Aimee Woodall — Founder & President, Black Sheep
Aimee talks to TheNextGag about the benefits of being a cause-driven agency, why she hires rebels and working on a campaign with First Lady Michelle Obama.
Aimee Woodall is the Founder & President of Black Sheep in the USA.
Black Sheep Agency is a cause-driven brand strategy and creative firm located in Houston that works with companies who balance purpose with profit. Black Sheep works exclusively with nonprofits, civic organizations and for-profit companies that prioritize social responsibility.
Very simply put, Black Sheep activates people around things that matter.
Aimee founded the agency with the notion of being different from other creative agencies she had previously worked with. After realizing a gap in the market for cause-marketing focused agencies (and a personal passion for bettering the world), Aimee refocused Black Sheep to be solely impact-focused while still bringing creativity to social responsibility.
Over the course of eight years, Aimee has grown the company to work with the former First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama to change the conversation about life after high school for Generation Z through the #BetterMakeRoom campaign, which Black Sheep did all of the creative work on. She also serves as a member of the Creative Alliance, a collective of top creative agencies that support social good initiatives on behalf of Civic Nation, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that brings together public and private stakeholders to run campaigns dedicated to increasing civic engagement and community organizing.
THENEXTGAG: WHAT PRIDE DO YOU TAKE FROM BEING A B CORP ?
AIMEE WOODALL: Our mission is “To shock. To awe. To be the agency that changes minds and accelerates impact.” We work exclusively with nonprofits, civic entities and for-profits that put impact at the center of what they do. Being a B Corp allows us to say that we don’t just think this is important for our clients — we’re going to take extra steps to show you that we’re going to walk the talk, too. It’s in our DNA. Being a B Corp just adds a bit of third-party credibility to that…it’s someone else confirming it’s in our DNA.
TNG: WOULD YOU ADVISE AD AGENCIES TO CONSIDER TURNING THEMSELVES INTO B CORPS ?
AW: If an agency is ready to put impact first, believes in doing business responsibly, cares for employees as well as the environment, and puts transparency first, establishing yourself as a B Corp is the next step in showing you’re committed to action. It’s another layer of accountability and a way to express your organization’s dedication to making positive impact on the world. And that is becoming a necessary part of business — we need to challenge companies to look beyond profits and give back. It is our hope that other agencies — and every business across the board — will eventually join us.
TNG: DO ALL COMPANIES NEED TO FIND A BRAND PURPOSE ?
AW: I wholeheartedly believe that they do. Knowing your purpose is as important as deciding on your business structure and service offerings. Purpose-driven companies are not just about self-congratulating and feeling the warm fuzzies — it’s a way to connect with your customers and other brands in an authentic way. Baking your conviction into your core is essential for attracting the right employees, to setting yourself apart and to growing as a business.
You have to start with the “Why?” before you get to the “What?” Your why is where your values are born. They orient and guide you each day, and they should also excite you and energize you and your team. We work more than 90,000 hours in our lifetime, so it’s critical that we can connect with the meaning behind what we do each day.
TNG: WHAT ATTRACTS ADVERTISERS TO WORK WITH BLACK SHEEP ?
AW: People find us because of who we are — they connect with our mission, with our rebellious nature and our wild creativity. Most often, they’ve seen our work for someone else, or they’ve heard about the outcomes of a campaign we’ve produced. We’ve created a niche for ourselves. The people we work with are fired up about something — they have a mission, a purpose that punches them in the gut. And we’re the kind of people who get on that level with them. By the time we decide to work together, they can see that we care just as much about the cause, and that we’re not going to stop fighting until we get there together.
TNG: HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE YOUR MANAGEMENT STYLE ?
AW: My management style is based in individual mentorship and challenging my team to level up — on every project, in every occasion. I surround myself with eager, excited and smart people who want to learn and grow. I learned from my friend Jason Stirman, a founder at Medium and now CEO of Lucid, about the idea of Holacracy and implemented its manager-free structure in our organization.
Since the founding of our agency, we’ve made a conscious effort to keep the central focus of our growth on the people who make the agency a reality. In the unique environment of a fast-paced agency, we must consistently trust the talents of our team and empower proactive leaders. Our investment in the right people has created an environment in which responsibility and confidence has resulted in loyalty and autonomy. We’ve built a culture that considers each individual’s interests, passions and strengths. In our culture, this constantly-improving, never-settling mentality is standard protocol. We have high expectations of each other and of ourselves.
