By Alison Bailin Batz / Photos by Claudia Johnstone
Joe Pizzimenti loves Arizona. But, like so many of us, he is no native.
Pizzimenti grew up in a blue-collar Italian family with five older brothers and a younger sister in Detroit, where the family business was in auto supplies.
“For the rest of my family, it was a no-brainer to work for the family after high school, but I just knew it wasn’t my path,” says Pizzimenti, who moved here sight unseen in 1984 to attend Arizona State University.
During this time, Arizona lived up to its famous five Cs: cotton, cattle, citrus, copper and climate.
“There were cotton fields, cattle farms and citrus groves as far as the eye could see,” Pizzimenti says. “And the year before I moved down here, there was a massive copper mine strike, so certainly that C was front and center as well.”
Of course, there was also the climate.
“I lived for the heat of the summers – and all that time in the pool. And I woke up every winter morning thanking my lucky stars that there was no snow to shovel,” Pizzimenti says.
When he graduated, however, the family still expected him to come back to Detroit long term.
“Somehow, at just 22, I gathered the courage to tell my massive family no and set out to make my own way in New York City,” says Pizzimenti, who moved to the Big Apple in 1987, eventually earning a marketing position with WNEW-FM, the then-top rock station in the country.
His radio career would explode over the next five years, eventually taking him back to lead a team in Michigan, but he never forgot his happy place: Arizona.
“I had to find my way back. It was now or never at that time, so, in 1992, I picked up and moved my entire life to the Valley for good,” Pizzimenti says. He eventually joined KTAR-AM’s team before opening up his own graphic design firm, Square 1 Design.
In the late 1990s, websites were still a relatively new “fad,” but Pizzimenti – now a father to three young Arizona natives – rightly felt they were the future and slowly transitioned the business. In fact, in 1999, his team built Scottsdale Healthcare’s first real web presence.
“My team would soon partner with a massive national outfit, which gave us the chance to work with everyone from Dial Corp. and Best Western to Adidas and Intel when it came to branding and design,” Pizzimenti says. In 2001, he broke off and partnered to open Spin Six, which he grew to be one of the most respected digital agencies in the Southwest.
But by the mid-2000s, he was ready to do it all – hiring, training, business development and content creation – on his own. Inspired by a painting of a pudgy fish in his office (artwork from the Pee Wee’s Big Adventure movie set, no less), he formed a creative agency, Bigfish Creative Group, in 2006. Pizzimenti’s mission: to be a big fish in what Arizona was starting to become, a much bigger pond. He also wanted to start thinking outside the pond (or, rather, box) when it came to creative concepts and brand storytelling.
And though the recession hit him – not to mention the state – hard, Pizzimenti, like Arizona itself, persevered and came out stronger. Today, Bigfish boasts more than 30 employees and a multistory office along 1st Avenue in Old Town Scottsdale. From that perch – in addition to excellent views of Camelback Mountain – Pizzimenti has been able to watch how Arizonans responded to the financial and real estate crisis.
“I don’t think I am alone in feeling the electricity pumping through the city, really the entire state. And it surely isn’t being fueled by cattle and cotton anymore,” Pizzimenti says. “It’s time the world knew it, too.”
Enter Pizzimenti’s passion project: AZ5C, an interactive website, campaign and platform Pizzimenti is using to showcase how far Arizona has come in the areas of culture, community, connectivity, commerce and catalyst.
“You can taste it in our chef-driven restaurant and bars, and see it firsthand as new buildings and businesses flood in by the day,” Pizzimenti says. “Arizona is at the forefront of connecting data, ideas, processes and people in new and effective ways. Arizonans are competing, and winning, while at work and at play like never before.”
Phase one of AZ5C includes videos detailing each of the new five Cs and then features some of Arizona’s highest-profile business and community leaders including business owners, lawmakers, nonprofit champions and tastemakers sharing their stories of success along with which of the new Cs represent them best. There will also be merchandise available for purchase in mid-September and an extensive traditional and digital campaign to support the effort nationwide.
Phase two, which is currently in planning, will launch in 2019. Discover more at www.az5c.com.