Genius Steals, an agency on the move

Five years ago, Rosie Yakob, an advertising industry specialist, decided to pack her bags and set off on the road along with her husband Faris Yakob. The duo decided to find a new type of business, one that would allow them to travel all over the world consulting for brands, agencies and start-ups. A company without a permanent office base and thus Genius Steals was born, a consulting firm for agencies and brands across the globe.

They named the agency so because they believed that ideas were new combinations and the best way to innovate was to pick the best of that which came before and combine those elements into new solutions. 

Although the company is registered in Tennessee in the US, their collaborators are all over the world. Being nomads allows them to go wherever clients need them to be and to be inspired by the world in between.

Genius Steals managing director Rosie Yakob calls herself an accidental entrepreneur. Right out of school, she worked for music moguls Jay Z and Steve Stoute at their entertainment branding company. Before founding Genius Steals with her husband Faris, Yakob was a teacher at Miami Ad School and a senior strategist at 360i, an award-winning digital marketing agency. She worked on brands such as Oreo, Bravo, Dentyne and NBC, from creative ideation through to activation. Her work has been awarded by Cannes, CLIO, Facebook and the Addy’s. But, eventually, the constant busyness of life in NYC became overbearing. sat down with Yakob to discuss her nomadic lifestyle and the industry’s most pressing concerns today.

How did you decide on living the nomadic lifestyle? 

It was an accident because Faris and I were getting asked to speak publicly in Germany, Sydney and other places. So, we thought that instead of flying back to New York every time, we can just fly from one place to another. That way, we don’t have to unnecessarily pay for flights and we will do this only for six months and then we will pick up and we will live there. But once we started travelling, we realised that clients would give us a call anywhere and were fine brainstorming while we were at a beach in Bali or any other remote location. There are times when we have to be someplace in person but a lot of the work can be done via Skype and mail.

Will you eventually consider settling down at some place?

We have no plans of settling down. Right now, we are living our dream and we feel fortunate. If someone gave me a better opportunity, I would consider stopping. We work 20 hours a week and that flexibility isn’t often affordable during full time jobs. 

Since you are always on the move, how do you ensure that clients keep coming in?

We got really lucky by working in New York and got exposed to so many clients and brands. But honestly, being nice is underrated. If you work in a cool place on a cool brand with a s*@t team, you are going to have a bad time. If you work on a s*@t campaign in a crazy company but with a cool team, you might still be saved. I believe the goodwill has afforded us the opportunity along with word of mouth. Our clients refer our work to other people and we’ve been fortunate to always have good clients who are willing to work with us knowing that our work culture is different.

You got lucky, but is the industry, in general, accepting? How set in their ways are agencies? Are they adapting to the new reality?

When I was at 360i, they always valued productivity over presence and that value has helped me. I have also worked in places that had stringent rules about time and physical presence in the office. I believe at the end of the day, what matters is the kind of work that you put out and not where you are doing it from. There is a slight barrier in the industry and that is because there is a generation gap where people put in a lot of time. The old generation wants to see people doing the same thing at their desk in office. 

I think there are pockets of clients that are accepting and there are some who don’t. We have some clients who we have never met in person but we also have clients who have called us to set up a meeting and sent flight tickets. Some clients have reservations about our model, but it doesn’t bother us. 

How many countries have you travelled so far for work?

A lot! I guess we have travelled to maybe 40 countries together so far in the last five years. 

Which work would you consider to be your best work?

My life! It has been my best work. I left the ad world and that’s when I realised that you either work to live or live to work. Today, I work to live, to make money and pay bills but that doesn't mean that I don’t like my work. I love my work but I like living my life on my terms a little more. 

Speaking about the creative work, I think you are always going to have great clients and s*@# clients. And a great work may not necessarily depend on your creativity. Who decides whether the work was bad because of the agency or the client?

You have a strong opinion on gender pay in the industry. How do you think can we address the issue?

The creative industry used to be for weirdos who need not necessarily wear a suit. I thought the ad world would consider women as equals, however, I haven’t seen that as the actual case. When I talked to people in the industry, I realised that we do have a problem with women not getting equal pay. I was looking through the CCOs in India and there are very few female creative directors here, and it is not only the case in India but around the world. 

Do you think femvertising is getting out of hand today? We see brands gender stereotype women to sell their products.

Absolutely, and maybe that’s happening because a lot of the decisions in this industry are made by men. Women have always been objectified and stereotyped and the people who do it or make those creative decisions are all men. And I don’t mean it in a malicious way but it’s just deeply rooted within their brain. What we need is more female creative directors and women in leadership positions to change the situation and create gender neutral ads. 

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