That fulfillment from a job well done, a market well served and organizations that are not only thrilled with our work, but who see tangible results from it, is incredibly rewarding.
TNG: HOW DO YOU EVALUATE SUCCESS ?
AW: Success, to me, means balancing purpose with profit. It means that we’re making a measurable impact on our client’s organizations and on the community. It means that we’re helping those doing good in the community/region/nation/world reach more people, serve more people and be able to fulfill their mission. On another level, feeling like it’s all worth it — that the hard work and the stressful times mean something. That fulfillment from a job well done, a market well served and organizations that are not only thrilled with our work, but who see tangible results from it, is incredibly rewarding. We take stewardship of a client’s resources very seriously. We know that what they pay us could be going to other goals and we work very hard to give them 10 times the value back. The feeling when you know you’ve done all you can for an organization is success. The feeling when your team feels empowered to solve problems, grow and drive impact for our clients is success. Being able to hit the pillow at night knowing you’ve done all you can — that’s success, too.
TNG: WHAT MAKES FOR A GOOD RECRUIT ?
AW: We like to recruit people who are a little wild. A little rebellious and incredibly curious. Weirdos, basically. We want people who look at things in new ways and are able to dive into creative work with a certain sense of fearlessness. One theme we’ve noticed in the folks who have thrived here is that they’re strategic, open and ready for whatever challenge comes our way. “Figure-it-outers,” I like to call them.
TNG: CAN YOU TALK TO US ABOUT HOW YOUR CAMPAIGN WITH THE FORMER ADMINISTRATION CAME TO LIFE ?
AW: I joined the Creative Alliance, where top agencies across the U.S. teamed up to solve social issues with creativity at the behest of the Obama Administration. I first worked on a project for President Obama that led directly to working with Michelle Obama on “Better Make Room”. We created, developed and launched “Better Make Room” for Mrs. Obama’s Reach Higher initiative in 2015, alongside nonprofit partner Civic Nation, and we continue to serve as a creative and strategic partner as the campaign grows.
Going into the campaign, we knew that us, adults deep into their careers, telling students to go to college wouldn’t fly. So we gave the audience the keys and got out of their way. The campaign is focused on giving students a space to inspire each other to pursue higher education and lift each other up when support is needed. It’s about turning the focus of celebrity on students themselves, making them the center of attention. We’ve done this through building self-expression into every piece of the campaign — from the website created from user-generated content to the endlessly flexible graphics for people to customize their social avatars. Through this self-expression framework, we were able to see a really resonant message come through in every place the campaign lives. And all of this started with the achievable step of making a commitment out loud. After all, as the campaign’s tagline states, “Saying things out loud makes them happen.”
“Better Make Room” has been very successful — we’ve had more than 1.3 billion impressions and over 30,000 student commitments, the latter of which we’ve featured on billboards, in Times Square and will soon see across the country on merchandise on a Design for Good project we’re launching. Best of all, we’re seeing students express themselves and make commitments across the nation — which is contagious and inspires others to do the same.
TNG: FOLLOWING THE LATEST ELECTIONS RESULTS, DO YOU THINK THAT THE ADVERTISING TRADE SHOULD FOCUS MORE ON SMALLER MARKETS, LIKE HOUSTON ?
AW: I believe it’s always a good idea to focus on Houston — but I’m a little biased. I do believe that smaller markets hold the key to reaching people that are sometimes missing in how national campaigns are structured. There are large swaths of people living between the coasts and I think that is one thing that advertisers and marketers are all infinitely more aware of post-election.
TNG: IS HOUSTON A GOOD PLACE FOR CREATIVITY ?
AW: Houston is going through a creative renaissance in some ways. In other ways, it’s always been a hub for creativity. The mashup of cultures, the diversity, the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit — Houston is a place where things are happening and they’re happening without any pretense or ego. It’s a collaborative place to work and to own a creative business. We’re proud to represent the third coast on a national level and definitely hope this helps establish and elevate Houston’s creative community.
Founder & President
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