Joe Dee is the VP, Product and Technology Strategy at Cossette, which means he gets to do some amazing things with emerging technologies. He is also the lead for the Cossette lab, a new startup incubator here in Toronto. As stated in a recent Strategy article, the aim of the lab “…is to foster relationships between the entrepreneurs and Cossette employees, as well as hunt for cross-market opportunities.” With a background that includes an eclectic mix of agencies and startups, Joe Dee is the perfect candidate to be heading up this new initiative. Read more about this experience and thoughts on technology below.
Q: Give us your career story in a nutshell. We’d love to hear what brought you to where you are now.
A: Well, I’m a technologist at heart and always have been. When the web came along, I was floored by the possibilities and I knew that I wanted to spend my career working with it. My first opportunity was at a company called Infinet Communications. I got an internship coming out of school and was offered a full-time gig after that. I remember the owner, Dr. John, writing a number on a piece of paper and sliding it over to me, which was my starting salary. I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to make websites, I’d say that’s still true today.
I grew up in the industry at pure play digital shops, Organic and Critical Mass. I’m still close with a lot of people I connected with over that time, most of the great leaders in our industry in Canada I met at those agencies.
I spent some time at MaRS, the innovation hub in Toronto working on the digital strategy and supporting social innovation initiatives, which was an amazing experience. I then had a great run at Tribal / DDB where we did award winning work with a very special team, managing to get Agency of the Year on both sides of the agency while I was there.
Then Jason Chaney, someone who I deeply respect and just wanted to keep working with, started talking to me about the opportunity at Cossette, which seemed like the dream position for me. We carved out something totally unique to my passions and here I am, absolutely in love with my job.
Q: You were recently hired by Cossette as their first ever VP of Product and Technology Strategy. What are some of the current and future challenges of your role?
A: Current challenge with the role is having an understanding within the agency and with our clients as to what the role really is. Most agencies have gotten used to a Technology Director or a Creative Technologist, but what we’re trying to do at Cossette is to bring deep digital thinking, supported by technical know-how, to our strategy. This idea of a “strategic technologist” is new to the agency, so there will be challenges in how to engage with it. It’s about understanding how platforms, products and data can be part of our strategies.
I think the future challenge with the agency as a whole, is when we’re talking about “product” we are talking about something that has a long shelf-life. In the agency world, we’re oriented towards campaigns which have a beginning and an end. Ideally, a product doesn’t have an end. It keeps evolving, growing, and improving. That’s a mindset that we’re adapting to as well as a resourcing approach that’s quite different than our campaign work. So, for me, it’s helping to shift the culture from short and beautiful, to long and meaningful.
Q: Part of your new role at Cossette involves leading the new Cossette Lab, a start-up incubator based in Toronto. Interested start-ups “…must develop a technology that will benefit Cossette, the agency’s clients or potential partners.” What kinds of companies are you looking for? Are there any applicants that you’re particularly excited about (if you can tell us)?
A: We’ve just started accepting applications for the Fall program of the Cossette Lab, which we’re really excited about. We’re looking for startups who could leverage an integrated agency like Cossette to help grow their business. We admire the big players like Communitech, Ryerson’s DMZ, MaRS, Highwire, etc. and our goal is to compliment what they offer by helping startups that are in some way related to the marketing communications industry.
It’s early to talk about the startups we’re excited about, but we’ve already seen submissions that we’d love to be connected to. We’re looking forward to bringing them in house to start our journey together.
Q: You worked previously with MaRS Discovery District – what did you learn in that experience that you’ll bring to the Cossette Lab?
A: MaRS exposed me to the startup community in Toronto and brought me closer to the entrepreneurs journey. Having been part of organizing events, advising entrepreneurs, working directly with the Market Research team, and part of the day-to-day operations at MaRS, I learned quite a bit about what startups are looking for to support their company.
It also set me on a path of being an entrepreneur myself. I have a couple of startups I’m working on right now and I think that’s important to having any credibility to lead up something like the Cossette Lab. I’m on the journey too, so it’s one of those “we’re in this together” things.
Q: What has been the proudest moment/achievement in your career thus far?
A: Without a doubt it was the Our Food, Your Questions campaign for A: McDonalds. Being part of the core group that came up with the ideas and executing it to our vision was such a reward. We felt it was deeply meaningful to McDonalds and it was a journey that I was so proud to be a part of. We executed that product like a startup with our partners Igniter, which really transformed the agency as well.
Q: Technology is constantly changing and it can be very challenging to keep up with new trends and information. What are some of your strategies for keeping fresh and current?
A: I’ve actually insourced that to the agency. We have an initiative at Cossette called The Find, which is a group of 100+ Cossetters across Canada who share inspirational and emerging things they find on the web to an online community, you can check it out here. That keeps me very current on what’s happening related to our industry and technology.
Q: What is the one quality you look for in new hires?
A: Curiosity. Inherently if you’re curious you tend to be honest, open-minded, and willing. These are 3 principles I try to live my life by and I really connect with people who have those traits.
Q: What technology roles (new or existing) do you anticipate an increased demand for to reflect the way the industry is going?
A: I see the role for technology really becoming part of everyone’s responsibility within the agency. Agencies that are hiring people with digital mindsets are going to get people who experience and understand technology; these are people who don’t need to vet ideas through a technology person. I see a need rising for how platforms and data can enable experiences, so you might start seeing things like “Director, Product and Platforms” take on the role of what we currently call “Technology Director”.
Q: Tell us something about yourself that we wouldn’t know otherwise?
A: I was one the of co-founders of Quit Facebook Day; a movement back in 2010 to abandon Facebook due to it’s policies around your personal data.
That became an international news story where I was interviewed by multiple news agencies, talk radio shows, and even morning music radio shows around the world. That experience really gave me exposure to how news and trends spread.
I’m back on Facebook but use it now simply for letting my mom know what’s happening in my life 😉
Interview by Rachel Scott
Inside the Industry is a monthly interview series brought you by Boost Agents Inc. and aimed to provide current and prospective leaders with an inside perspective on the industry and the amazing individuals that make it up. We speak to passionate leaders in the advertising, marketing, communications and technology spaces about their career path, trends in the industry, what they look for in potential hires and what inspires them. If you are a leader interested in sharing your insights through Inside the Industry, email firstname.lastname@example.org.