How Snap Hired Colleen DeCourcy as Chief Creative Officer

Colleen DeCourcy’s planned retirement ended up being nothing more than an extended vacation. The creative executive had risen to arguably the best job in advertising, co-president and chief creative officer of Wieden+Kennedy, helping the agency reach new heights and do what it had legendaryly done for Nike for decades. for other A-list brands such as Ford and McDonald’s. But as she said when she announced her retirement last December, “You can’t be a big advocate for change and never think it means you. If you really believe that injecting new thinking, new blood and new dynamics into a company like Wieden only makes it more interesting, then at some point you also change yourself.”

DeCourcy’s plan was to do a lot of nothing for a while. Maybe go on a motorcycle trip. Maybe some gardening. Then she started thinking about how she could further leverage her specific skills that she had built up during a storied career.

That ‘what’s next’ came sooner than she thought. Last month, less than six months after leaving Wieden, DeCourcy was announced as the new chief creative officer of Snap, the self-proclaimed camera company whose flagship app, Snapchat, has 332 million daily active users. Reporting to Snap Chief Marketing Officer Kenny Mitchell, her mission—as described in Snap’s press release at the time—is to “steer the company’s global creative efforts and help improve brand image and storytelling.”

Her first work with Snap was an ad at the Oscars, in a nod to the nominated film CODA, which featured Snapchat’s augmented reality lenses for learning American Sign Language.

In her first official interview since taking the job, DeCourcy tells Fast Company that her new job means Snap goes beyond “the best-known, least-understood” social platform. It’s a big challenge, one that fits her goal of harnessing her skills and embracing change, as seen in the frenetic performance of Snap’s public stock market. Investors and media (and ad decision makers), who typically fall outside the 13- to 34-year-old demographics that make up a large portion of Snap’s audience, don’t quite understand Snap. What follows is an edited version of our conversation:

Before joining Wieden+Kennedy in 2013, you founded your own social media agency Socialistic, so the switch to a social platform is not a complete surprise. But that might have been so soon after “retirement”. How did this come about and why did you want this new job?

It’s always been an ongoing love-hate relationship I have with the (social) space. But I do believe it can bring value, so I had it as something to look at when I’ve had a break. Maybe I’d confer or something, who knows. Then a friend introduced me to [Snap CEO] evan [Spiegel], who is a really interesting guy. His values ​​were really in line with mine, and we enjoyed talking about all kinds of things. We talked about the social media landscape, the company and more. I’ve always been looking for a version of social that just does better. At first I thought I might be able to help them with some contract work, and the discussions came much earlier or sooner than I expected. Then it just became inevitable that I wanted to give this a try with the juice I had left.

What was Evan looking for in those early conversations, and how do you define the role of chief creative officer at Snap?

I was really surprised by what we talked about, in terms of how massive Snap’s scale is. As we talked, it occurred to me that this was the best known, least understood platform we have. That’s something I can work on to do something about. And by doing it in a way, which we’ve also done at Wieden, which is when you can tell someone a story about their brand and what it brings to the world, and it can resonate with them, it helps the way they look at the path and future of that company.

We hoped he would continue to tell a product story, and I would continue to talk to him about a brand story. And we’d see if this would take us to a place where more people understood what was really going on here. We’re just getting started.

Snap is jokingly referred to as Facebook’s product development division. How can creative branding convince users to stick with Snap instead of using similar features borrowed by other platforms?

Evan’s go-to answer to this is that they can’t replicate our values. That’s the answer that guided my thinking, in terms of how to approach this. The job is to help people better understand what we do, especially in this time [when] we are 10 years old and people are prejudiced about Snap and Snapchat and the metaverse discussions are happening. Snap AR is one of the best, most widely used contributions to that world, so it’s time to define that.

That sounds like a big change from your experience as an agency partner with Facebook. When the company faced a laundry list of self-inflicted problems in 2020, you told me you hoped to influence change from within, but it seemed too much of a burden.

Going back to values, that’s what attracted me here. Because [Snapchat} is always building from the community out, I can do my style of storytelling, which starts with the values and community, and do it at Snap where I’m just surfacing truths and values from within the company, as opposed to trying to sell something as something else.

What’s an example of that?

The first thing I had a hand on here was the Oscars work with the Snap American Sign Language. This amazing film Coda was at the Oscars, we have a very large team here of deaf coders and developers who had created lenses to bring more deaf people into the Snapchat community, because they enabled you to communicate, enabled you to sign, and honestly, it was a matter of keeping it as simple and honest as possible. Taking these beautiful products that had come out of the values of the company, matching it to a moment, making it as un-sales-y as possible, and just kind of saying, ‘This is what happens here. If you like it, you might be into it.’ That easy way of thinking about the care that’s gone into growing the community, makes the job far easier than it may have been in the past.

What lessons across your wide-ranging career do you feel will help you most in this specific task?

When you come up through the ranks of advertising, most of the time you’re working on CPG [consumer packaged goods]† You have a product, you know what it is, there are other similar products, you map competitively, or if there is no real difference, you create something else that people can be inspired about with the product. That’s how we were raised.

This is an environment where it is: “What is the product? What is the other product it competes with?” Social technology is a completely different animal, and I think that’s why for years ad agencies and tech companies didn’t know how to work together. What helped me with that is the combination of the digital space I come from and can think about problems that way, but also the basic principles I learned at Wieden apply in a space where you may not have a specific product. I have no shampoo to sell. But the truth is important. Real human experience is important. And saying something with the work matters. So I feel like those three things are the lens through which I’ve been looking at Snap and Snapchat for the past few days.

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