Co-founder of ROSEWOOD Creative
Apple Music. Katy Perry. iTunes. lululemon. Red Bull. Sony Pictures. Nike. AEG Presents. Toyota. Interscope Records. ROSEWOOD’s roster list of successful social media campaigns reads like the who’s who of heavy hitters in branding and marketing. For these experts in story creation and elevation, the digital space is just another canvas on which to play. And it comes naturally to this social-first marketing agency.
Co-founder Amir Mohamadzadeh invited us to grab a coffee just before the agency’s “Family Meeting,” so we tweeted, liked, snapped, insta-ed and shared ourselves down to his office to take the pulse of the creative space in L.A., and the management principles needed to work with young and talented creatives.
Hi Amir! Thanks for the invite. Before we start, can you tell us a little more about the “Family Meetings” you hold every month?
Sure thing! We launched family meetings about 6 or 7 months ago, when there were 32 of us. Now there are 40 and it’s one of the only opportunities we can get everyone together. On every last Wednesday of the month, we gather to talk about three things: transparency, family, and celebration. “Transparency” is when our leadership team shares what’s on our mind and where our business is going. “Family”, meaning team members are encouraged to share personal milestones and new team members share their story. Lastly, it’s important to “celebrate” our work, so each team shares a few big wins they’re proud of from the previous month.
We work at a super fast pace, so it’s difficult to stop and proverbially smell the roses. In our company culture, slowing down for a sec to spend time with and appreciate our team is a must.
Since starting in 2013, we’ve doubled our number of employees every year. We were scaling so fast, this meeting seemed like a good solution to keep everyone connected.
You created ROSEWOOD in 2013 with your co-founder, Matt Bauer. What’s the story behind the agency?
I graduated from Pepperdine University in Malibu in 2011 and was immediately hired by Nike Basketball to work on Kobe Bryant’s brand, specifically. Over the course of 2 years, I worked on designing and executing Kobe’s brand marketing strategy in L.A. I spent a lot of time developing consumer insights out on basketball courts, with high school athletes, just chatting and playing ball. The more I spent time with them, the more I understood what they did in their free time, their motivations, how they trained, etc. Those high schoolers were checking Instagram close to 100 times a day. Instagram allowed people around the world to post their passions and develop an engaged follower base. Athletes, photographers, models, trainers, musicians, artists—they were all growing massive social communities.
The high school athletes followed their basketball heroes on social and studied every single post—everything from copying LeBron’s weight room exercises, to buying the same drink Kevin Durant had in his hand. Social was a tool for personal storytelling and consumer discovery, so as a marketer, that insight opened my mind immensely. This is the point when the concept of ROSEWOOD began forming. At the time, there were very few, if any, “social first” creative agencies. You couldn’t find any one agency boasting to be “the best in the world at social media.”
Remember that back then, traditional marketing hadn’t shifted much in light of these new tools. No one was really thinking “Is this the new TV commercial? Is this the new billboard?” Nike was one of a handful of companies investing strongly in its social footprint, and I had built a great relationship with one of the guys who had pioneered digital content in his past and at Nike—Matt Bauer.
Matt oversaw social and digital at Nike in L.A., and we collaborated often. When I was working on Kobe’s marketing campaigns, he would contribute his expertise in digital and social. He was also an early adopter of Instagram and a very talented photographer and creative. Come early 2013, I texted him one evening, “Hey man I have this idea, let’s grab breakfast tomorrow morning.” We met at a local spot called Jackson Market and I shared my vision of ROSEWOOD. He had a strikingly similar idea and vision as to where the industry was headed. So BAM, just like that, we became partners. We spent 6 months doing our homework then quit our jobs at Nike in September.
Part of the homework even happened at Nike. I was eventually tasked to lead Kevin Durant’s footwear launch in L.A. and all of these consumer insights encouraged me to propose, “‘You know what? We’re going to put together a full marketing campaign for KD only using his social media. 100%!” Matt agreed, of course. For most marketers at that time, social was the afterthought. They’d build out TV campaigns, billboard campaigns, press campaigns...and at the end, they’d ask, “What should we do on social?” It wasn’t first. I wanted it to be first! Our approach worked—the campaign was wildly successful and innovative for it’s time.
By then, it was clear to Matt and I that there was a gap in the agency marketplace, and ROSEWOOD would fill it as a social-first agency.
You mentioned that before quitting Nike, you and Matt took 6 months to do your research. How important do you think it is to test your idea as a side project first?
Let me start by explaining where the name ROSEWOOD comes from, ok? It’ll come full circle. Rosewood is one of the most premium types of wood in the world. Known for its brownish color and darker veining, this wood has a strong, sweet smell, explaining the name “rosewood”. My dad is from Iran, and in ancient Persia, the game of chess was highly regarded by royal families, because it is a game based on strategy. To possess strategic thinking abilities was very important to Persians. So when outsiders travelled to Persia, they would gift a chess set made of rosewood to the royal family, to be in their good graces.
