Max Pfennighaus joined Lippincott as a partner in design based out of the New York office. Before joining the team, Max most worked as the Executive Creative Director at VSA Partners. Max’s new role bridges both Lippincott’s brand and innovation practices, allowing the firm to more deeply deliver user experiences that are unique and distinctive to the brands they work with.
You’ve gone from The New York Times to agency (VSA Partners) to global consultancy Lippincott over the past few years. Can you talk a little about the types of different experiences you’ve had at these organizations and the benefits and challenges in taking on these different roles?
I spent 13 years in advertising before I moved to NPR and began working with one of the most prestigious digital product crews I’d ever worked with. The great thing about being in-house is having the opportunity to really understand how the organization works, holistically. You’re sitting side by side with journalists and employees, learning about their process and how the business operates. In many ways, it is just like method acting. Having that level of empathy for what an organization does and the people behind it ultimately reflects in the work. It is harder to do that from the outside, but I apply that understanding and respect in what I do now.
The challenge about being in-house is that you often find yourself solving problems that people didn’t hire you for. It is also hard to step outside of yourself, which is where the value of an external consultancy lies. As a consultant, you’re not just a story teller, you also have to build consensus and get people excited about change and understanding their role in it.
The world has evolved to a place where we work on problems together in true partnership. The best consultants are the ones that integrate and collaborate in a real sense, who take the time to go learn about what their clients about. And that’s exactly what Lippincott has been about for the last 70-odd years.
How do you think your experiences at The New York Times and VSA Partners have prepared you for this role?
The NYT was a great deep dive on the impracticalities of keeping the organization growing in a changing landscape. I learned the balance between the poetic nature of storytelling and the more rational realisms of running an organization. Yet I was always a design voice in the context of a lot of non-designers and had never really worked in the company of an army of design folks before.
VSA was a wonderful experience because it was a design centered place that allowed me to focus on how stuff works and not just the advertising.
At Lippincott, I can take this even further. Not only do they have a storied legacy of a very broad definition of design (digital, experiential etc.), but the firm has just as strong roots in strategy. Lippincott has built its reputation doing the thing I learned was so vital for business while at NPR and the NYT. I’m really interested to see what’s going to be possible for clients with the brilliant minds and resources we have at our disposal.
What do you hope to accomplish in your new role at Lippincott?
What I’m quickly discovering is that titles and labels don’t mean a lot here. Lippincott is a very entrepreneurial, self-actualized group which I love. Everyone is empowered to go out and discover new problems to help clients with and new systems in which to solve them.
What excites me most about Lippincott is all of the digital innovation work I get to roll up my sleeves and jump in on. I’m already working on a number of global projects in the digital product space, thinking about how a brand translates into that experience.
How did this opportunity come about?
I’ve never worked for a place like Lippincott before. All of my jobs have been about learning and understanding the business holistically and it was very intriguing to me to see the kinds of relationships and opportunities the firm had.
When you have an organization with design at its heart, it’s inevitable for design to want to reach as far as possible into the business to help ideas manifest. The market also happens to be going that way. What’s unique about Lippincott is that the strategically minded design philosophy has always been there, which is why the firm is so well placed for what’s required for success today.
Article originally published in AdWeek on August 29, 2017.