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Notable People: Jill Dewes, Connecting with Humans for Impactful Creative

Daughter Creative, a Calgary-based agency, has been making waves in the branding and advertising world, renowned for its focus on emotional connections. For this edition of Notable People, we have the opportunity to delve into the agency's philosophy and meet the woman who helps guide its success: Jill Dewes, Partner and COO.
Notable People Jill Dewes

Daughter Creative, a Calgary-based agency, has been making waves in the branding and advertising world, renowned for its focus on emotional connections. For this edition of Notable People, we have the opportunity to delve into the agency’s philosophy and meet the woman who helps guide its success: Jill Dewes, Partner and CXO.

Jill’s journey is as captivating as the work she produces. Born in Canada to a multicultural family, she navigated diverse cultures from a young age, fostering a deep appreciation for different perspectives and the power of connection. This global outlook, coupled with her professional trajectory, ultimately led her to Daughter Creative, where she thrives on understanding human emotions and creating meaningful brand experiences.

In this interview, we’ll explore Jill’s unique background, Daughter Creative’s approach to branding, and the agency’s vision for the future. Through this conversation, we hope to offer a glimpse into the world of Calgary’s burgeoning creative scene and the innovative minds shaping its landscape.

Can you share a bit about your journey from being born in Canada and raised in New Zealand to becoming a Partner and CXO at Daughter Creative in Calgary? What influenced your career path?

I was born in Canada to a New Zealand mother and a British father. When my parents divorced, my mother moved my sister and me back to New Zealand to be closer to her family for support. Growing up in New Zealand was wonderful, but I always wanted to experience living overseas. In my early 30s, after I had spent ten years working at the ad agency Clemenger BBDO in Wellington, my husband and I decided to sell up and move to Canada. I had worked with a digital strategist at BBDO who told me about Calgary, recommending it for its lifestyle, value, and strong economy. We checked it out online, and I interviewed with a local agency called Trigger, accepted a job as an account director, and moved across the world! After my first maternity leave, I moved to Uppercut, where I was the GM for two years before a second mat leave. I joined Daughter as a partner in August 2016, just six months after it was founded, and am now the CXO.

The name “Daughter” is unique and carries a meaningful message. Could you elaborate on the name’s significance and how it reflects the agency’s approach to its work?

Daughter is a mini-manifesto for us all. It reminds us that we are stewards of brands that connect with real people, not ‘target audiences.’ Everything we do needs to help solve a problem for a person, leaving them better than we found them. It’s very humanizing and has become a moral compass for us in the work we choose to take on.

Daughter Creative is known for its focus on creating emotional connections between brands and their audiences. Can you explain why you believe emotions are so essential in branding and advertising?

People are primed to connect with people rather than with businesses. If we can evoke an emotion and then rationalize that emotion, we can have a memorable impact and open the door to a deeper conversation. If we fail to elicit an emotion, we become more transactional, which doesn’t feel as meaningful or effective.

In 2022, Daughter Creative won bronze in the Strategy Small Agency of the Year and Design Agency of the Year categories. What does this recognition mean to you and your team, and how do these awards reflect your agency’s values?

Being recognized on a national stage was a game-changer for us. Awards are a wonderful litmus test of our work, and to be up there with big, established names boosted our confidence. We were shortlisted again for design agency of the year in 2023, and it’s great to use opportunities like that to lift the profile of Calgary and Alberta as a creative hub as well.

Calgary is often recognized for its economic prowess in industries like oil and gas. How do you envision the role of creativity and branding in contributing to Calgary’s identity as a creative hub?

There are so many exciting things happening in our city. At Daughter, we are lucky to work with organizations like Calgary Economic Development, Calgary Foundation, Vibrant Communities Calgary, Arts Commons, and the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, where we get a behind-the-scenes look at our city’s ambitions. With all the advances in tech and business here, there is a real need to tie it all together and create compelling stories about the environment we have created and how fertile it is for innovation. We find that work incredibly meaningful, and we truly believe that the organizations that value creativity will be the ones to reap the economic benefits.

“Strategy is sacred” is a guiding principle for Daughter Creative. How does the agency maintain a strategic focus while adapting to the ever-evolving landscape of branding and advertising?

Strategy is as much what you don’t do as what you do. It’s a lens we use to help us all maintain focus in a world full of bright, shiny opportunities. We work hard to develop strategies based in human emotion and problem-solving that help foster alignment. This is incredibly important when you are moving at pace and have the risk of being too fragmented.

Can you share an example of a particularly rewarding project or campaign you’ve worked on at Daughter Creative? What made it special or memorable for you?

In 2019, we developed the OWN.CANCER platform to help fundraise for a new cancer centre in Calgary. The campaign hit on Albertans’ determination to flip the power dynamic on this terrifying disease, and the campaign has raised over $170M to date. Developing the idea and seeing it adopted by many other organizations was amazing. It was also one of those campaigns where we intentionally invested agency time and money and called in favours to make the work as strong as possible. We rallied together as a team and with many incredible partners, and the work feels incredibly meaningful.

As a leader at Daughter Creative, what qualities or values do you prioritize in building a successful and collaborative team within your agency?

Curiosity and openness are two fundamental values. We always need to be asking ‘why’ – why now, why this client, why this problem? Then, as a team, we need to be open to having our ideas built upon by others. We truly believe that none of us is better than all of us and that when we put ego aside and work as a team, the outcome is always more exciting and effective.

What trends or innovations do you see shaping the future of branding and advertising, and how is Daughter Creative preparing to stay at the forefront of these developments?

Implementing AI to help with efficiency feels like a no-brainer. There are things that AI can just do more quickly, which will free us up for more critical and original thinking. Understanding how to use AI to do the more time-consuming parts of our job should feel like a blessing, not a threat. Understanding that AI will never replace a truly unified creative team is also essential for us.

What advice do you have for aspiring professionals looking to make their mark in branding and advertising, especially in a city like Calgary?

Calgary is a very generous city. Go to the industry events (marketing, advertising, tech, economics). You will see the same people and start to make connections. Ask people for lunch and coffee, and come prepared for those meetings. Be curious, be empathetic, and be open. As our city grows and changes through the energy transition and unprecedented levels of immigration, we need more diverse perspectives, so find the people who value yours and help steward brands that speak to people. Be a problem-solver and true team player; you’ll go far in Calgary.

Keep up with Jill and her journey with Daughter Creative on Instagram.

Ashley Nedaei

Ashley is the Director of Marketing at Notable Life Inc. As an audacious and creative entrepreneurial spirit, she splits her time between raising her two sons with her husband and toy poodle and creative pursuits in music, beauty, and business. Follow her adventures @ndaiart.