#100K: Jamie Read

What's the perfect agency? As managing director of Ketchum Germany, I often asked myself this question. And a few things were clear. In a "perfect agency" only professionals work together. Colleagues who have so much experience. You don't have to explain anything. You just get started. Ideally, experts with different specialties and people from all over the world working together to bring as many different approaches to the table as possible. Even better, this team is not just a bunch of international colleagues, but old friends who value and trust each other. That way, every job - and time spent together - is fun. Wouldn't it be nice to build such an agency?

Impossible, I thought.

But in fact, someone has done just that: Jamie Read is the founder of a very unique concept for an agency - the BriteBirch Collective.

It's not an agency. It's a network. No, it's a community and it's a collective. And it brings together exactly what you want in an international marketing agency - without all the bureaucratic and organizational baggage of a standard network agency. He has simply brought together like-minded professionals from all over the world with a diverse range of experience and skill sets.

Jamie is one of the most cosmopolitan people I know. When we worked together at Ketchum, he was in Dubai, then Singapore. He knew a lot about the cultural and practical differences between Eastern and Western media, business practices and mindsets. Today, I'm reaching him in... Oh, it doesn't matter, because Jamie is at home anywhere in the world.

Jamie, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy international schedule for this interview. As with all my guests, I want to start with a question that seems almost out of time now, in the fall of 2023. It's crazy how time flies. Especially what's going on in the world. But three years ago we were all sitting at home in lockdown for fear of a global pandemic. Today, thank God, it all seems to be over. In Europe, there are reports that the infection rate is on the rise again - now that winter is upon us, but Covid is no longer the great terror it used to be. But I want to remember this time of lockdowns and restrictions, because this time did something to us, didn't it? It affected our lives, surely something must remain? Is there anything left from that time? What do you remember or would you like to remember?

Looking back, I find it remarkable how quickly the way we work has changed. And especially how the agency model - in marketing, advertising and PR - has been challenged since then. I founded BriteBirch Collective in 2018, long before Covid. Back then, I was convinced that the traditional agency model was outdated and outmoded. But let's be honest, back then freelancers, solo entrepreneurs and individual consultants weren't really well regarded, particularly in Asia where I was based. Covid changed that. The term "freelancer" became less of a dirty word. And the value of individual, experienced consultants was suddenly seen in a whole new light.

Talent has always been the true value of an agency. So, an international group of experts with a common goal can also do very valuable and effective work. This, of course, has been facilitated with new technologies and ways of working. In the past large corporations were used to working in siloes together in large offices and bringing in large agencies with expensive but fancy agency spaces. Nearly overnight they were forced to break down silos, learn to organize and manage virtual teams – without offices, personal assistants and coffee from their corporate coffee bar. And they learned it´s not crucial where someone sits. It´s crucial who you work with.

In the agencies where I previously worked around the world - at TBWA, Ketchum or Edelman - international webinars and Google Meets had long been a part of everyday working life. This was the only way these large, international agencies could network globally. I, for example, was used to celebrating Christmas with my family via Skype. Unthinkable for many until 2020. In the years of the pandemic, this became a bitter reality for most people.

However, one thing becomes clear when working virtually: It is crucial who you work with. Virtual teams sort of function like those school group projects we did as kids. Everyone gets their assignment; tasks are allotted but there is almost always that one person who doesn’t follow through. In the old office environment, it is easier for such people to hide behind the agency stars. Thanks to Covid, the performance of the individual is now scrutinized in a completely new way and gives room for new "agency models" such as BriteBirch. Today, I see the pandemic as an accelerator of developments that were already happening. The best and brightest, those with integrity and work ethic, they thrive in remote work because they can be trusted to do their part. That’s why our talent network only has 200 people. We want to ensure that when we bring teams to our clients, it’s with the best talent but also people willing and able to work collaboratively to solve a bigger client challenge we wouldn’t be able to tackle on our own.

It is worth noting that what we strive to bring to our clients is perspective. That’s why, more and more, our teams are inclusive of non-marketing subject matter experts, technologists, and now even AI agents.

