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Tim Washburn on How Specialising Worked for Nomadic


Founder and executive creative director of the digital-first creative agency, Nomadic, speaks to LBB’s Ben Conway about capitalising on a niche and his career journey so far

Tim Washburn on How Specialising Worked for Nomadic

Tim Washburn is the founder and ECD at Nomadic, where they serve a national client-roster that includes Ubisoft, National Geographic, and The Walt Disney Company. Since graduating from ASU in 1997 and cutting his teeth at Fallon Minneapolis, Tim has accrued over 20 years of branding, advertising, and digital marketing experience as a creative director and leader. 

Nomadic was founded in 2008 as a supplementary organisation to PrizeLogic, whom he worked for as partner and ECD, before splitting into an independent operation in 2016. Since then, Nomadic was acquired by OH Holdings in 2020 and now Tim, president and ECD of the company, continues to work with the industry leading brands that he developed relationships with at PrizeLogic to create award-winning digital-first campaigns.

Speaking to LBB’s Ben Conway, Tim discusses going from selling vacuums in high school to creating campaigns for the likes of Disney Parks and Destinations and Pepsi, as well as iconic video game brands such as Resident Evil and Far Cry. He also reveals how Nomadic has developed a motivated company culture, and the significance of his father’s passion for film. 

LBB> What creative content inspired or interested you most when you were growing up? Do any TV shows, films and ads stand out to you?

Tim> The Little Mermaid. I mean, I loved all of the 1980s boy basics too: Miami Vice, Star Wars, the Breakfast Club and A-Team etc. But The Little Mermaid combined so many of the things I was interested in and the craftsmanship was amazing. I was mesmerised. One time a girl asked me if I wanted to come over and watch it together. I was too dumb to realise that the suggestion was code for making out. So I just sat there with her and watched the whole thing - then talked about the art style, the animation, the music, the casting, and completely missed out on the opportunity at hand.   

My dad was really into movies and the people who made them, so we watched a lot of them and spent a lot of time talking about them. Other sons and dads had sports - we had movies. I loved watching comedies with him in particular because he had a big, super contagious laugh. Super Bowl commercials brought that laugh out of him too. And I remember thinking it would be pretty great to create something that made people feel like that someday. It was probably the start of my interest in advertising. 

LBB> When did the possibility of working in the advertising world appear to you? How was your journey into this industry?

Tim> My dad suggested I start a career in advertising because I was an artistic kid but pretty directionless. However, I had spent a couple of summers in high school selling vacuums door to door and did well. I really liked the psychology of selling but had absolutely no interest in becoming a salesperson. So my dad suggested I explore advertising since it combined my interests in persuasion, art, design, music, film… and dressing casually for the rest of my life. He got me an internship at Fallon in the mid-’90s when they were one of the best creative shops in the world (crazy-lucky client-kid). I had a front-row seat to some of the best work in advertising for four summers in a row. I remember thinking, ‘they’ll pay me for this? I’m in!’. 

LBB> When and why did you found Nomadic? And what was the company’s story up until being acquired by OH Holdings?

Tim> There’s a personal story here. Fallon wasn’t just a great agency; the owners established an amazing culture. That was a hard thing to find once I graduated from school. Eventually, I landed a gig at a pretty great place in LA called Ignited. I became the CD on a number of video game accounts as well as Sony Vaio Latin America. It was a five-year run of helicopter shoots in Sao Paulo and digitally forward campaigns for Activision. But once my wife and I had kids, we decided to move back to Phoenix AZ to raise them. I thought it would be a dead end for my career - I thought I’d be laying out real estate ads for the rest of my life. Then one of my friends introduced me to a guy that ran a company called eMarketing who were looking for a creative director. It seemed like a good bet to me since things were only getting more digital in 2007. I told him I’d need about three years to build a portfolio good enough to merchandise, with a team that I created. I also told him he had to change the name of the agency because I wouldn’t be able to get another creative gig after working for a place called eMarketing. I expected him to throw me out. Instead, he hired me. 

We then developed a small portfolio of digital agency brands and the company became an absolute juggernaut. Nomadic was the creative division. Seven years later, we sold two of the agency brands to a PE company and spun off Nomadic as an independent agency - the best career decision of my life. 

LBB> When Nomadic separated - how was that transition? What are some key steps to being a successful independent, digital-first agency?

Tim> The transition was very difficult. When we sold the majority of the company and spun off Nomadic, I no longer had control over, or access to, resources that Nomadic had depended on. Nomadic literally lost capabilities overnight. And I was too young in my career to foresee a lot of it. So we had to reset. With 15 people, an agency can only be really good at one thing. So we pared down on capabilities, sunsetting web development and CRM, and committed the agency to learn how to create campaigns and content for digital marketing channels - specifically social platforms which would inevitably become advertising beasts.

Specialisation worked! We got good, fast, in a niche that most agencies were neglecting. Within a few years, we became an Ad Age Small Agency of the Year Winner, won multiple Digiday Best Of awards, as well as multiple Effies. Now we have a meaningful positioning and a number of reasons to believe.  

