Corey Mitchell, the new president of creative agency Arnold Worldwide, believes company culture drives innovation and success. That’s why he’ll be focusing on talent, and ensuring that Arnold’s culture makes it easy for talent to succeed.
Additionally, Mitchell is bullish on the role of agencies during the next five years. Agency disintermediation doesn't concern him; instead, he believes truly great creative agencies such as Havas subsidiary Arnold, whose clients include Volvo, Ocean Spray, Jack Daniel's, and PepsiMAX, are more valued today than ever before.
In an exclusive interview with CMO.com, Mitchell talks about his new gig, what he hopes to achieve, and some of the challenges plaguing the agency business.
CMO.com: You just started at Arnold. What’s your mandate? And talk about where you’ve been before and what you did.
Mitchell: The reason I said yes to this job as fast as I did—and it did happen rather quickly—is because I liked what was going on. My mandate is to ensure that I sustain that for a long time. One of the biggest challenges for agencies is maintaining a sustainable environment and fostering a culture for our people that enables them to create exceptionally effective brand experiences for clients—experiences that stand out and cut through the clutter, and work seamlessly across this fragmented earned, owned, paid, and shared media landscape.
I’ve led four great creative companies and started two from scratch. I’ve worked around the world across Asia-Pacific, Europe, Middle East, Africa, and North America. I’ve done that across nearly all communication disciplines. I’m known for championing effective truly creative work, driving organic growth across existing clients, and winning high-profile and large-scale clients.
CMO.com: What’s on your list of priorities for the new job? What will you do first?
Mitchell: First, [I want] to understand our clients and their businesses and where I can provide immediate direction and help for those brands. Second to that, I want to ensure our brand story is as magnetic and as compelling as our clients’ brand stories. Fast-forward two to three months from now, and I will be focusing on how I can make sure talent is thriving and respected, and clear on their development. I want them to have very clear expectations and be at their best.
Sophisticated management for talent is imperative. A lot of agencies claim that talent is their most important asset, and that's, of course, true. But the truth is that agencies oftentimes don’t do a good job of managing, developing, and providing new opportunities for that talent.
I’ll also be focusing on driving product development. That means a frictionless environment, where we can conceive and produce a great creative product and brand experience and orchestrate it faster. We do have a great plan. But 90 percent of business success is in execution. So execution will be everything–the ball game.
CMO.com: What’s the biggest challenge agencies face today?
Mitchell: Agencies face many challenges, but no more than any other business. The challenge is dealing with the constant state of change. You need to be good at that. Making sure we have the culture that thrives on that is what keeps me up at night. Our culture plays a big role in enabling us to be flexible, agile, responsive, and smart, reacting to change. There could be a new social platform in six months, or six new ways to harness Google+, and we need to be ready.
CMO.com: What’s your take on this idea of agency disintermediation?
Mitchell: It’s not a big deal. Yes, you need to be aware. And there may be some disintermediation with regard to very tactical executions of a plan, but what’s fundamental is that agencies—the good ones that provide great content and orchestrate it really well—have always been valued and are more valued today than ever before.
CMO.com: In your opinion, what’s the most underused digital channel?
Mitchell: Generally speaking, digital channels will continue to be utilized better and better, and continue to pull media dollars from static media because there are real returns to be tracked and attributed. But mobile is currently the most underutilized. There are attribution problems, so advertisers aren’t putting nearly enough money into it in spite of its growth in advertising. But mobile will work and will be utilized more.
I’m excited by the intersection of social, local, and mobile and how that becomes a real-time brand experience of extraordinary value for people and brands. Beyond mobile, social is utilized well today, but its utilization is not as sophisticated as it will become.
CMO.com: Where can brand CMOs can up their game?
Mitchell: The pressure is exceptionally high for CMOs, and I have great empathy for that. It’s important for CMOs to keep fundamentals in mind. They need to approach everything they are doing with a business intent and strategy in mind. They have to articulate that same strategy and business intent through the brand experience. A lot of times CMOs get caught up with that shiny object. If you keep the brand experience in mind, and keep that strategy in mind, then you’ll find success in the role.
CMO.com: What’s your take on the banner ad? Is it dead?
Mitchell: No, it is not. Like anything, it is a start to a brand experience, and it is critical because of that. There are billions spent on banners; we just need to all do a better job at making it part of the experience, rather than just a resizing of campaign assets. Could I also just add—this might sound a little creepy—I love retargeting. I love that they know that I have been somewhere. I like that they care.
CMO.com: What’s your advice to CMOs?
Mitchell: The CMOs role is changing. My advice is to inspire their marketers. Inspire me and my team. We love brands and creating valuable brand experiences and do our best work when working with great CMO partners. That’s a critical part of their job—to inspire everyone to reach for the stars, the potential. Their job is becoming more like a head of a studio, where they work with great content creating talent and great content companies. They need to talk about what's possible, not just what’s expected, and find opportunities to go beyond incremental growth and be a real committed partner through it—as long as the partner is up to the task. If they’re not, cut bait and move along. There is room for constructive failure, for learning but not for mediocrity. The business, brand, and media landscape is much too competitive to merely strive for average.
CMO.com: What are the new expectations for the modern CMO?
Mitchell: Some CMOs of the past can be siloed, in one background. Modern CMOs have worked in digital marketing, customer experience, shopper marketing, traditional advertising, and so on. They have a diverse background.
Table stakes for a successful brand has always been an integrated marketing approach, and that’s not easy if you’re a CMO who has worked in one space for 20 years. Having a diverse experience has helped me work more fluidly and more effectively. I like CMOs to have and be passionate about a similar diversity.
CMO.com: If you’re hiring someone new, what’s most important to you?
Mitchell: The resume and skills are table stakes. Extraordinary specialist abilities and attitude are most important to me. Those two in harmony is what I look for. Obviously personality needs to be a culture fit. Intuition and character are critically important. Our clients need that from us. They need grit in their partners—grit to stay the course through the most challenging of circumstances.
CMO.com: What’s the one thing you wish you knew when you first started in this industry that you know now?
Mitchell: I started in this industry when I was 18, and I wish I would have moved to New York then. There’s such a huge client base on the East Coast, and such diverse talent and energy. I would tell my 18-year-old self, “Go there now.”
CMO.com: What’s the role of the creative agency in the next five years?
Mitchell: To me, the importance of creative agencies is like Moore’s Law, increasing year-on-year as we become more connected and more fragmented. That’s what gets me up in the morning. As it becomes clearer that effective content (anything between you and your customers, i.e., video, packaging, tweets, posts, banners, print, mail, blogs, platforms, retail, posters–whatever is right) and its orchestration is the most critical aspect of a brand communication experience, the best creative agencies will embrace this and, in doing so, have a huge opportunity—more than ever before. Their role is to embrace this responsibility and lead brand content marketing in a landscape where we will very soon stop using the word digital. Millennials already have.