1. Martin Sorrell has no regrets
Asked what he would do differently if he could revisit his career, the former WPP leader told the Campaign360 audience he would change “nothing.” Well, besides ditching the convertible preferred shares when buying Ogilvy, he admitted. But his point? He’s not one for second-guessing, wishing only that he’d made the same moves more quickly.
Would this have included super agencies VMLY&R and Wunderman Thompson? The former was already being planned while he was WPP CEO, Sorrell said. But consolidated European holding groups (WPP, Publicis) are being financially outperformed lately by American peers that have not (Omnicom, IPG), he noted, because “when you put one and one together you don’t get two.”
“In the short term you get dislocation and disruption,” Sorrell said, but “in the long term it may work out.”
Asked why he didn’t build WPP in the style of what he’s now building elsewhere, Sorrell replied “I tried.”
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2. Marketing is in a mid-life crisis
Thus deduced Mediacom’s global strategy chief Matt Mee after running through common tell-tale signs, such as a need for adventure and losing interest in things once important. Causes included challenges to traditional media like television by sexier on-demand digital services, and ditto for traditional retail platforms and outdated forms of measurement.
Mee offered three suggestions to survive the current turbulence and uncertainty. First, use systems, not silos, to deal with the complexity and interdependence of new platforms without being overwhelmed by complexity. Second, invest in proper attribution research instead of accepting standardised yet faulty measurements like last-click attribution. Finally, don’t let technological obsession with personalisation forget that marketing success depends on creating work that has cultural heft and is publicly shared.
3. Finance and marketing need some therapy
If the marketing industry is in a mid-life crisis, it’s not surprising to find a few rocky marriages in the mix.
“It feels like we are always doing therapy for clients between finance and marketing,” concurred Shufen Goh, principal and co-founder of R3. A common problem behind the relationship breakdown is that marketing metrics are not always understood by finance who often mistrust the data presented to them.
“Not being sure of the metrics of measuring success makes the discussion even more sensitive,” agreed Dominique Touchaud, associate brand director at P&G.
“You have a challenge — you need to convince these guys to unleash the money with data they probably don’t trust” said Anne-Gaelle Gonet, Asia procurement head at the British Council, noting the onus is also on marketers to understand finance objectives.
“Once you understand the objectives, marketing becomes a tool to get [there]” Touchaud agreed.
4. It’s okay to hit rebrand roadbumps
Those who hold out for the perfect opportunity or strategy risk missing the critical chance to evolve their brands. That’s according to Grab CMO Cheryl Goh, who started the brand as MyTeksi in Malaysia in 2012.
A startup with no marketing budget, Goh found pounding the pavement to grow brand awareness was more critical than optimisation. In 2014, when MyTeksi moved into six countries but the brand didn’t translate, they had to create two branded apps—MyTeksi and GrabTaxi. But with diversified services came the need to simplify for consumers, rebranding yet again as Grab within three months.
“Consumers needed to know it was still us, so we were very deliberate and boring, but needed to be simple and clear,” she said. “Our rebrand was not perfect”, but brand relevancy can be achieved with hard work and moving fast instead of crafting the perfect execution.
5. Clients want agencies with backbone
Clients can’t be effective if they outsource too much to agencies, but the other extreme is also not desirable. “I think if we take it completely in-house, we’ll become completely myopic, and we’ll just be drinking our own Kool-Aid and thinking we’re fabulous,” said Johnson & Johnson marketer Richa Goswami, adding that agency counsel plays an important role. “As a client, I would urge and encourage all agencies to step up and say ‘no’ sometimes.” She asserted that some of her best outcomes have come when an agency said ‘no’, while some of her regrets come from times an agency said ‘yes’ when it probably shouldn’t have.
6. In-housing or out-housing is not the real question
While in-housing seems to be a topic du jour (see above), Unilever’s APAC-based head of media, David Porter, said focus on that term diverts attention from the real existential issue facing advertisers: “Getting the collaboration we need” to survive in a world where big companies built for the past 10 years are inherently ill-suited for the next 10. “We have a large media team, and it happens that we choose to have 85% to 90% of it externalised, and that’s simply because that’s where the talent is, and that’s where the tools that we need to do the job are today. It’s really in the hands of the agency world whether that remains the case longer term.”
7. Achieving scale is not the be-all and end-all for automation
In a panel discussion about AI, Pierre Robinet of Ogilvy Consulting dropped a thought bomb. While everyone now is talking about using automation to build scale, that is not going to be enough in the near future. “What really matters is teaching an AI to detect the patterns that will help you achieve a business ambition—to detect the things that would completely change your strategy, improve your customer loyalty, improve your customer satisfaction, improve your customer retention, not only by scaling the automation but by finding the right pattern that you cannot find with your team.” A transition to a regime where humans primarily supervise algorithms could happen with dramatic speed, he added. “We should absolutely anticipate how to train our talent and empower our folks so that they can become augmented strategists.”