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Meet the makers-speaker interview- ashley alsup

November 9, 2010


We are really pleased that Ashley Alsup is going to be one of our speakers at our Meet the Makers event on December 3rd. Ashley was one of the leading strategists at Crispin Porter Bogusky and was responsible for some of thinking around BK’s Whopper Sacrifice and much more.

Ashley is now working as an independent consultant as has been spending time thinking about how corporate America might re-make itself.

I recently interviewed Ashley and here it is.

1. Briefly Tells Us About Your Background?

My agency background includes time at Kirshenbaum, BBH NY, AMV BBDO London and Crispin Porter Bogusky. I always tried to work for an agency I thought I could learn the most from.

I got into advertising because I liked the idea of creating cultural change. I came to feel over time, though, that I had less and less power to change anything. I wanted to be part of the conversation to solve the real problem.

2. What Was the Most Rewarding thing You Worked on and Why?

I worked on Johnnie Walker globally pretty early on in my career and got to travel around the world and help a client figure out how to make a global campaign work anywhere. I worked with some extremely nice and committed people at BBH and Diageo. At the time, I felt like we were solving something new. We wanted to crack it and that felt good. As for my time working for Guinness in the UK, it was always easier and more rewarding to work with a great product.

More recently in my career at Crispin, I got to work on some projects for American Express and burger King that had more to do with fundamental problems in their business. I got to be part of the team that was coming up with some product ideas or new ideas for how to relate to their customers and internal stakeholders- some of which got made. Having a very different kind of conversation with my corporate clients got my super-excited about the possibilities of how planning could help clients from a perspective independent from an advertising product. 

3. What does “Making” Mean in the Context of what you do?

I try to be a creative problem solver. New problems always fascinate me because they’re a chance to learn. The journey is great because you get to use a lot of craft skills, whether it’s conducting research in an especially effective and inspired way or creating presentation materials that capture and argument or ideas in an especially tense, compelling and clear way. The end goal is joy, happiness- the feeling within a group that we can make a great decision and change the course of a project, product, brand or entire business.

4. What’s Your Feeling about Corporate America right Now?

I think corporate America is much more broken than it realizes. Not because it’s so behind on ideas, because it’s not. The ideas are there, they just can’t get made. Mostly because American corporations are not structured around creating great products and bringing them to marker in a speedy, transparent way. They’re structured around a story told for Wall St. The sheer number of business units,layers and competing roles prohibits real leadership, the ability to make decisions and get things done. But it gives the impression of a mighty ship.

As a result, privately-owned companies are the engines of innovation and ideas because that’s where the purity of purpose is. They tend to produce superior products that come from a personal mission, love and insight. They have a closer relationship with their consumers and tend to tell the truth more often and behave in a transparent and responsible way. If we want to change the larger corporate culture, we have work on both ends of the market. We have to help smaller companies become the biggest threats they can be. And we have to help corporate clients regain the purity of purpose, make good decisions, agree to behave differently. But you can’t have one without the other. Because people rarely change unless they are incentivized to. We have to work together to alter the incentive.

5. What Type of Businesses Do You Think Americans want to Deal with Now?

I think people want to deal with companies they feel represent something positive for people. It’s funny how often the treatment of workers come up in quant surveys of how people evaluate companies. For everything ground-breaking that Walmart is doing for sustainability, there are still stories of the way they treat their workers and local communities, creating profound dissonance. And people take that personally. It taps into an underlying anxiety that corporations can do whatever they want, that they no longer exist to serve humanity or happiness. Just wealth at any cost and for a very small group of people. People aren’t sure who they can trust anymore. Even Toyota has let people down. It’s creating a great, untapped market opportunity for new brands and thought leaders to move in.

6. What Corporations do you feel “get it”- names names and explain why?

From a product and marketing standpoint, Apple and Google. Apple products have an almost transcendent, spiritual quality to them. Google is great at getting tools into the hands of people and letting them shape them using betas. But both are in danger of undermining their brands with some of their corporate behavior. Brands like Patagonia and Toms Shoes have made impressive and substantive and ethical practices. Method has very effectively changed the conversations around household products- from toxic things that have to be locked in a cabinet to objects of design and pleasure that can be kept out of the counter. And I think for businesses of scale, Starbucks and Whole Foods have actually stayed ahead of a lot of issues and continue to demonstrate their desire to improve the experience for their customers. Justin’s Nutbutters, a Boulder company, recently led a squeeze-pack conference with major food suppliers to get everyone to change to bio-degradable packaging. All of these brands feel loved by the people that run them. They all make great products.

You can register for Influx’s Meet the Makers conference here.

Posted by Ed Cotton

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