking creatively about anything you can do to keep them around at any capacity. And then if that’s not going to work, like, how do you help them? Not, not, yeah, I think that really resonates.
So like, I know you don’t have too much time left, but I’m curious to like a young person right now who’s coming into this kind of like unique moment, I think, in the creative world workforce, like when I graduated in 09, I was like, I’m never, ever going to be employed. You know, there’s such a, such a hunger for talented people. Like, what do what advice would you give to someone who’s like, maybe a year or two into their first job in creative or marketing, and they’re trying to figure out what, what is for me? Like, what, what do I do? What, what, what would you suggest they think about or consider?
Well, I love this. I am, I just actually did a talk on this about two weeks ago at BU.
And I’ve done a couple of conversations with Suffolk where I’m on the marketing advisory board there as well, great group over there. And I’ll do this with almost any college that will call me to be honest, because I believe in that next generation. I believe like, it’s on us as leaders to give that back and to get that next group fired up. And also to relieve the overwhelming and daunting nature of this world, right? Because if I had had what I was trying to give this BU group back in my day, like, there’s, it’s just clarity, right?
Like clarity on what the paths could be and clarity, clarity what the opportunity to be. And, you know, it’s, so to answer your question, I’d say the best thing I can say to that next group is to like understand the landscape of opportunities out there, right? Like do your homework to say basic things. Like where do you want to live? Yeah, you can work remotely, but if there’s a place where you wanted to go learn in person from someone and not that you shouldn’t, you should be able to do that, flex weight for what your environment is.
But if you want to do that, like where would you want to live to live your best life and whether that’s personally, or if you want to be near certain agencies or certain hubs or certain areas, and then focus in on those areas, right? Like what are those agencies, what are those corporations, what are those marketing firms, what are those brands? How do you assess those? And part of my talk at BU is showing the fact that in-house agencies have a lot of look and feels similar to external agencies. And so that value is to say, look, it doesn’t matter where you start, because there’s now a much easier crossover between brand and external and external and brand. And I love that fluidity.
The other side was that there’s also so many more different types of marketing and advertising opportunities out there. There’s ad tech companies. There’s more tech companies. There’s production studios that are adding project management and strategy to their companies. There’s the consultancies, right? There’s the Deloittes and the, the extensors out there that have marketing capabilities now physically part of their infrastructure. So really it’s about like, how do you assess those situations? The advice I give to all the folks there at BU are, one, it’s a communications-based business, right? Like make sure that you’re actively networking, communicating, understanding what people are doing here in their story, 10 minutes here. Like you got to stay on that. Like it’s one of those things that’s, that’s absolutely necessary.
The second thing was basically like, look at the values, right? Like be transparent, be authentic. And I had a phrase there, which I wasn’t sure if it was like appropriate for the college, but it was like, W-Y-A-O, which is work your ass off, right? Like that, that’s something for me that I, I think passes on generationally that should be theirs. Be a sponge. Don’t say no, no task is too small to learn from something to help something out, right? So it will lead to other opportunities as we show a hyper level of effort because you’re hungry for this business and people want that, right?
They want to invest in people that will give to them as much as they’re going to manage you in that case. So I said, be that. And then the last thing was like be a sponge, right? Like ask questions, be interested, be interesting. You could be totally wrong. Don’t be worried about that. But if you use your analytical skills, your left brain, right brain to formulate points of view on marketing or creative or what a brand can do based on what you learn in college or your internships and try and at least piece some things together. The thought there is just, oh, this person’s got some brain power. Not is, are they read or wrong?
So I think just starting out in that will then open up opportunities for internships that lead into assistant account executive jobs or project manager or creative base roles. If you’re a creative, I built your book, right? Like really hone in on that, like latch on to creative leaders that are out there and what did you learn from them? And then the other side would just be, don’t think that that first job is the end of all deal, right?
It’s not going to be because there’s enough studies out there to say that the next generations are going to have like 40 jobs before they retire or whatever the day it is, right? But it’s when I was there, I’ve been at seven agencies or six agencies and now at Liberty, you know, depending on what my life looks like, there could be more. So I think that’s the reality is that think about what you’re getting in that value there and hone it on it. Like work your butt off during those first two years at an agency, internal, external and say, okay, what am I learning from this? Am I in the process? Am I in the leadership styles? Am I in the brands? And then translate that into what’s next for you and what other skills that do you need to build that next five years of your life?
Yeah, totally. No. And as you’re talking to, it’s reminding me of something I feel like we talked about a little while ago, the idea that like almost no job is going to be perfect, but you need to make sure that there’s something good to focus on that’s going to get you to the next level. And like, you know, kind of, it’s temporary potentially and like, except it’s not perfect, but make sure that you’re learning and growing the way you want to. And give that back to the folks that just hired you. They just invested in you.
So like, show them your full capability, show them like that you’ll put in the extra work and that, that’ll have benefits for you. That’ll have benefits for your own work ethic and also benefits for your value. And then if it’s not the right environment, then you’ll know, right?
Like, if you hold on to your values in that good place and you’ve really done everything, it’ll lead to other opportunities down the road rather than saying, I’m not sure if this is it for me and I might want to try this thing over here, learn enough about it and then apply that skill to the next thing that would be like, oh, you know what, I really want to be on the analytics side as opposed to the professional manager side. All right.
Well, what did you learn and how did you garner enough information to make that translation over? So I think there’s a ton of opportunity out there and that’s sort of my optimistic nature is to say, look, like it’s an awesome business to be a part of. You’ll have way more interesting conversations and dynamics in your life, both personally and professionally. And there’s, it just keeps evolving. And that’s what I love about it the most, like, whether it’s technology, the data, the operations, the creative, there’s so many different avenues that you can get hungry about at different parts of your career. And right now I’m in that sort of operational nature of it all, but there’s a time when I love the work more than anything else. And I do love it now too, but I also love like making sure that I can tee up that work, right? Best way possible.
Yeah, you’re in your operational chapter.
Yeah, very much so.
All right. Well, I know you gotta go Cliff, but thank you so much. I like this was a wall of wisdom. Like if people want to follow you, get in touch with you, ask you to speak at their school, like how do they, how do they reach out to you?
LinkedIn. So I’m a huge LinkedIn guy. I’m not like a big Instagram and Facebook are like personal more than anything else than Twitter. I’m not a big Twitter person, but LinkedIn, I’m all over it just because I love the, you know, the, the news feed, the inspiration, the connections, so shoot me a note. And I usually take a lot of calls, you know, as much as possible to help people with their own opportunities or if they want a perspective or if they just want to talk about the future state of marketing advertising, I love those conversations too. So that’s where you and I obviously connect a lot on this. What’s the future state look like and how do we build some of those things?
All right, everyone, we hope you enjoyed our chat with Cliff. We’ll be coming to you next week with an interview with Lisa Marchiano. Lisa is a Jungian analyst who recently released a book called motherhood facing and finding yourself, which is a deep dive into the emotional and symbolic journey of motherhood through the lens of and drawing from her practice as a Jungian analyst. We promise it relates back to content people. It’s really interesting and talks a lot about the unconscious mind and archetypes and keep your eyes peeled for that one.
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