In all interviews I´ll ask my guests the same questions, so I'm particularly curious about your answer to the next. I know you as a globally connected marketing and communications expert who can make excellent use of an international network and global knowledge to find ideas. That's my impression. But tell me, what do you need to come up with new ideas? What is your recipe for creativity?

I used to play in an indie rock band in Canada. I had the least talent but could dabble in piano, guitar and vocals. And I loved jamming with the band. Just letting the rhythm drive you and playing along. Going with the flow and adding layers of complexity.

The key to a good jam is that you have band members who play different instruments, who know how to play their instrument… and ideally have a completely different background to play along with you. That´s the perfect mix to jam. And that's how I see creativity in business.

Ultimately, it's the people and how they jam together coming up with a great idea. Just like in music, it's all about the right rhythm and connecting harmonies. You need to connect for great ideas. Connecting the dots – that´s basically the principle of creativity.

And it is particularly worthwhile to connect opposites. Combining things that don't seem to go together. Teaming up with colleagues who may not fit together initially. Connect introverts with extroverts, connect loud with quiet, people with different backgrounds and styles, cultures and experiences.

The key is to recognize every one of them - with their own style - with their own instrument - and to make them shine and be heard. Not everyone is an extroverted leader, you also need colleagues who prefer to stay in the back and who like to add subtle nuance, but they are still vital because without them, the jam wouldn't be as good.

What a beautiful picture - for the world as a whole. This brings me to my last question. And it is aimed at the current state of the world. We´ve overcome Covid, but unfortunately didn't wake up in a better world. The opposite is happening - an ever-increasing catastrophe. It seems that the world is getting worse and worse. We don't even know where to start: wars, climate crisis, economic problems, poisoned communication in all directions. And yet it is all that we have to deal with. As communicators, we have a special obligation here, don't you think? How do you see it, and how are you going to help make this world a little better?

I am a globalist. And as such, long before Brexit, Trump and all the extremism, I saw how times were changing. The world believed in global collaboration. We knew how we fight poverty. We knew how to bring education to difficult, underdeveloped, poor regions. Social media was supposed to help us do this. Unfortunately, we were wrong. Instead of bringing us together, the social filters and media bubbles online have increasingly isolated us from each other. And with AI, we see the next promising technology. But it is also frightening.

Yet despite the doom and gloom, we have to remember we are mostly all better off today. Everyone with a computer or smartphone today has the same opportunity. Everyone has the same microphone. Everyone can be heard. Anyone can connect with anyone.

Unfortunately, however, we overlooked one thing: when everyone is broadcasting, there is no one left to receive. There is no one to listen. And when everyone is reporting in their very own experiences, there is no one left to listen to these experience. We forgot to put ourselves in other people's shoes and enrich our perspective with theirs. We forgot to learn from each other and instead just find ourselves adding to the noise.

As a small contribution to the world, I see it as my task to create an environment in which different perspectives are not only being shared, but also being heard. To create an atmosphere in which we listen and learn from each other. This is important to me - in business and as well as in my private life.

Gaining and taking perspective for me is a celebration of diversity and it builds resiliency in life and in business. But with everyone trapped in their own feedback loops, this is becoming more and more difficult. Through our collective, I feel like we are pushing back in a way, as I am firmly convinced that perspective leads to success: when we make an effort to work together, we always make the world a little bit better.

About #100K

In 2023 Ketchum - an international communications network - celebrates its 100th anniversary. This makes it probably the oldest communications agency in the world. I´ve worked more than 25 years at Ketchum and learned so much at this agency. I am thankful for this time and the many colleagues and friends I´ve met there. So I´ll take this as an opportunity to meet old Ketchum-friends. And ask them some fundamental questions. Thanks to Jamie, Sandra NötzelPeter Jordan, Nicholas Scibetta, Jörg Polzer, Claudia Siebert, Rod Cartwright, Robert Burnside, Lukas Adda, Linda Eatherton, Gustav Averbuj, Sabine Stadel-Strauch, Gesine Märten

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