Laird + Partners has reached into the digital media world to find its new chief executive officer.
This story first appeared in the March 2, 2017 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Patrick Yee, executive vice president of marketing and strategy at Refinery29, has been named chief executive officer of Laird + Partners. Trey Laird, founder and current ceo, continues as chief creative officer and chairman.
Laird + Partners, an MDC Partners agency, also said it plans to launch a new content agency, AIR + Partners, that Yee will head.
“I’ve been the ceo. I really wanted a partner for a while. I’ve been looking for the right fit and the right person,” said Laird, who was interviewed with Yee Tuesday afternoon at company headquarters at 475 10th Avenue in New York. “I didn’t want to find just someone who’s been running an agency. It’s such a different time right now, and I wanted someone who could bring a fresh approach and different background and be entrepreneurial and innovative,” Laird said.
Laird, who started the agency in 2002, said he had followed Yee’s career, but they had never met.
Yee was an early partner at Refinery29, where he spent eight years. He played a significant role in defining the brand and its content strategy, heading up marketing and overseeing the company’s growth, audience teams, social media teams and data analytics. During his tenure, Refinery29 went from less than 10 employees to a nine-figure global business with more than 450 employees around the world. Its monthly reach expanded from less than 100,000 to more than 150 million.
Earlier, Yee launched a shopping site called Shopflick and before that co-founded a social media agency called Rocket XL, prior to which he worked in mergers and acquisitions banking at Wasserstein Perella and at Soros Fund Management.
As content creation and digital strategy have transformed the industry, Laird said he was looking for a forward-thinking partner who could take the agency and its capabilities to a totally different level. “Right now all the media world, media platforms and agency world is blending in so many different ways. What brands require, what clients require, all the outlets, the rules are being rewritten. It was the perfect time to look outside the box and not think of it as the agency of the past, but the agency of the future,” said Laird, whose clients range from Tom Ford and Tommy Hilfiger to Jimmy Choo, Karl Lagerfeld and Swarovski.
For his part, Yee said he was excited to join Laird + Partners at this particular time. “Laird + Partners has set the bar for how an agency should partner with brands that rely on style and elevation to win,” he said. He added that Laird has talented creatives, high-profile clients, dedication to innovation and momentum in the industry.
As for how they will work together, Laird — who handled the ceo and chief creative officer roles — will now be able to focus on the creative and the creative strategy and partner with Yee on [overall] strategy. “Patrick brings his expertise from the content creation point of view, as well as the business management, and strategy will overlap. I come from more of a creative background, so it’s actually really complementary,” said Laird.
Yee noted that media budgets today are transforming. What was traditionally an advertising budget is going into lots of different areas, whether that’s sponsored content, content creation or influencer marketing or experiential.
AIR + Partners (the middle part of ‘Laird’), will be connected to the ad agency, but will represent the way people consume media now. “It’s different in that the focus is on content and that audience is first,” said Yee. He explained that the traditional media approach takes into account the segment that you’re speaking to, who they are, and how they behave and, for example, are they looking at their Pinterest feed at 8 a.m. or 11 p.m?
“If it’s 11 p.m., what type of content are they interested in consuming at that point, maybe it’s a show on Netflix, or breakfast ideas for the next morning,” said Yee. He said the idea is to better connect with people where they are and what they’re doing. “That’s an approach I will definitely bring to AIR,” said Yee. “It’s really important that Laird has a separate agency focused on content creation,” he said. “Some of the approaches, whether it’s consumer insights, or how to optimize creative for Facebook, or Instagram, are all very specific tactics and techniques. That expertise isn’t going to be held by everybody in the building. Having dedicated personnel who are experts in their craft and in these platforms are key,” he said. They plan to hire more people for AIR + Partners, which will have separate clients from Laird + Partners.
Laird sees both agencies as “complementary offerings and an ability to go deeper.” He plans to bring in more expertise and dedicated teams “that eat, sleep and breathe the world of content creation and the different layers that are required.”
“This is as close as you can get to someone today,” said Yee, clutching his mobile phone. “It’s a different world. In order to stay in this, which is always on, 24/7, you need to be fast. You need to add a different speed to your model and a different approach to how you produce content. The model has changed. I think one of the big opportunities here is to leverage the speed and the scrappiness that we had to have at Refinery29 and marrying that with the level of elevation and creative excellence that Laird is known for. What does it look like when that layer is sprinkled into everyday social. It’s really exciting,” said Yee.