People We Love: Jenny Armistead
We make things we love with people we love, and boy do we love Jenny. Jenny has been a friend of the Dodo since 2013 — First at E&A Credit Union, then Advia Credit Union, and now in her role as Director of Marketing and Communications at the Michigan Dental Association. This interview made Jim cry. Enjoy.
Jenny being lovely and Matt picking his nose (2014).
How did you find James & Matthew?
Jenny: In 2013 I was working for E&A Credit Union in Port Huron, MI as their Manager of Marketing. One of the major strategic initiatives for the credit union was to attract and grow our younger members. This was the beginning of the "Millennial Mania," where businesses started to panic about how they were going to replace their older members with this elusive and mysterious group called Gen Y. At the time, we were also looking for a new agency of record to help us with video production, campaign strategy, and creative. With our RFP process, our CMO and I listed qualities and capabilities that we valued most in a potential AOR. Two of the main qualities that we agreed were vital were chemistry and creative. We wanted to work with an agency that was fun and we enjoyed interacting with. We also wanted to work with someone that would help push us creatively. For so many credit unions, marketing is well... incredibly safe and boring. We needed a partner that would help us break through the bland.
One day I came across an article in the CU Times that featured a small credit union that had done a series of animated videos focused on increasing their youth accounts. What stood out to me in the article is that they had actual results. This video campaign had increased their youth accounts by like 35%! This was rare. Most youth campaigns never had actual results. I immediately went online to watch one of the campaign videos and it blew my mind. It was a short animated, almost Claymation-like video where the word "savings" was bleeped out as if it was a four-letter word. It was funny and edgy — exactly what we needed. I had to find out who was behind this campaign, so we contacted the credit union’s marketing team and talked with them. They had nothing but great things to say about this agency called James & Matthew, and gave us their contact info.
Fred Perry Gingham
Jenny, Jason, Matt, and Craig after equal parts delicious food and conversation (2016).
Our CMO and I did a brief call with Jim and Matt to discuss their capabilities. This all seemed too good to be true, but James & Matthew were quickly becoming our first choice for AOR, so we decided to research them a bit and went on their company LinkedIn page. I’ll never forget my boss looked at me and said, "You don’t suppose it’s just the two of them, do you?" I replied, "No way, that creative is too good for just two guys to pull off and get that kind of results!" He began reading their company bio on LinkedIn and it sounded familiar to me, but I couldn’t quite figure it out.
He kept reading and then it hit me… I was like, "OMG, that’s the theme to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air! They just changed the words to fit their company! Frickin' genius." It was at that moment I knew. They soon became E&A’s agency of record. After I left the credit union and became the Director of Marketing for the Michigan Dental Association, I included them in our RFP for an AOR and our board of trustees selected them.
What stood out about the agency?
Jenny: What stood out the most and what made us want to partner with them was their creative and our chemistry. They were not afraid to take risks and push us creatively, which is what we wanted. So many credit unions and agencies play it safe and that doesn’t get results. Also, they were hella fun to work with! I looked forward to our calls with them and would get super excited when they had a new crazy idea to show me. From an in-house marketing standpoint, if I’m going to pay someone for creative, it better be something that I or my team is unable to think of. That’s the value — so many agencies either push to sell mediocre ideas or sells the client on their own ideas. That doesn’t work for me. If I’m investing in your creative, it needs to be worth it.
Jenny and a giant monument to the freedom of mankind. Also in the photo: a stone obelisk named after some dude (2017).
Any hilarious/wild stories to share about working together?
Jenny: When I was still at the credit union, we were thinking about ways to promote our new online and mobile banking app. Rather than try to explain the process on our website, we wanted to be able to show people how easy it was with a video. We realized that in order to show this on a video, we would need a dummy account that we could feature. I reached out to someone in operations to see if there was a test account that already existed to use for this purpose. She said they did not have something like that, and in order to do this, someone from James and Matthew would need to join the credit union and essentially open a dummy account that we could use for the video. Jim immediately went online to begin the joining process from our website. Since he was a resident of MA, he did not get too far in the process before it directed him to call the credit union. We found out that there are restrictions for someone out of MI to join. They'd have to prove that they either attended school or church in the state. I remember laughing as I emailed Jim and said, "How do you feel about flying here and attending church?" I was waiting for his response, feeling like he would say something funny as to how ridiculous that sounded. Instead, Jim quickly responded that he would be flying into Detroit the next week, would go to church in the morning, and then fly back to MA. A week later, Jim sent me a selfie of him standing outside of a Detroit church and soon became a member of the credit union. When people ask me for examples of how James & Matthew go above and beyond for their clients, I always share this story.
Wavy hair for Christmas
Jenny and Jim (December 2016).
When we came to present to you and the Board of Trustees at the Michigan Dental Association, what stood out about the presentation?
Jenny: In December of 2015, the Michigan Dental Association Board of Trustees had three agencies present their capabilities and ideas for how they could take the Association’s public campaign to the next level. The main thing that stood out from the James & Matthew presentation was their honesty and excitement. They were not going to stand up there and claim how much they love going to the dentist and/or how they have relatives that are dentists. It was like we had two friends that we’d known for years up there that were just having a conversation with the board — not pitching. One of the best qualities of James & Matthew are their personalities and their ability to build relationships with anyone. They don’t bullshit. You either love 'em or you don’t.
In 2018, we’ll have worked together in one form or another for 5 years! Why do you keep working with us?
Jenny: It’s the same two reasons why I wanted to work together in the beginning: creative and chemistry. I want to emphasize the chemistry for a minute... I can honestly say that I would not have been such a loyal client and true advocate if it weren’t for the relationship I have with Jim. When I first met Jim — this giant (he’s like 6’ 5” or something), loud, hyper, agency guy from MA, I would have never guessed that over the next five years I would consider him one of my best friends. The impact he has had on my life, personally and professionally, goes way beyond a client-vendor relationship. I’m not a trusting person, but he has proved himself over and over again as someone that will be there for me no matter what. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows — just as with any relationship, we’ve had our share of disagreements. In fact, he has hung up on me once (even though he continues to deny it to this day). And it’s not just Jim that makes me an advocate. It’s the quality of the creative and results too. The team continues to exceed my expectations with creative strategy and digital knowledge. All these years, and they still surprise me with new ideas that we haven’t tried yet. That passion for taking risks is still there, just as it was in the beginning.
What advice do you have for someone who is looking to work with James & Matthew?
Jenny: Don’t do it! Just kidding, but seriously I don’t like sharing them with too many other clients...
My advice would be to trust them 100% from the beginning and don’t get in their way. If you want to get the most for your budget, you need to be willing to take risks and trust in their expertise. Also, enjoy it! You are lucky, as I was, to have stumbled upon this amazing thing, but make sure you use it to its full potential.