CMO.com editor in chief Tim Moran recently had the opportunity to chat with Evelyn Neill, chief creative officer at global agency Doremus New York. Based on her recent presentation at Wharton’s Future of Advertising 2020, we wanted to follow up with her about some of the topics of particular interest to heads of marketing.
For some great insights into corporate sustainability, team building, big data, and creativity, read the interview that follows.
CMO.com: In the video of your presentation at Wharton's “Future of Advertising 2020” program, you expounded about green tech empowerment. Can you talk a little bit about that and how it is germane to heads of marketing?
Neill: I think corporate sustainability has really changed a company’s role with regard to all of their constituents, everyone they talk to. What’s fascinating to me is that they’re being measured and evaluated sometimes with that in mind, not only from an investments point of view, but it even figures into the sense of their performance.
CMO.com: You mean the company as a whole?
Neill: Yes, as a corporate citizen. I think you have to ask yourself: What is communication’s relationship with that, and how does an agency or any external partner work with a CMO to do something that articulates those goals, those corporate sustainability goals, but moves them further in their business? Everything we do here [at Doremus] is focused on business metrics. And we really don’t have the luxury of putting a message out there that isn’t measurable, so we tend to think that way.
CMO.com: The concept of “disintermediation” is one of the issues that CMOs are dealing with as they work on building their teams. There’s this back and forth between what they look inside for and what they go to agencies for. Can you talk from your vantage point about how you see that playing out?
Neill: I think companies are discovering some of the same problems that agencies have traditionally had when they decide to build a team. I’ll give you a perfect example: When Flash turned into a nonentity for iPads, it was an issue for everybody who had decided to build a site with Flash—in particular, for agencies that had doubled down on that skill set. Clients are finding the same sort of issues. The technology changes really fast, so you need to consider how you are either going to train your people to keep up, or hire people who will keep up, or allow yourself the flexibility to keep up. That’s a problem that agencies have, and if clients decide to build a lot of infrastructure, they inherit that problem.
Efficiency is something people tend to think of in the present, and, ironically, the future comes upon you so fast that you have to be pretty forward-thinking. You might decide to build infrastructure internally, and then, lo and behold, the skill sets for what you need change, so that turns out to be not very efficient. I think a lot of CMOs are struggling with this. What I like to say to clients is that all of us—from the client-production side all the way to the communications side—we’re all struggling with the same issues. Many, many organizations say they can do many, many things, and the reality is they can’t, to some degree or another.
CMO.com: Do you see where it’s going to be a mix-and-match sort of thing for the brand to say, “OK, these are the core competencies I want to have inside, and I want to go outside for the rest”?
Neill: I think so. That seems to make the most sense to me. I have seen clients making missteps by deciding to place assets in-house and then not having a huge amount of flexibility with that. I mean, I think flexibility is key for everybody.
CMO.com: So it’s about coming up with the best plan that makes you the most flexible?
Neill: Yes, flexible where you need it, and then figure out where the non-negotiable core assets are. What are we saying so much, and producing so much of, that we really need to own this asset?
CMO.com: So is this what’s really forcing CMOs and heads of marketing to deal with agencies differently?
Neill: I think it is. In our case, because we are specifically a business-oriented agency, we partner a lot. We find ourselves often in partnerships with other entities and clients. What’s interesting about that is being able to partner swiftly, efficiently, and seamlessly is a skill set. And if I were trying to build a flexible model, if I were a CMO, I would be looking for partners who are good at partnering.
CMO.com: It probably puts more pressure on the agency, too. You probably have to be more flexible and agile.
Neill: Sure. I think everybody has to give up on their “turfiness.” And I think, in general, CMOs have to look for partners as opposed to vendors. We’re talking about problem-solving here. Ironically, this is something manufacturing companies have dealt with for a long time. This was bound to happen to our industry. And it’s really going to start separating organizations. In a way, it’s really exciting because you do get a fair amount of nimbleness in this world.
CMO.com: From your agency vantage point, what are your thoughts on privacy? Everybody talks about it, but nobody really wants to do anything about it. With all the customer data that’s being amassed now, how do you see privacy playing out?
Neill: I do think that privacy is a thorny issue because, like any other kind of regulation, people will exploit the technology as far as it goes in many different directions, and they expect that if there is a point where regulation should become involved, well, then that’s what will happen. So you really start to get into the values and ethics of companies with regard to their privacy policies and how that affects how they communicate externally. Without that, if there’s nothing in place, I think it becomes a world where it’s specifically regulated in ways or it’s not. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we start to see more disclosure. There’s quite a bit of disclosure, but we may see even more.
CMO.com: If you take the big data concept further, how do you see agencies being able to help brands do something with all of this data they collect? I mean, that’s partially a staffing problem as well.
Neill: My personal point of view on data is that your desire and need to serve and delight and surprise the customer extends into your user data. And you can use data to amplify your relationship. Yes, perhaps you found people through the use of data. But when you found them, what did you do? To me, that is the ultimate end goal of how we use data—to further a complete relationship with customers.
And in that way, I tend to view it as more positive. And I think that’s the way most CMOs would view it. There’s no doubt that there are privacy issues, and I’m sure that, somewhere along the line, we’re going to have some interesting regulation stories. But, in the end, advertising and communications are intrusive if you don’t want to hear what someone has to say. But if it makes your life more interesting, then that will delight you.
CMO.com: Do you have any thoughts about the predictive use of data? Because the backward-looking approach that is the current state of the art is not going to cut it with consumers much longer.
Neill: Well, I do think people lose their common sense when it comes to the use of data. Just because you can doesn’t mean that you should. You have to ask yourself: If I were this person, what would I want to see? What would I want to know? And that’s the way you should approach everything.
I mean, I have felt that way about trees with print. If you cut down a tree for this, it ought to be worth the paper that it’s printed on. I feel that ethic goes a long way toward solving some of these problems. From a CMO perspective, you have broader goals to accomplish, and you have to ask yourself: How will this help me get there? I don’t think there’s anyone who actually thinks that the way banners are functioning in the Web environment is a very robust experience for people. So what is the communication you are having, and what are all the pieces that go into it? Because it’s not just about efficiency--it’s really ultimately about a goal that’s related to business metrics.
CMO.com: We talked about the integration of technology into everything, and it’s certainly being integrated into how marketing is done digitally. Do you see any interesting things happening in terms of the technology of marketing?
Neill: I do think social media is a really exciting place for everybody. With regard to that, the way people are choosing to use some of those tools is quite interesting. Because I’m creative, I tend to default to not the back-end tools, but the front-end experiences. One of the things that I love is that there’s this sort of pilot program trial-balloon atmosphere that has just permeated the whole industry. I think that’s a great thing. People should have a lot more fun with it because you’re finding something out every time you do it. And it’s relatively low-cost to find out a lot of really great information.
CMO.com: A lot of people say the whole digital marketing thing has killed the creative side. What’s your take?
Neill: I don’t buy it. I just don’t buy all of that. I think what we have to do is figure out how we manage through the cost thing, and how we keep creative professionals alive. There’s a whole group of people–photographers and filmmakers and graphic artists–who are not making the kind of money they made before, and they have infrastructure costs related to that, so where do they go and how do they adapt? There are all sorts of tangential businesses related to our business.