Q&A: Marketing vet Christa Carone on her new role at SJR after 20 years in corporate

Former Xerox CMO Christa Carone joined WPP content shop Group SJR as its first chief operating officer last month. She sat down with PRWeek to explain why she left the corporate world after more than 20 years to try agency life.

Christa Carone
Christa Carone

You come from a corporate background, as CMO for Xerox and comms EVP at Fidelity. What made you want to join the agency world?
I left Fidelity [last July] and decided to help Boston and its pursuit for the 2024 Olympic Games. That was a moment of stepping off the corporate ladder and doing something very purpose-driven, which is what I was seeking professionally at the time.

It was a tremendous amount of fun and work. But it gave me a taste of something radically different from what I'd been doing in corporate life for the last 20 years.

The bid process and being part of that organization was supposed to be a two-year run, like working for a presidential campaign. If we were successful, we'd have been responsible for the organization of the games. But, unfortunately, Boston chose not to continue its pursuit, so that ended much sooner than expected.

The SJR opportunity came at a perfect time for me after this high-octane experience with the Olympics. While it was tempting to go back into corporate, when [SJR CEO Alexander Jutkowitz] called me, it came at this moment where I wanted to shift to working for several brands instead of just one.

Why SJR?
I believe in the work it's doing, this interesting intersection between publishing, PR, and advertising. SJR sits in the middle of that at a time when all industries are being disrupted.

I was also a client of SJR at Xerox. I brought them in to be our content marketing AOR. I saw the team at work and the progress we could make in bringing a different voice to the brand through innovative editorial content.

I don't presume that, since I've been a client, I'll know everything it takes to help run an agency. But I'm definitely coming to the role from a client perspective.

The COO role is new - why was it created?
It speaks to the scale of the company, which is taking on a lot of new business and growing rapidly. We are 110 people and will add staff as we bring on more business.

We've looked at the skill sets we need on the leadership team, but also the way we manage accounts and at the editorial and production staff.

I come from the client side and other leaders here come from journalism, advertising, and PR. We're putting all these pieces together and making sure we have complementary skills.

What are your priorities?
Because the agency is growing rapidly, I'll partner with the team to ensure we keep up with the pace of growth, staffing, and managing our accounts.

I'll also provide strategic counsel for clients. I'm fortunate my career was defined as being chief communications officer and CMO, so I have firsthand experience of the blurring lines between the two. Bringing those experiences to the challenges our clients face is where I'm playing a role right now.

And, as we bring in new business, being the evangelist for the benefit of content marketing is part of a broader marketing and comms program.

You are also MD of Colloquial. Tell me about that.
Colloquial  is a joint venture between J. Walter Thompson advertising and SJR. We are the content marketing agency for JWT, which brings us close to the marketers as JWT is working with heads of advertising and marketing who are looking for more than just the ad campaign – they're also looking to have an editorial publishing approach.

What is your take on the suit against JWT CEO Gustavo Martinez for allegedly making racist and rape jokes?
It is a highly sensitive matter that is being handled with great detail and they are taking a disciplined approach to the investigation and talking to a lot of people.

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