What’s in a Name? For Joan’s Co-Founders, Honesty and Bravery Reign

The conventional way to launch an agency is to name it after the founding partners. Upon going into business last year, Joan co-founders Lisa Clunie and Jaime Robinson toyed around with that traditional notion. But Clunie Robinson or Robinson Clunie did not answer the mandate the two had in mind.

“There are so many agencies in this world, why does the world need another?” says Robinson, formerly co-executive creative director of Wieden+Kennedy New York. “We made a huge list of things we thought we would change if up to us.” Clunie, formerly chief operating officer for Refinery29, names talent as the agency’s distinguishing factor. “We’re at an odd time in the industry with talent; many are leaving agencies to go to the client side or to publishers. But talent is what we have; talent is what we do. We believe our role is still important with clients, but we have to swim a little upstream because the old way is not working.”

In thinking about their new company’s name, the duo, who admittedly have “a real rebellious streak,” considered how they could challenge expectations about what agencies do.  

“We wanted something that felt bigger than both Lisa and I,” Robinson says. “For us, it was important to create something that was its own brand and had its own spirit self-contained within the name.” In thinking of women throughout history who’ve entered traditionally male-dominated industries and brought unique and powerful perspective, one theme seemed to repeat itself: the name Joan. To name a few, Joan of Arc, the musicians Joan Jett and Joan Baez, writer Joan Didion, comedienne Joan Rivers, Hollywood icon Joan Collins… the list goes on and on. 

Clunie and Robinson opened New York-based creative shop Joan in May 2016, and found that the name and what it stood for quickly resonated. An influx of emails told stories of a spitfire Aunt Joan, or a trusty old Camaro named Joan. And of course, Mad Men fans related to Joan Holloway’s ad-industry career climb. Remarkably, more and more Joans continue to emerge, each person’s top-of-mind namesake baring a new story. 

“It feels like a bigger philosophy that we’re all celebrating,” Robinson notes. Today, inside Joan, the staff of 22 and growing are “bringing their A-game every single day,” according to Clunie. The agency counts a number of General Mills brands, Bookings.com, Netflix and adidas as clients and has a series of projects launching in June. “We have definitely worked hard to structure in different way, from the way we price services to the way we hire people. In every aspect of our business we ask ourselves, should we do something conventional or kick it over and do something new?” Robinson says.

And when in doubt, the pair simply ask themselves, “What would Joan do?” Robinson notes. “The answer usually points itself out; it’s usually the more brave and honest response.”

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