LBB> Is it accurate to say that  ‘digital-first’ is something of a misnomer or redundancy now? It seems that most agencies are multidisciplinary and that digital is a significant portion of the work for all agencies. How do you stand out as a true ‘digital-first’ agency? 

Tim> Maybe. I wouldn’t use the language in an ad campaign. Feels like table stakes. But the description is very helpful in one-to-one pitching, when there’s time to explain… for no other reason than because other agencies are so scared to narrow their focus. There are a lot of clients out there looking for an agency that understands the digital landscape better than their current shops, so a declaration of digital focus is pretty powerful. Especially because we can back it up. We’re experts in the channels. We combine the strategic approach and concept chops of a creative boutique with the production and implementation caps of a digital shop, and we use consumer journey and funnel marketing as a framework for strategic planning and creative briefing. And we’ve been doing it for some of the most exceptional brands in the world for over a decade. 

LBB> You were a creative director at Ignited LA - how much do you get to use your creative skills as president and ECD of Nomadic? 

Tim> It’s a relatively small team, so I played creative director on a number of accounts and projects for years. However, our new department CD, Lucas, is crushing it, so I’m rarely necessary for the day-to-day. But those skills and experiences have been essential in the role I play as an agency leader, specifically in the scoping of the work we do and the shaping of the process we follow. The things that set our teams up for success and ensure a great working experience for everyone involved. 

LBB> Who or what in the industry/in your field inspires you?

Tim> While I could stream movies and shows all day, it’s not nearly as relevant to modern advertising as the content on TikTok and Instagram Reels. There are so many great ideas at our fingertips, being generated by an army of content creators - brilliant people that we can learn from. And the reality is, until streaming platforms grow and standardise their advertising offerings, our industry must master how to create and compete for attention on social channels, which just isn’t the same as TV. 

LBB> What was your first professional project and what are your memories of that? And what was the project or piece of work that you felt really changed your career?

Tim> The first project I can remember was in 1993. I was an intern at Fallon, hanging out with the creative team. They were working on a trade ad for Rolling Stone. I sheepishly threw out an idea and they jumped on it. Even better, they walked me down the hall to the CCO’s office, told him we had our idea, and that I was the one who came up with it. Not only did that moment give me the confidence that I could do this work, but it showed me how powerful sharing the credit could be. It definitely changed my life.  

LBB> You work with some really exciting clients - Ubisoft, Walt Disney and National Geographic to name a few. How have you developed these relationships - and what have been the most exciting projects you’ve worked on with these brands?

Tim> We made the most of these connections when Nomadic was part of a larger organisation, through one of the other agency brands we had, which specialised in digital promotions. Because digital promotions were such a highly technical and risky thing, clients often required direct MSAs, which are one of the hardest things to get as a creative agency. That created a back door for Nomadic. The digital promotions agency got the MSAs with Pepsi, Subway, Mcdonald's, Taco Bell, and more, then Nomadic would jump out of the Trojan Horse and ask, ‘anyone unhappy with their creative agency?’. 

We helped launch Pinterest for Disney Parks and Destinations. We launched Just Dance for Ubisoft and extended it globally, working with a number of celebrities, including Katy Perry. We created a massive digital promotion for Diet Pepsi with Sophia Vergara. And we helped launch Far Cry 5, one of the best-selling titles in the franchise. Most recently, we helped launch Resident Evil Village, as the creative AOR. The campaign crushed benchmarks, the game exceeded forecast, and the work we created was awesome. In fact, we won the Gold Effie for Social and Best Use of Social for Digiday for an activation we produced specifically for core fans on Reddit. 

LBB> What upcoming projects are you proud of / looking forward to releasing soon? Give us a little teaser!

Tim> I can’t say what exactly it is we’re doing, but we are working on the launch of Street Fighter 6 right now. We’re also launching an Instagram channel for a new line at NBCUniversal. And we have a number of active projects with Disney. 

LBB> Outside of work, what do you do to decompress or stay fresh? What are some of your hobbies, special interests and habits?

Tim> I love playing guitar when I get some time, mountain biking when I can, and watching movies and shows. But more than anything else, I love spending time with my wife and kids. I’ve got an 18-year-old daughter in college, and twin 16-year-old boys who are almost on their way. My wife has done a great job of creating a home that we all love being a part of. So I’ll take every minute they’ll give me. 

LBB> What do you think it is that drives and motivates you in work and in your life?

Tim> I love this business. I love our clients. I love the staff. I love what we do. But my primary motivation, at this point, is to create great working experiences for everyone involved. I want clients to love the work, the way it was presented, and the relationships they have with the people that created it. I want our people to be proud of their work, to be challenged, and to feel supported by one another. I want our partners to feel valued and respected.

I’ve had the good fortune of building our culture with someone who shares that motivation, our GM, Dawn Bates. So it’s no wonder that working experience is the foundation of our vision (to build a nationally recognised creative agency, for experienced marketers at the helm of exceptional brands, renowned for providing its staff, its clients, and its partners, with the greatest working experiences of their careers). And on our best days, we do it pretty well. 


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The Harkey Group, Tue, 13 Dec 2022 17:56:00 GMT