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5 Minutes with… Kaleeta McDade


Chief experience design officer at VMLY&R speaks to LBB’s Addison Capper about the differences between “storytelling” and “storyliving”, and how they inform the way the agency evaluates ‘experience’

5 Minutes with… Kaleeta McDade

Earlier this year, VMLY&R announced a marked expansion of its experience design division with two key appointments. One of those appointments was Kaleeta McDade, who joined from Ogilvy as chief experience design officer, North America. She jointly leads the agency’s growing experience design team alongside Eric Looney, who has been a leader on the XD team for the last five years.

Kaleeta served as global executive creative director for Ogilvy Experience, and was responsible for defining, shaping, and driving the creative vision and strategy across the agency’s experience offerings. Prior to that, she spent six years at Deloitte Digital, where she served as group experience director across studios in the US and India.

LBB’s Addison Capper last spoke to Kaleeta just over one year ago, but in the ever-changing world of advertising and with customer behaviours showing little sign of stabilising, they both thought it worth another chat. 

LBB> When I interviewed you in 2021, I asked you about your definition of customer experience (CX). You said, "Experience can mean everything and nothing because the definition is so vast." What challenges and opportunities does that open-ended nature offer up, and how do you deal with them in your role?

Kaleeta> The way we are evaluating experience has evolved — human in, instead of brand out. Whereas brand experience (BX) is storytelling, CX is storyliving.

In my current role, I use this open-ended nature to define how I look at connected brands. BX is the pickup line in the courting stage. Commerce is the love language that sits between; purchasing is the ultimate sign of brand love. CX is the committed marriage where you always rekindle the love through commerce. 

At every stage of the relationship, we must strongly understand the value exchange. At VMLY&R XD we often say, ‘time well spent versus time well saved’.

LBB> With that in mind, what are you up to in your new role at VMLY&R? What are you hoping to achieve for clients in this new role?

Kaleeta> With six months under my belt in my new role at VMLY&R, I have been working across our North American teams, as well as WPP’s OpenX, a bespoke team across WPP agencies created for the Coca-Cola accounts. We have highlighted CX as a necessary philosophy and are now trying to bring CX into practice throughout all of our processes. 

LBB> What do those goals say about the challenges your clients are facing in terms of experience?

Kaleeta> Adopting customer centricity as a philosophy is step one, but it takes a full company commitment to activate. We cannot continue to do the same thing and expect a different outcome. Our creative briefing process has to be different, and our teams need to be different in order for our outcomes to change. 

LBB> What projects that you've been working on recently have you been particularly enjoying and why?

Kaleeta> The projects I am most excited about are the ones that start with the best questions. It allows us to focus on being able to take our clients from category to culture. There is an embarrassment of opportunities if you can frame the proper tension and insight. 

LBB> You started your career in graphic design before diverting to experience design and UX. Considering the broad nature of your role now, how have each of these elements — and the overarching definition — of “experience” evolved since you began working?

Kaleeta> Graduating during the dotcom bust ensured my computer science degree would go unused. At that time, there was no CX design. Venturing into graphic design, my focus was on brand assets, which evolved into web design — and who doesn’t love a good flash intro? From magazine layouts for Outkast’s Purple Ribbon Record artist to interactive solar panel touch screens, my early career was a story of variety and intentionally careless planning. It was instrumental in setting the foundation for creating the CX experience for the LA Rams, working at Apple and the Google brand studio, living and working in Shanghai for a global e-commerce experience, and many more. Creating ‘on the page’ for so many years allowed me to create for the world off the page. 

Now, designers have hyper-specialised majors, and it’s hard to come across people that can connect across creative, strategy, and technology. My background has allowed me to be a more empathetic leader.

LBB> What are the main topics, trends and issues that are informing the conversations you're currently having with clients?

Kaleeta> Whether we want to talk about it or not, a main trend I am seeing is the tightening of budgets. Clients are moving with intentionality around how they spend their time and money. ChatGPT, Midjourney, and some of the other new AI are new compelling tools that will change our industry. As creatives, we are still curators and visionaries who create the future. AI can augment and support, but true creativity can never be replaced.

Brands want to be your daily or weekly partner. To achieve this, you must be part of someone’s daily occasion or routine. Our job is to intercept humanity at the moments that matter most and leverage AI to scale that connection. 


LBB> When it comes to the tricky part of a creative task, or if you're feeling a bit stumped, do you have a go-to place or activity to help clear your mind?

Kaleeta> Typically, my go-to place is internal. Sometimes you have to be unplugged to be introspective, creating space to interrogate the task at hand through music.  

Cultivating a strong network of friends and fellow professionals throughout my career has proven to be a vital source of inspiration. They are my greatest asset when confronting a problem. No name-dropping, but I’ve been known to bend Eric Looney’s ear more than a few times.  

LBB> What kind of creative content inspires or interests you?

Kaleeta> The way artists are releasing music, even in genres where I may not be a fan — seeing the level of creativity is fun. Inspired by the Midjourney creative work of Chema Parsanz, ‘Balloons’ is a beautiful composition that any art director would’ve loved to shoot. ‘The Sims’ fashion and overall cultural relevance being led by Laurel Stark Akman continue to amaze me. 

LBB> Outside of work, what do you do to decompress or stay fresh?

Kaleeta> When I moved back to Atlanta, getting reintegrated into the volleyball community was essential. It’s not about being good at the sport as much as it’s about the community. 

At least that’s what I tell myself, as I enter into the dawn of my athletic prowess — LOL! 

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VMLY&R North America, Tue, 20 Dec 2022 17:16:42 GMT