Jeremy Katz
Cannes 2017
The Race For Relevance

The Cannes festival, long the playground for creatives, has attracted more and more clients in recent years, which means that these intensely concentrated days can range far beyond traditional creative territory.  That’s a good thing, especially given that the impact of marketing and creative work on business talent, structures, and results is on the minds of senior marketers.  As Diana O’Brien, CMO of Deloitte, put it during a panel discussion today, “We’re moving away from a world where you can project your brand.  Your brand is defined by everyone who interacts with it. Customers and associates are defining your brand, and your insides are your outsides.”

That and other cultural changes are rewriting the rules of engagement between brands and agencies.  O’Brien was joined by John Seifert, CEO of Ogilvy, Ann Rubin, VP of Branded Content and Global Creative at IBM, and Tomasz Lisewski, Global Head of Brand, Digital & Communications, and Digital Marketing for Philips in a discussion moderated by Jason Karaian, Global Business Editor for Quartz. Digital technology has made it easier than ever to connect with the consumer, but, as Karaian said, “harder than ever to draw a line to business results.”  While the linkages may be hard to pin down, the panelists made clear that the marketing organization—and its senior leaders—has a very clear role; they are, in O’Brien’s words, “the conveners.” CMOs talk to the Chief Talent Officer to make sure the company has the right human resources, engages with the CFO on growth and with the CIO to make sure the tech delivers for the customer. Seifert asserts that, “The CMO needs to earn the trust of all the c-suite leadership to convene the thing that is most important for the sustainability of a company: its brand and its trust in the marketplace.”

(Pictured l to r: Jason Karaian, Tomasz Lisewski, Ann Rubin, Diana O’Brien, John Seifert)

Senior marketers may turn to a variety of agencies and other partners in seeing to the health and growth of their brands, but the panelists saw enduring value in stable, strategic relationships with agencies like Ogilvy. Clients may end up working with several agencies, since it takes a diverse team to deliver a multi-platform, continuous, and integrated marketing program, but Lisewski said that, “We still need a strategic partner to work with before we engage with others. You still need a single partner for consistency of your message.” That vote of confidence was shared by IBM’s Rubin who lauded the trusted bond IBM has had with Ogilvy over the long tenure of their partnership, but she also acknowledged just how much things have changed in that time: “We can measure everything. So much is instrumented that even on the brand level, we can measure and optimize.” As a result, she continued, “There are different people and a different make-up of the team on both sides.” In Lisewski’s view, this makes marketing easier: “Thanks to technology and automation, we have taken a lot of manual work away. Now, it’s much more about the journey and the results you see every week. What’s difficult is the change, but once that’s done, it’s easier.”

Managing that change seems to be a central challenge. Seifert recalled a conversation with a fellow CEO who told him that the world is changing faster than his company was. Agencies, he recounted, were changing even slower.  “Instrumentation, data collection, and transparency has revolutionized everything in our lives,” Seifert observed. “We have to adapt to that new reality and be structured for it. We’re all in a race to not lose relevance.”

One solution for agencies is to invest heavily in understanding their clients’ business. O’Brien believes that, “Agencies are valuable because they are tied to strategy.  They are spending the time to understand the business.”  That’s a theme that resonated.  Seifert wants clients to believe that agencies understand their business, are in service of their agenda, and have the guts to be honest.  The result of that trust can be competitive advantage in the marketplace. “If we can reveal what makes brands brilliant,” he said, “that’s not a tactic. That’s differentiation.”

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