The converging agency
Q: Why did you make the decision to step down from Publicis by next year?
A: Regarding what I set out to achieve at SAMS [the specialized agencies and marketing services division of Publicis], there's a feeling of ‘mission accomplished.' In the five years I was there, group revenues grew from 23% to about 36%. I also have other plans and ideas, and a desire to do other things. I have an old-fashioned work ethic; I find it hard to move any of those plans ahead while I'm a full-time employee.
Q: How have you seen direct marketing evolve over your career?
A: Direct marketing has evolved into one of the most accountable of the marketing disciplines and, therefore, one of the most valued. Today, it still has a tremendous opportunity to be one of the most valued parts of the marketing mix. There are more sophisticated ways to manage and monitor its effects, and more understanding of what types of creativity really work.
Q: What are some challenges within the direct marketing industry?
A: One opportunity and challenge is its convergence with the multimedia digital sector. It is a tremendously exciting opportunity for people who have a direct marketing skill set but are also willing to develop real digital skills and put them together.
Q: What do you mean by the convergence of digital and direct marketing?
A: Many agencies struggled to make direct marketing the sweet spot of integrated, strategic thinking in the 1990s. Now, you have digital agencies converging with different discipline agencies — especially direct agencies. Over the next five to 10 years, clients will greatly value people who can converge those skills.
Q: So what is challenging about this?
A: The same debate and the same discussion is raging: How do you maximize the main characteristics of direct — accountability, ROI, that real understanding of what it takes to change a consumer's behavior — and make them converge with digital communication? Digital provides the ability to communicate in a truly individual way with a real understanding and real-time reaction with consumers and businesses. Making that come alive is a great challenge. Some agencies come from a more digital background into the direct space, and vice versa. Those that take the high ground are the agencies that can hit both disciplines.
Q: What do you think is a good example of an agency that started in direct before expanding into digital?
A: Many people look at Digitas as perhaps the gold standard in digital marketing, but also, many people forget that the history of Digitas is in direct. Many people there cut their teeth on direct disciplines and became world-class experts in digital as well. That's a really interesting case study of what is possible.
Q: What's significant about your background in direct marketing?
A: I started in “the below the line” side of the industry. My first 10 years in the industry was very much in direct marketing and promotion – and that was a fantastic grounding in the communications industry. If you were involved in the direct side of the equation at that time, you got involved in everything: developing creative work, evaluations, database marketing and metrics. It was such a dynamic industry you were not only expected to be knowledge in all aspects of the campaign but to actually do it. That was something I really loved. I owe a lot of my future success to the expectations of clients in the direct category had for their businesses. The understanding and appreciation of the holistic approach to leading with marketing services and adding advertising to that mix really got me through career challenges.
Q: Some agencies disavow their direct marketing roots and cast themselves as a digital group. Does having a DM pedigree create any barriers for agencies from clients?
A: A lot of agencies on both sides of the pond are feeling that the most traditional forms of direct— particularly offline direct mail – is probably the area where you talk about people disavowing their roots a little. There's a couple of reasons for that. There's a sense, and it's validated by data, that traditional direct mail has perhaps has topped out in its level of response and effectiveness. The traditional direct mail part of the equation has become increasingly difficult to make money from – the margins in that part of the business are challenging. In terms of attracting talent, I think it is increasing challenge to attract people to work on that type of program on a specialized and exclusive basis. There's no question that there's still a lot of good direct mail around and a lot of good people producing it. There's a certain sexiness associated with the digital side of the agency that you can't get away from.