AdForum Exclusive: Kevin McKeon, CCO and Jurene Fremstad, SVP Strategy & Insight at Olson
By Jeff Finkle.
Olson’s CCO Kevin McKeon and SVP of Strategy & Insight, Jurene Fremstad were kind enough to take some time to discuss their recent hires, the agency’s philosophy “Think Like PeopleSM” and how it influenced their quirky “A Curious Place“ tourism campaign for Belize.
AdForum: Olson has gone through some big changes recently, being purchased by ICF as well as creating a new leadership team. What is the rationale behind these changes and how does it benefit your clients?
Jurene Fremstad: We like to do things our own way. Olson was founded on the belief that agencies should be structured differently; and in ICF, we found a partner with a shared DNA. The typical holding company model is all about gobbling up companies left and right to keep adding capabilities. ICF wasn’t looking for that. We like to talk about ourselves as a “collective” of agencies and specialties. While we share our respective strengths and a common philosophy, we haven’t given up what makes each of us unique—what had made us successful in the first place. We’re still independent, we're still nimble—but now, at scale.
Olson is more committed than ever to bringing world-class strategic and creative solutions to our clients. Our new management hires, Kevin, Tanya and myself—and the recent hire of Tim Sauvigne, VP of Connections Strategy—all have deep global experience with blue chip brands. This is already benefitting our clients.
AdForum: We’ve heard some buzz around your philosophy Think Like PeopleSM . Can you share more about that?
Kevin McKeon: This philosophy is something that’s always in the room with us. It guides everything we do. As simple as it sounds, it’s actually incredible rigorous. And it boils down to one word, really. Empathy. How do you create with empathy? You Think Like People. Why is this idea good for people? What is this giving them? Why would they care?
The world we live in today is less empathetic and more narcissistic than ever. People don’t care about your brand. They care about themselves. You want people to respond. Make it relevant—not to you, to them.
AdForum: How do you use this way of thinking to approach client partnerships and/or how you work as an agency?
Jurene Fremstad: It's a blend of art and science. For the art part, when we look at work, as Kevin said, we keep asking the tough questions—mainly, why would anyone care? For the science part, we’ve developed a proprietary discipline we call Olson AnthrolyticsSM, which combines the empathetic point of view of anthropology with the data-driven rigor of analytics. Another way to look at it: We’re combining statistical significance with human significance, so we have a clear understanding of what truly matters to people and to brands.
AdForum: We’d love to hear more about the Belize work that caught the attention of AdWeek as well as our editorial staff. I loved how you were able to showcase the personality and culture of the people of Belize, as more than just a tropical vacation destination, like you see in more generic travel ads. Great choice with the voice-over artist, by the way. His voice oozes personality. How did Think Like People inform this work?
Kevin McKeon: Yeah, thanks. We’re incredibly proud of that work, for a lot of reasons. It breaks so many cliché rules of travel advertising. And it's not every day that you can say you've increased the GDP of an entire country. We have incredible respect for our Belizean partners, and have always considered it an honor to work with them.
Belize was never going to be for that tourist looking for the perfectly curated all-inclusive resort experience. It’s just not that kind of country. But there’s another person out there—not a tourist, but a traveler. That person who wants to explore, to immerse him or herself in the rich local culture and natural treasures of a country very different from their own. For them, Belize is a magical (or as we like to say, a curious) place. In this instance, Think Like People was about thinking like a certain kind of person—a much more inspired traveler.
Jurene Fremstad: This informed everything we developed, starting with the brand identity itself, right down to the country’s logo, and extending across the way-finding system, website, social media and every single communication touchpoint. We've been working with Belize for four years, and were directly credited with growing their GDP by nearly 2.25%. And with a media budget that’s a tiny fraction of what their competitors spend. We’re really proud of that.
AdForum: As the largest agency in Minneapolis, how do you stay above the curve as a leader in the industry? Also, what do you think it is about having the Midwest, and specifically Minneapolis, as your home base that has factored into Olson building a culture of cool and fun people that seems so evident in the work you produce?
Kevin McKeon: We like to say, we’re not a Minneapolis agency; we’re a world-class agency that happens to be in Minneapolis. That’s a tall order. But we want to compete with the best agencies anywhere. Why not? So we’ve been looking far and wide for the best talent out there—sometimes way out there. Our most recent creative hires have come from Sao Paulo and Dubai. But, there’s very good talent here in town, too.
There’s something incredibly refreshing about being in the Midwest. I’ve spent my entire career in New York, and had clients often remind the agencies that the world doesn’t end at the border of Williamsburg or Times Square. So we get it. We live here too.
Jurene Fremstad: That’s important. Being Minneapolis-based ensures that we’re culturally connected to the majority of the country. We avoid the "coastal agency blindness" that’s so prevalent in our industry. Having done the New York thing, both Kevin and I have had our fair share of colleagues (okay, maybe sometimes ourselves, too) who mock up a new subway poster campaign … for a client in St. Louis. When you live in that bubble, it's easy to get stuck thinking that everyone lives like you do, but of course, most people don’t. Our philosophy, our geography and our people ensure that we stay grounded, and always creating from that place of empathy.