Walking the Talk in Adland … A Talk with Brian Fetherstonhaugh

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by: Alain Thys

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to a small gathering with Brian Fetherstonhaugh, Chairman and CEO for OgilvyOne Worldwide. He explained his vision on how Kotler’s 4 P’s would have to become 4E’s and how Ogilvy was getting ready for these new realities.. Even though I’m a sceptic when it comes Madison Avenue sales talk, I have to say I was impressed.

Brian’s presentation had it all: media neutrality, engagement,  financial accountability, customer journeys, multi-channel thinking, attention, reputation, even a hint of Chris Andersen’s Free mantra could be found. In short, if the world was upside down, I’d have asked him to join Futurelab on the spot  🙂 Just to say that it was probably the most complete and sensible  story I had heard from a traditional agency in years.

Needless to say I wanted to hear how he ensured that the rubber of all these great concepts also hit the proverbial road. So with a little help, I managed to corner Brian for a short one-on-one. We cut straight to the chase. For readability purposes I have paraphrased him, yet the spirt of his words should be intact.

As a client-side advisor I know that many brands struggle in walking the talk you preach. What do you think is the reason?

The first is a skillset readiness issue. Most marketing leaders grew up in the traditional model. They did not get promoted by doing a social networking site. They got into their chairs for different reasons. Because they launched a few new products. Because they did television commercials. Because of their dealings with the trade.

So when they are under pressure they revert to their core skills. They go with what they know. That causes overinvestment in traditional channels, while digital channels remain substantially underinvested.

And so far the gap is pretty wide. What is needed to transform the current situation is a new generation of fully confident, digitally savvy Chief Marketing Officers. I am starting to see this next generation getting into the top marketing leadership jobs, but it will take years for real change to happen.

The second is a matter of mandate. Many marketing leaders do not have a 360° mandate. They don’t do the store, even though that’s  40% of what people believe about the brand. Internet is done by an internet department. Public affairs only talk to the CEO. They don’t do the telemarketing centre either. And employee relations is another part of the business all together.

This means that in many companies, the marketing guy is de facto the ad guy who integrates advertising and direct mail. I think there are some legacy silo issues on the client side.

So how does this work on the agency side?

The advertising industry has not at all been perfect either. It has not always provided the measurability, accountability and reconcilability to inspire the confidence it asks for. I myself started thinking 360° in 1986 when I put up my hand stating that I wanted to manage the American Express account both for O&M advertising as for Ogilvy Direct.

At the time, this got me two business cards. I got a mid-way office I called Checkpoint Charlie. I had two phones, two time sheets, two teams. But we kind of made it work together. Since that time there has been this growing group of true 360° thinkers at Ogilvy of which our CEO and our creative Vice Chairman are notable examples.

But I’ll be straight. There aren’t 5000 people like that in our company or in the industry. We have been training people, but not everybody is wired this way. It’s like in music, you don’t often get people who equally love the piano, the violin, the guitar and the drums. We need people who  value them all and can bring out the best.

But there is a now a rapidly growing group of people who truly believe that a big television commercial and a big mobile CRM application are equally noble. We have also have put in the financial and strategic infrastructure to be genuinely agnostic. Our business model gives us the freedom to follow the customer journey  where ever that leads us. Whether this is gaming, mobile, PR, billboards or TV.

So looking 5 to 7 years ahead, where will it all end?

I think that the ideas economy will continue to exist and clients will be prepared to pay big for big ideas. The implementation piece, on the other hand, is going to become more of a scale business.   In-sourcing, outsourcing and consolidation will be the name of the game.

Also accountability will continue to rise in importance. When I do search, what happens to store business? When my stores offer a bad customer experience, what happens to the brand? When the brand’s bad, what happens in social networks. These are very challenging questions, but they will need to be answered.

All the stuff in the middle will shrink away. The day-to-day carrying out of a mechanical advertising process of low value added, OK-ish thinking will disappear. Clients simply won’t pay for it.

So the industry will be segmenting itself. Some enterprises will become a creative boutique. Some will focus on the analytics arena. And others again will focus on implementation.

And what about Ogilvy?

We will play on all three fields. We will go on living the culture of David Ogilvy. He would have loved these days of accountability, big ideas, measurability. And we will love them with him.

I strongly believe in our agnostic view. If someone says search is dead, PR is up, OK, the world has spoken. If they would outlaw direct mail in china, OK, we’ll shift. We’re not beholden. I don’t like being beholden  to an execution channel. I like being beholden to a customer journey and how people want to be engaged with , that’s more interesting.

After all, we sell … or else