At ROSEWOOD, everything we do is like our namesake: premium and strategic. I like telling that story because it helps me make a point about side projects: if you have one, my advice is to learn to play chess, because you always have to be one step ahead. Many people say you have to try and fail, try and fail. Well, that’s an ‘OK model’, that’s fine. I get you have to fail to learn. But if you ask me, if you do the right research and plan as much as possible, you have a stronger liftoff. And having a strong launch is, in my opinion, the most important thing to make sure you get right.
How did you position ROSEWOOD as a premium agency? Have you managed the global experience as part of the brand?
The best brands in the world, Nike or Apple, for instance, leave a strong first impression. ROSEWOOD is no different. It’s very important that our clients feel premium storytelling through every touch point they have with our team. From our email etiquette, to how we run meetings, deliver a pitch, produce a shoot, interact with talent, all the way to watching the final deliverable on Instagram. It’s all by design. It comes back to our name and reputation.
Amir, you’re 29 years old. You’re a first-time entrepreneur with an agency that works for some of the world’s best brands. You have 40 employees. You mentioned earlier that you were a basketball player, what did you learn from sport in your management?
I’ve played basketball for 19 years and I’ve always been very competitive. To complete and win in a team sport, you have to truly know your teammates and what motivates each one of them. When I was captain of my high school team, I was introduced to the concept of putting myself in other people’s shoes. Instead of one speech that inspires the entire team like we see in the movies, the reality is that the captain needs to build a personal relationship and understanding of each key player. In doing this, I was able to lead and motivate teammates with a customized message that I knew would unlock their potential. And it worked.
It’s quite similar to what I do today. Mentor and manage individually, not collectively. If I don’t immediately understand someone’s stance or actions, I shift my perspective and put myself in that person’s shoes. What is inspiring this person to act this way? You’d be amazed to see how quickly solutions are revealed. Stephen Covey said it perfectly, “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
Your agency is composed of mostly millennials. The average age of your employees is 25. How do you manage your team and that kind of ambition?
Wow! That makes me want to write a book on it! If we want to be the leading social-first creative agency, we need to hire individuals born and raised on social media. Our motion graphic designers, our account managers, our strategists, it doesn’t matter the position, you’re an expert in social and you grew up in it. You were a member of Instagram when it launched, Facebook, Snapchat, musical.ly, etc.
How do you manage millennials—you empower them. I say that for a very specific reason. It’s the psychology of this generation. To unlock their potential, you must inspire them, and to inspire them, you must empower them. That’s what makes change. Even if they’re not ready, if they have no leadership experience, if they’re not 100% ready to take on that difficult project, empower them! In our experience, this generation cares more about what they are creating and less about the money. They care about “what I’m working on” and “what my contribution is”. It’s a very ME generation. And by the way, I’m a part of it too.
Our philosophy and culture is “the best idea wins”. When we have extraordinary brainstorm opportunities, we give people the microphone, no matter how senior or junior. We’ve operated that way since day one because it’s the only way you can inspire this generation. We don’t have many processes, I suppose we should probably build a few more. But there’s a structure in place that enables managers to empower our people. We have a phenomenal leadership team to oversee each department, and within that, it’s just a matter of empowerment, ideas, and execution. I think that’s the right culture. We don’t necessarily need a process for everything because with great leadership, it’ll run itself.
What brands are you working with today?
We aim to work with the innovators and brand leaders in each industry. Truly, our favorite partners are those that allow us to try unconventional ideas. We’re rule breakers and we want to disrupt as much as humanly possible.
Right now, we’re working day and night in the music and entertainment world. We develop strategy and content across all social media platforms for one of the world’s leading music streaming services and online digital media stores. Talk about a dream partner—they inspire us to dream big. To launch their Snapchat account, we built a drone, mounted an iPhone on it, and developed a remote controlled mechanism to tap the video record button while soaring through the air. It was the first ever Snap Story published from a drone, and it was right here in Venice. We also produce original social content with a handful of incredible artists, producers, actresses, actors, and directors.
Live-music entertainment is also huge sector for us. We develop creative for AEG Presents, the largest producer of music festivals in North America and second-largest concert promoter in the world. Our team is working on everything from global tours, to local shows, to renowned festivals like Coachella and Stagecoach. To create stories during those epic cultural moments is unlike anything else.
What’s next for ROSEWOOD?
In our industry, we have to think about innovation every single day, especially as consumer behavior and platforms evolve. A new social platform could arrive and consume an entire consumer base in a matter of days. What is now and next for ROSEWOOD, is that we are building one of the world’s most talented groups of thought leaders and millennial creatives who are filled with passion and desire to disrupt. With our team of A-players, truly, the possibilities are limitless. We have a few plans up our sleeves, primarily around a very special type of innovation lab and original content. More to come.