Organic’s Sarah and Katie on Nurturing Human Connections in the Digital Age


Digital marketing agency Organic recently named Sarah Montague and Katie Healey as SVP, general managers of San Francisco and Detroit, respectively. In their new roles, the women will oversee Organic staff and accounts based out of their individual offices. The Makegood recently spoke with Sarah and Katie about their new roles and how they plan to continue building human connections with brands.

The Makegood:Sarah and Katie, congratulations on your new positions at Organic. What are your duties and what is your vision for Organic’s staff and accounts?

We both wear two hats as GMs at Organic and these roles are very synergistic and reflective of the culture balance at Organic.

One role is a client leader for accounts based in our respective offices. GMs lead the teams in delivering our client missions – to assemble and lead the best talent to deliver work that delivers business results.  We’re responsible for aligning our teams to key priorities, solving business problems and bringing clients innovative ideas, insights and inspiration to connect with their consumers in a convergent world.

The other role is an office lead, creating the right environment and providing the right talent and resources to do exceptional work. As well as the Executive Leadership Team, each office has a local leadership team and the GMs sit on both teams with the purpose of driving the effectiveness and efficiency of our agency. This comes down to clear communication, seamless collaboration and close connections internally and with partners, which has always been at Organic’s core.

Our vision is clear and communicated consistently at all levels throughout the agency to drive day-to-day decision making: An exceptional talent model that prioritizes personal and professional growth.

The Makegood: Sarah, at your prior role at Digitas, you opened their San Francisco office and quickly grew staff and client roster. What is the biggest challenge fast growing companies are facing when managing creative people and what is your advice?

Opening the Digitas SF office was one of the highlights of my career. Growing from 3 people to 76 in 7 months and the commensurate assignment growth that drove that, required strong leadership and good operating process. SF is a particularly tough market to hire talent and we soon developed the following five principles that I’d recommend for finding and keeping talent in an explosive growth situation:

  • VISION: Have a clear vision for the work. Prioritize and be selective as much as possible. Great work attracts great talent. This absolutely means saying “No” to clients on occasion.
  • HIRING: Hire aggressively, but not in haste. Aim to hire ahead of the curve 10-20%, while keeping standards very high and being selective. Finding talent always takes longer than you think and this can be frustrating as work comes in. Luckily, there are some incredible contractors out there to bring flexibility. Continuously pipelining fabulous talent, both contractors and full time, is critical.
  • LEADERSHIP: Hire at more senior levels first but challenge our mid and junior talent to stretch beyond their roles. Our senior people often want to bring their own teams with them or at least have ownership of the teams hired under them. They set the tone and standard for future talent. Our mid and junior people are the source of inspiration and where our business is going and growing.
  • PATIENCE: Take time to immerse talent in the brand and inspire people. Always be respectful of the time and inputs needed for the creative process.
  • RECOGNITION: Even more the case in an explosive growth environment is the need to recognize and reward people. Likely there are long hours and you are asking people to stretch in multiple ways. A thank you, a deep appreciation of the work (and an evening at the bar) go a long way.

The Makegood: Katie, you led the cross-functional “always-on” social advocacy program ‘Ford Social,’ and now you are leading the Volkswagen team. How should automotive companies use social media across countries and what lessons do they still have to learn?

Best advice for any global brand’s social efforts are to:

  1. Begin with shared platforms and tools to gain efficiencies in listening, content publishing and engagement, and measurement.
  2. Gather representatives from local geographies to establish a governance process for ongoing alignment and shared learning.
  3. Ensure that the global systems and teams are flexible enough to adapt campaigns, messaging and content to the needs of geographies and audiences without losing the fidelity of the brand story.

As for lessons around social, many brands, both inside and outside automotive, still need to understand what makes social truly unique and ultimately impactful.  Many are still trying to calculate the value of posting brand messages in social channels. They are missing that social is based on engagement and connection between customers and brands—a co-creation of the brand. Brands that are excelling in this space embrace co-creation.  They cultivate relationships by listening and quickly reacting to or better, anticipating, what people are looking for and communicate using their voice. As a result, they are seeing some of the most powerful and authentic word of mouth marketing that impacts the bottom line.

The Makegood: Sarah, you grew up in CRM and digital, how should marketers use CRM today?

Yes, I started my career in direct marketing. For me the digital age and its continuous evolution delivers on the promise of direct marketing: to know a consumer so well and connect her with the brands she loves in the moment she wants what that brand has to offer.

Direct marketing as a philosophy, has 5 key tenets that still hold true in digital marketing today – albeit on steroids:

1. Know your target intimately. With the availability of big data and sophisticated analytics tools, we can now have endless known and inferred information about our target, not just who they are, but what they are doing and might want to do next.

2. Customize your offering. Not only are products increasingly customizable, but the personalized experiences we can offer consumers as they discover and engage with our brands, can create brand value and differentiation in and of themselves.

3. Timing is everything. Gone are the days of push communications with marketing calendars based on day of week or month. Digital experiences can be ever-present, remember you after your interaction and predict when you’ll return. Add to the mix also the 24/7 of social platforms and our ability to listen and create in almost real-time!

4. Choose the right channel. This is no longer the marketers choice, but the consumers. Channel integration is what matters now, using dynamic systems to sequence brand story-telling across screens.

5. Personalize the creative. The fun now afforded us by incredible digital technology and its artisans is just beginning: Interactive video, 3D, augmented reality, voice and facial recognition. And where it gets even more exciting and authentic is when brands invite consumers to co-create part of the brand story too.

Leveraging these direct marketing tenets and continuously extending them with emerging digital capabilities have brought the brands I’ve worked with great success.

The net effect of these five points above is really bringing the promise of CRM to its full potential. We can combine customization, personalization, message, channel and timing, with the power of data – we can connect with consumers in more powerful and profitable ways.

The Makegood: Katie, how do you handle differences in the use of social media when managing international, consistent communication strategies?

As with any global program, the core brand essence is established for consistency yet it must allow for regional and channel relevancy.  Enabling this flexibility without losing the fidelity of the brand story requires a highly communicative and collaborative team of local geography representatives to ensure ongoing alignment.

The Makegood: Organic puts human connection at the center of everything they do and they have expertise across strategy, analytics, technology and creative. How do you build these connections?

Our mission at Organic is to help brands nurture Human Connection with their customers. Human Connection happens when we bring deep insight into consumer motivation and apply that thinking to the medium and message. This requires close collaboration between all our disciplines and our clients. Our strategic services team has combined traditional planning and analytical disciplines to form a rigorous quantitative and qualitative process for articulating a clear understanding of a brand’s goals and precise insights into what and how to motivate their customers. With this information in hand, our teams collaborate with creatives and creative technologists to design and deliver innovative experiences which connect a customer’s underlying need, want or expectation with the brands’ purpose. Our creative teams are staffed with expertise across experience architecture, design, art and copy and many are closet technologists as well.  And our technologists bring deep experience across a variety of creative technologies as well as deep systems integration skills when required, t0o many times help improve concepts on the board. How do we build Human Connection? With human connections, of course!

The Makegood: Thanks, Katie and Sarah