David Griffith: Chief Strategy Officer, POP

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David Griffith is Chief Strategy Officer at POP, where he creates idea platforms designed to propel his clients forward on their advertising journeys. He leads strategy across all of POP’s work, heading a team responsible for insights and planning, analytics, business strategy, content strategy, and social strategy. David began his career at The Brookings Institution, where he was trained with a think-tank mentality that became the catalyst for his career. Over the past twenty years, he has helped transform the strategic approach of leading brands like Jaguar, Comcast, Pizza Hut, Travelocity, and Midas. As the lead strategist on the launch of the Nissan Xterra, David constructed a marketing architecture and campaign that won the prestigious Grand Effie, the annual award given to the most effective marketing campaign in the U.S. Regardless of the industry, David harnesses the power of breakthrough ideas in cluttered, competitive markets to drive measurable results.

How did you get into the industry?

I am probably just wired to be a tinkerer. For me that means being both analytical and creative. That weird alchemy is what attracts people to all kinds of industries: architecture, design, engineering, marketing, etc. … Anyplace where the analytical part is in figuring out a problem. Worrying about it like a complex knot until ultimately it unravels. Then creative bit takes over, and the art of finding a clever solution begins. For us, it might be an ad, a new design concept, or a change in business direction. That is more or less the way got POP got started. Bill Predmore didn’t really set out to build a digital agency, he just started solving the problems put in front of him and his team and then delivered some really great and interesting work.

Any emerging industry trends?

The biggest thing I see happening is a consolidation of so many different types of people getting involved in the industry. We used to be more siloed: Digital, traditional, and media people each stuck to their own lanes. Now, there are all these different firms trying to converge on the same space. As we become a digital society, media and communications have changed. Outside companies are buying marketers to get into this space. The issue we see, however, is that the old silos can be very challenging to overcome.

With the emergence of data-driven solutions colliding with creativity, our clients simply must have access to partners who offer new solutions tailored to their particular problem – not just what we as agencies or design firms or consultancies like to do.

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

The technology industry is advancing at a breakneck speed, which brings both new opportunities and new challenges. The key is to recognize what’s going on, step back and assess the situation, then attack from a solutions-first mentality.

Another opportunity I see is content, and being able to step into that area in a big way. The need to be able to be a content provider and work in that space is hugely important. However, content is an amorphous thing. It can mean anything from native ads to thoughts pieces, to YouTube videos. The reality is that content is experience, and brand experiences are what form consumer beliefs. You are what you do, not what you say. In order to pull that off, you have to have really strong strategic chops. That’s a big part of the reason I came to POP two years ago. POP truly acts as a consultative partner for big companies and helps solve their problems.

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?

When POP was founded in 1996, we started off serving a need. We served specific needs for our clients, and it snowballed from there. Now, it’s really about sitting down with clients, fully understanding their needs and bringing a solution. One of the main things that has allowed us to continue for 20 years is our ability to evolve with the industry and figure out how we can service clients and help them build their businesses going forward. Our problem-solving mentality has allowed us to flex and continue to evolve.

What's next for the Business in the near future?

There is an aspect of marketing that is innate to the games and entertainment industry business model. They are selling an experience, not just a product. That experience can be brought to life in many different ways. So with that mindset, games and entertainment are naturally an interesting space to play in. There’s such a great relationship there when it comes to branding between consumers, engagement, and social in those intertwined industries. However, this same orientation is not exclusive to games and entertainment, it is applicable to all industries.

To be successful, brands need to look at the entire ecosystem and take an integrated and programmatic type of approach, but it still needs to drive emotional attachment. To reveal the nature of the brand, we should try to assemble the patchwork puzzle of individual experience, rather than attempt to tell a linear story.

Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?

Consistent steady growth. That isn’t really a reference to revenue, although it is of course related. What I really am referring to is the work itself. Creatively, strategically and technically. We are already really good at those things, but if we don’t continue to steadily grow in those areas, we won’t be able to continue on as the capable tinkerers we have always been.

Consistent growth is also about keeping our people on track. From a management perspective, big spurts of growth are almost as difficult to accommodate as big downturns. We want to make sure we’re growing the right way. Big, huge, rapid growth is fine but is oftentimes not sustainable. Slow, steady, regular growth allows you to add disciplines and take on more work in a sustainable way.

Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)

When I came to POP, the challenge I was most excited about was finding a way to help the agency grow into a different kind of future. Really taking the time to figure out the positioning of the agency was a big challenge for us. I wanted to find something that suited the tone, manner, and culture of the agency with a clear vision for the future. We had to go about it in the right way: I certainly couldn’t just come in and decide I had all the answers. We talked to an array of people and let them into the process, modifying and changing things based on their feedback along the way. I think we got to a good place, and ultimately we have a vision for the future that’s been shaped by the agency as a whole.

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

When new clients start working with POP, a lot of the time I hear that one of the most gratifying aspects of an engagement is how we work with them. We don’t go in and tell them we know everything or that we have all the answers. From the beginning of the relationship, it’s a collaborative process. Clients see POP roll up our sleeves and dig in to identify their issues. We take their problems seriously; we take the time to step back and analyze and investigate things to make sure we’re solving the right problems. We uncover things they may not have thought about to make sure we have the best solution in place. In my experience, the best client experiences have never come from operating by the brief. You need to put the right solutions on the table; not just the ones you thought were right at the beginning of an assignment.

How do you motivate others?

So, this goes all the way back to beginning of why I got into this business. See, my dad was professionally trained as a photographer but ended up being an engineer. Odd, yes, but it made him unique. He worked on everything from top secret “black” military projects to designing home speaker systems, but every problem was treated the same. The joy was not in how big or glamorous the project might be; it was in finding the most beautiful and elegant solution. The joy is the work itself. When we keep our focus on that, regardless of difficulties and setbacks, good work gets done, and when that happens, the individuals involved will succeed right along with our clients and our agency.

Career advice to those in your industry?

The marketing industry as a whole is in massive flux. If you’re someone who’s not comfortable working with instability, who’s not willing to be nimble or shift your focus in an instant, I wouldn’t go into this industry right now. We’re in the midst of a direction change. If you have come out of school with an MBA and you think a systematic linear approach is going to succeed, you will be frustrated and ultimately fail. If you are a creative person who loves story telling (particularly if you like having control of that story) rather than creating experiences that can morph, you too will be frustrated. If, however, you can embrace the chaos and the challenge of marrying the systematic and rational to something emotional and nonlinear, then you are in the right business and in for a fun ride.