David Denham wants to create “want” as the new president of Minneapolis independent creative agency Peterson Milla Hooks (PMH). He was named to his position late last year after serving as president and chief strategy officer for digital ad agency Space150 and before that director of strategic growth for agency Colle+McVoy. As he leads the 60-person PMH firm, which is best known for its retail and fashion work, Denham said the legacy of its breakthrough advertising for Target has been “a blessing and a curse.” After the split with the retailer in early 2011, the company is still learning how to define its narrative. “Our perception challenge is to help people realize that we are a lead creative agency that can work across the spectrum of channels,” Denham said.

Q: Why did you decide to move to PMH?

A: Dave Peterson, the agency’s founder, was looking to create the next version of PMH. Version 1 was Target. Version 2 is after Target, and now we’re on Version 3, which is “OK, what do the next five years look like for PMH?” That was a really good opportunity to go in and step in and work with him to really grow the agency and to say how can we be relevant for the next five years. That’s a fun challenge. That’s a daunting challenge because you are in charge of this storied agency that made Target what it was. Now don’t screw it up. But I think with that strong creative horsepower that we have, and we have a fairly strong reputation within retail and fashion, I think with those two things we’ll just leverage those as we go forward. 

Q: What sorts of investments are you making in digital at PMH?

A: There’s a couple investments. I’ll pay for people’s tickets to go to a conference to learn about emerging media. I can give people the time to start playing internally on some of those platforms. Right now, the team is really focused with playing with our own Instagram just to see what can be done and how far they can push it. I can invest in bringing on staff. I’m at the point where I’m probably going to bring somebody on to help with overall media planning from a digital perspective or from an emerging media perspective to just help educate the creative team about, “Yeah, there’s the traditional advertising channels but there’s also the emerging channels.” 

Q: How have retail clients’ expectations changed?

A: I would say overall retailers are expecting ROI [return on investment]. Everybody is trying to find their ROI of social content. People are trying to find analytics to track what works. That analytical side, many of our clients are bringing that in-house or they are asking media partners to have that competency to start tracking what worked out of that. Now the thing that we’re doing is we’re starting to bridge the gap between the creative agency and the media agency. 

Q: Does PMH ever suffer from negative stereotypes about the Midwest that perpetuate the perception from some clients that they have to find an agency in New York or California to get expertise on fashion or retail?

A: Every agency in Minneapolis is battling that, the Minnesota flyover perception. What you start to find out in fashion is that all of those Target clients, they all went somewhere, to Kmart or to Gap or to J.C. Penney. What you’ll find in the fashion vertical is that there’s a really small community. I would say, “Yeah, there’s prior perception.” But when we go out to New York and we meet with a client and we walk them through our creative work, they’re kind of like, “You guys did that out of Minneapolis? You guys were with Target?” People give us credit for that so we don’t have to battle that as much. 

Q: What categories would you like to see PMH break into?

A: Boost Mobile did a TV spot, 30 seconds, but it was very lifestyle-oriented. It was really elevated, more aspirational, kind of less about the product benefits and more about the lifestyle. That’s what PMH does really well. That’s what fashion does really well. That’s what retail does really well. They really advocate a lifestyle or a mind-set vs. product benefits, so then you take that and ask what other industries are starting to borrow from that playbook. Spirits definitely borrows from that playbook. Even the hard liquors and the vodkas are starting to borrow from that lifestyle side. Spirits is definitely a category that we would like to get into. Still retail, fashion, spirits and then automotive is another one. Automotive appeals to a lifestyle. 

Q: What are some trends in the industry that you are keeping your eye on?

A: 2016 is the year of Snapchat. I think we are going to see a lot of innovation on that platform. That notion of content being perishable is a trend that I see. I don’t think it’s going to take over the world, but one thing we’ve been pushing our clients to do on their Instagram feeds is to really consider either running campaigns on a monthly basis or looking at the content that is way down there, all those pictures, and asking do they still need those or can those live elsewhere? Let’s start looking at content and what is perishable and what can be cleaned up. Brands are just throwing content — they aren’t managing it, they aren’t cleaning it up. They are not curating it. I do think many brands are going to start getting smart about where they are going to be and where they are not going to be. Any good strategy has sacrifice. Do all brands need to be on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat?