Staff Writer
Nov 9, 2023

Connected creativity ignites business transformation

Leaders at Publicis Groupe, Heineken, and Suncorp share how embedding creative thinking at the heart of a business can empower its growth.

(L-R) Michael Rebelo, CEO, Australia and New Zealand, Publicis Groupe;
Mim Haysom, executive general manager, brand and marketing, Suncorp Group;
Rajeev Sathyesh, brand and business development director, APAC, Heineken.
(L-R) Michael Rebelo, CEO, Australia and New Zealand, Publicis Groupe; Mim Haysom, executive general manager, brand and marketing, Suncorp Group; Rajeev Sathyesh, brand and business development director, APAC, Heineken.
This article is part of a content series on empowering business transformation created in partnership with Publicis Groupe.
Against the backdrop of a rapidly evolving advertising landscape, more and more brands are looking to take a more holistic approach to their marketing and communications to reach consumers across an ever-growing range of formats and touchpoints. For Publicis Groupe and its clients, that takes the form of connected creativity — what the Groupe’s CEO for Australia and New Zealand, Michael Rebelo, calls a fusion of business, brand, media and communication strategy, underpinned by data and intelligence. 
“In today’s landscape, you need to have a more connected and integrated approach to brand and customer experience in order to unlock new, and more importantly, consistent forms of competitive advantage,” said Rebelo. “It’s how you are looking at your customer in the most holistic sense possible and activating the data behind that. It’s also a natural evolution of what clients have always come to us for — communication solutions.”
This boundary-breaking mindset doesn’t just benefit the work. To Rebelo, connected creativity is the driving force behind marketing transformation for clients. To learn more, we spoke to Rebelo and two of Publicis Groupe’s clients about how embracing connected creativity has empowered transformation and growth for their businesses.
Pivot and embrace change
Creativity doesn’t just apply to a company’s output, but also its structure and culture at large. “More than just in a piece of work, creativity is needed in the way you think about how you run a business and how you operationalise the team,” said Mim Haysom, executive general manager, brand and marketing at Suncorp Group, the leading Australian finance, banking, and insurance corporation.
As a result, a simpler and more streamlined creative process is a natural by-product of connected creativity, in Rebelo’s view. “Where Publicis Groupe’s abilities lie are in providing strategic resources to clarify challenges or opportunities, giving clear space for our clients to make the changes that matter to them and to their customers,” he said. “The most progressive marketers have got their ducks in a row and are looking at their entire business, versus compartmentalising it. They need to find the next competitive advantage in an industry that’s beginning to optimise the creativity out of it.”
“By applying creativity in a connected way, it brings everyone along, in whatever tactical form that may take, and fosters strategic alignment between previously disparate areas of the business,” said Rebelo.
In the case of Heineken, embracing connectedness and innovative thinking has even eliminated the need for the starting point for any campaign — the brief — on occasion. 
Rajeev Sathyesh, brand and business development director for APAC at Heineken, said the brand shares an explicit understanding with LePub, an agency powered by Publicis Groupe’s Power of One model, that starts with the consumer at the centre and opening the mind to possibilities they didn’t think existed. That receptiveness to new ideas is one that starts from within. “A good illustration of this is that Publicis Groupe has brought us great ideas — without us even briefing them — that we then bought and executed in-market,” he said.
Fostering a more fruitful client-agency relationship
It goes without saying that a strong client-agency relationship has to be the foundation of a collaborative partnership. For Rebelo, working alongside clients towards a common goal of connected creativity creates a shared language between the parties; a way of thinking about success that can transcend a single brief, portfolio of brands, and short-term challenges.
“By having connected creativity at the centre of this language — one that stretches into data, media, commerce, communication, and shopper — it can empower strategies that shape the market, instead of being led by it,” he disclosed.
To him, the best client-agency relationships are adaptable, aligned, and most of all, effective. Australian FMCG icon and long-term connected client of Publicis Groupe, The Arnott’s Group, is a prime example of this. Under Publicis Groupe’s bespoke agency model The Neighbourhood, Publicis agencies spanning across creative, media, PR, production, and shopper all work alongside each other to best grow the Arnott’s business, whatever their marketing transformation needs may be. 
Evidently, the approach is working — at the most recent Australian Effie Awards, Arnott’s and The Neighbourhood won a Grand Effie, a Gold in the Food & Beverage category, a Silver (“the only awarded entry in the ROI category”), as well as an honourable mention as Effective Advertiser of the Year in Australia.
While Sathyesh agrees on the importance of a shared vision, he noted that a one-team spirit based on trust and transparency is one that gives rise to the occasional debate, rather than a ‘client is king’ mentality.
“We need to get to a level where either side can express their point of view or push back in a constructive way without biases or agendas, and know that debates and arguments are integral when pushing the boundaries of what is possible,” said Sathyesh. “The acid test for this, in my opinion, is when an outsider walking into the room cannot tell who the client is and who the agency is after listening to the team debate an idea.” 
Similarly, Haysom advocates for treating agencies like the bona fide partners they are. “We don’t just send a brief. We bring our agencies well upstream with us in terms of our business and strategy discussions. They come into meetings with the CFO, unpacking what we’ve taken to market in terms of our annual financial results and understanding what the organisation’s long-term business strategy is. So they don’t just get a brief; they really deeply understand our business and our customers,” she said. 
While acknowledging that there are no magical ingredients that work for everyone, Haysom cited aligned ambition, mutual respect and understanding of the way each side works, and collective bravery as the key factors that enable Suncorp and Publicis Groupe to produce the kind of bold and challenging work that’s worth making.
“I want work that makes me feel a bit uncomfortable, or at the very least, really excited about making it,” she enthused. “The team sometimes walks in feeling a bit nervous about what they’re about to present because they know it’s brave, and that’s fantastic — because that’s usually the work that that we will progress with.”
Connected creativity’s long-term business impact
When it comes to the business impact of any new idea, the question inevitably turns to viability. This, to Rebelo, is where connected creativity shines. “No matter what your competitors are doing or what you have done before, if you can leverage creativity across any area of your marketing transformation — from brand to commerce, through to performance marketing — there will always be an opportunity for growth. Delivering tangible business results is table stakes at this point,” he said.
“It has been proven empirically that brands and companies that are creative deliver significantly more mid- and long-term growth in revenue,” noted Sathyesh. “Companies that believe in this philosophy usually do not sacrifice great ideas just because of budget cuts. The trick in running a business or balancing profits and losses is to be able to find resources and earmark them for the critical drivers of the business, and having the clarity of what gets cut first and what gets cut last.”
One of the long-term opportunities that has emerged from Heineken and LePub’s dynamic client-agency relationship is Heineken’s award-winning campaign, The Ghosted Bar. “Heineken had identified relevance to the youth in Asia as a clear objective at the beginning of its working relationship with LePub and Publicis Groupe, as we were struggling to capture the hearts and minds of these consumers with just our global ideas,” said Sathyesh. 
“Consumers in Asia are not very receptive to messaging that asks them to leave work to enjoy social interactions, because many of them think that they let their colleagues down by not staying at work longer,” he explained. The Ghosted Bar subverted that idea by showing they are actually letting their friends down when they stay at work too long, highlighting how ‘a friend stuck in the office is a ghost at the bar’, leaving friends hanging out with their ‘ghost’ instead. It then took the idea to different touchpoints to engage Heineken’s consumers. “Talking about delivering growth, we took this idea to our partners in bars and restaurants and drove footfall into their premises by encouraging people to tag their friends stuck in offices using a QR code and asking them to come over for a Heineken,” said Sathyesh. 
He noted that both the work and results exceeded expectations, with impressive brand equity scores and sustained business growth. “We have also been recognised for the creativity of the work, not only in Asia, but on a global stage in forums like the Cannes Festival, where we won four Lions this year on campaigns like the Heinekicks and The Ghosted Bar,” said Sathyesh. 
At Suncorp, connected creativity has yielded a long-lasting impact that extends beyond the organisation to the Australian people. Working with leading housing-resilience experts, Suncorp designed, tested, and prototyped a house capable of withstanding fires, floods, and cyclones — ‘One House.’ The One House to Save Many campaign, which ties into the organisation’s key brand pillar of resilience, is an ambitious and far-ranging initiative that has not only raised awareness for disaster prevention, but also provided open-source designs online for the public’s benefit, and spurred the Australian government to create an AUD$600 million resilience fund.
“One House, which came about from a very clear strategy to support Suncorp’s customers in being more resilient to perils, embedded connected creativity at its heart,” said Haysom. “To land that idea, we had to collaborate and innovate with a range of people — scientists, architects, our agency partners, and the media.”
The campaign went on to win a slew of awards, including a Cannes Grand Prix for innovation. For Haysom, however, its value will endure far beyond awards season. “It was a lot more than a campaign,” she said. “It was a documentary, it was an online information hub, it was the foundation for new product development. It was about the democratisation of innovation intellectual property to support customers and communities, and the connection of the creativity that really helped bring that to life in such a brilliant and magical way.” 
Alongside creativity, Haysom credits data and performance for enabling Suncorp to successfully invest in bold ideas during times of economic turbulence.
“It’s absolutely the role of CMOs and marketers to use the data that they have, to tell the story and the business case for the importance of both,” she noted. “If you’ve got sophistication in your metrics, in your tracking, in your data, then you have the information to tell the story to your stakeholders as to why you should probably, in most instances, be investing more when there are challenging market conditions.”
In results we trust
Rebelo echoed the sentiment that data is key to successful business transformation — even if that transformation is powered by creative thinking. “Marketers, agencies and publishers alike have spent the last decade building out their digital and data capabilities so that they have as much visibility on themselves, their customer, and their industry as possible,” he said. Despite this, he acknowledged that much of this work has been done in isolation within a business and now they are looking to find clever, creative solutions to bring it all together for both short-term action and transformational opportunities.
Citing a recent study from Spark Foundry Australia, which found that 67% of marketers believe that strategy and strategic insights are the most valuable contributions from agencies, Rebelo said he predicts the industry is about to enter a strategic renaissance.
Rebelo shared that Publicis Groupe recently transformed a client’s approach to marketing at a macro level as an illustration of how strategic value can be delivered with tangible results. Using the opportunity of a new campaign, Publicis Groupe connected the marketing outcomes and processes of seven different business units across media, digital, data, owned channels, creative, and communications, a feat that Rebelo remarked the client had never attempted before.
By bringing these units together, the client saw connected improvements across a variety of metrics, communication channels and units, including 0% digital wastage, 17% increased engagement with the brand homepage, a 27% lift in key lead metrics, and more than 430 assets created. Post-exposure metrics revealed a 40% increase in traffic for the business units, seven-figure savings in both high and low-mode production, 13% increase in overall brand sentiment, and that 87% of viewers took a desirable action as determined by the brand.
Making connected creativity a reality
Now, the question isn’t whether to adopt connected creativity, but rather, how can connected creativity help bring your business to the next level? 
“To spark ground-breaking creativity, you need to first acutely define the problem you’re trying to solve. And while connected creativity is the outcome, it’s also about the minds you bring together to unlock the truth of the problem.” Rebelo advises. “The beauty of Publicis Groupe’s connected platform is that we can bring in deep specialists from a wide array of thinkers and strategists to help define this problem. Though their areas of expertise vary, what these specialists all have in common is an understanding that collaboration and connection across agencies is a strength, not a barrier to the creative product.
When it comes to the challenges and opportunities technological developments present to connected creativity, Rebelo said there is no doubt that generative AI will have huge effects on the creative side of the marketing and communications business. “But it’s about how it empowers us to create new, effective and connected solutions, and that starts with problem identification and reframing at a strategic level — something that is fundamentally human.”
For now, the next mission on the forefront of Rebelo’s mind is driving connected cultural transformation. “How do you breed a culture of working this way across the entire business and not just leave it to the creative leads, departments or agencies?” he said. “It’s not just about being creative, or coming up with that killer idea, challenge or reframing of a problem. It’s about being able to translate and transpose the thinking that has come from someone or somewhere else.”


Campaign Asia

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