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Jack Morton Director Talks Cotton, Star Wars and Measuring Creativity at Speaker Series

By Jacob Nelson

Not many people get the chance to play with Legos in the middle of Time Square and call it part of the job.

As Marie Davidheiser explained at Northwestern on April 8, it all comes with the role of a brand experience agency. She would know, too. She’s worked at Jack Morton Worldwide for years and is now the company’s Vice President, Director of Operations. During the recent MSLCE speaker series event, she spoke to Northwestern students and faculty about how she ended up working in such a unique field and what a brand experience agency specializes in. “Experience is the buzzword of the 2000s,” Davidheiser said, “It’s participatory, its interactive.”

She explained that while an advertising agency will build awareness for a brand by creating commercials and a public relations agency will generate media attention, a brand experience agency “is going to look at a client’s problem and try to create a holistic experience.” That holistic experience can take many shapes. For example, to help promote the brand Cotton Incorporated, Jack Morton staged a 24-hour runway fashion show, where one model a minute showed off the versatility of cotton.

“To see that all come to life, you’re going to have a different feeling and emotion toward that brand than you would if you weren’t there,” Davidheiser explained.

Davidheiser also discussed a project with Lego that she is particularly proud of, which involved constructing a 60’x60′ Star Wars spaceship (the X-Wing, in case you were curious) out of Legos, and unveiled it along with three days of consumer activities. “With the power of Yoda,” Davidheiser said, “sales went up.” The event unfolded as a conversation between Davidheiser and Northwestern Professor James Webster, who at one point asked how Jack Morton can quantify the success of its creations. “Numbers are tricky,” Davidheiser said.

“My belief is that numbers are telling us stuff about the past… and a breakthrough creative idea is potentially something that has never been done before… Sometimes you just have to go for it, and it might fight the data, but those are the campaigns where the chills go through your body when you see it.” Davidheiser graduated from Northwestern and thought about pursuing a career in video editing before she discovered a passion for event planning. “After college I realized I love events — you get that end product and feel that warm fuzzy feeling in your heart,” she said. During the Q&A, Davidheiser stressed how important it is for students to think about the way they present themselves. She said she’s learned through her years of experience in leadership positions that “you need to balance your representation.”

“People don’t take enough consideration into how people are presenting themselves and how you’re coming off,” she said. “People make snap judgments.” But she said that shouldn’t preclude people from being up front about being outside the mold. Davidheiser said she goes out of her way to hire creative people who don’t fit a formula. She said there’s no one type of cookie cutter employee at Jack Morton. “I don’t want a formula,” she said. “when there’s conflict in a productive sense, that’s when great work happens.”