Understand buyer behavior better: G2's Kimmel to agency executives

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G2 Direct & Digital, formerly Grey Direct, hired three senior executives to take the WPP Group PLC-owned direct and interactive marketing agency in a new direction.

Cathy Clift is the new chief planning officer. She held the same position for seven years at Rapp Collins Worldwide's Dallas office. To run G2 Direct & Digital's Los Angeles office, the agency named Chris Kelly managing director. The 25-year marketing veteran has been with the Grey/G2 family for the past five years. Chris Abelt was named new managing director of G2 Direct & Digital's financial services practice. He has experience at agencies such as DDB Needham, Wells Greene BDDP and Britain's Gate Worldwide.

DM News' Mickey Alam Khan spoke with G2 Direct & Digital chairman/CEO Larry Kimmel about talent, the agency's new focus and today's marketing challenges. Here are excerpts:

What is your vision for the agency?

In the past 25 years or so, agencies have largely been in the business of providing creative solutions for a limited number of communications channels. Now, with the ever-increasing rejection of advertising, agencies need to return to the position of true marketing partners. However, achieving this is no easy task.

It's no longer about advertising in the traditional sense but ensuring we understand consumers' behaviors better than anyone else in the industry. We need to leverage new tools and technologies to do this. We are hiring a group of people with a unique depth of knowledge of our clients' industry sectors who are able to drive improvement in profitability in our clients' businesses. Today we need marketers, as opposed to discipline specialists.

What key changes will you introduce this year?

G2 Direct & Digital has always maintained a dedication to transformation. And this year is no different. We have enhanced our capabilities in the digital space, thought leadership and senior management. We've upgraded our commitment to technological infrastructure. And we've renewed our focus on vertical consultative practices. As a result, our offering is stronger than ever.

Do highlight some of the major challenges these days for agencies.

Today, in a world of fragmented media, with consumers rejecting marketing messages and a decline in the efficiency of traditional advertising, there is a demand for agencies to understand the totality of all brand communications both online and offline and build a dialogue between consumers and brands.

Further, a far broader set of business verticals is using our approach. As such, direct marketing has taken on a new meaning and importance in the world of communications as all marketers strive to develop one-to-one communications with the consumer.

We, in turn, need to find the people who know how to manage direct and digital assignments that require both strategic leadership and flawless execution. Our No. 1 challenge is educating and inspiring enough people to learn how to do both these things, a rare expertise in the industry today.

What are your clients saying?

2006 was a record year for growth, with much of this coming from existing clients, particularly clients in the pharmaceutical, financial and business-to-business sectors assigning G2 Direct & Digital additional brands for us to work on from their extensive portfolios.

Our clients are increasingly rewarding us with enhanced engagements and greater involvement at a more senior and strategic level. Clients are especially interested in our ability to command marketing across multiple channels and disciplines and to span the world of brand ad response.

What role does talent play in today's agency environment?

Too many agencies today seem to have the notion that talent can be measured in hipness or hotness or blog-worthiness. Yet, to us, the real value of talent is still measured against one yardstick: Will it help our clients to grow more successful?

Today, talent transcends the creative department. Enlightened agencies recognize it as a current that runs through the entire workforce - from strategic planning and account management to media and production. Good agencies recognize it. Nurture it. Reward it. And demand it.

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