Starcom: ‘Advertising Is An Art-And-Science Industry – And It Always Will Be’

LisaDonohueSMGDevices and hardware will come and go.

“Which is why the future is absolutely about mobility,” said Lisa Donohue, CEO of Publicis Groupe’s Starcom. “Mobility and understanding a consumer’s movements, the decisions they make and why they make them.”

It’s a philosophy Starcom applies to “new establishment” clients like Airbnb and to more “classic” brands like Bank of America and recent client win Visa.

“That’s why we come to a show like Mobile World Congress,” Donohue said. “Marketing is changing and it’s all going to be through the power of mobility.”

Publicis has had some rough times recently with Starcom sister agency Mediavest's triple loss of media buying responsibilities for Walmart, Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble’s North America business. On the other hand, Starcom scooped up Kraft-Heinz, worth roughly $600 million.

At least $25 billion in media spend went into review this summer, a phenomenon that some dubbed “pitchapalooza” or even “reviewmageddon.”

But it’s “all just part of the nature of the beast,” Donohue said. “This is how the industry has always operated: on a pitch basis.”

Donohue sat down with AdExchanger at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

AdExchanger: What’s your perspective on the pitchapalooza phenomenon?

LISA DONOHUE: We ended up in a situation last year that was driven by a pivotal change in media and the role of media, and we did see a lot of pitches going on. Brands are just trying to make sure they have the right partner for the future. But it’s not “reviewmageddon,” the sky is not falling. This is a cyclical business – and it was a rather significant year for pitches – but it’s been driven by the pivotal role that media plays.

What about the in-housing trend? There was a lot of buzz last year around brands moving their marketing in-house, but it’s died down.

There was a knee-jerk reaction around the feeling that advertisers wanted to control their data in this data-driven world and that the best thing to do would be to take it in-house. Then the reality sets in – that taking this function in-house requires a significant investment in talent and capabilities, and that just isn’t their core business. In the end, they would rather outsource that work to agencies.

How has media buying changed between now and, say, five or 10 years ago when, as Omnicom Digital’s CEO Jonathan Nelson wryly pointed out at MWC, media buyers “couldn’t even get arrested”?

What we’ve always talked about doing in marketing and media is reaching the right person in the right place at the right time with the right message – but the reality was that we were still talking about broad target groups.

But now, based on the power of data and through the use of DMPs and DSPs we can pinpoint the right person, and that’s driven the rise in importance of media strategy. Today, we’re doing a good job of defining audience and of finding them. But we still need to get better at sequencing and at serving the right dynamic message. That is still in its nascency.

What about content and creative? Has Starcom’s role expanded to include those functions?

Advertising is an art-and-science industry – and it always will be – and the skill sets, even in a media services company, need to have a wide range. There is the science piece, of course – software engineers to develop platforms and data scientists to really get in there and roll around in the data – because, at the end of the day, data is not a competitive advantage. It’s your algorithms and how you use them that is the competitive advantage.

And on the other side of the equation, you need content specialists, as well. Over time it’s going to become more about content and messaging and less about advertising.

Less push, more pull?

Yes, but it’s a constantly refined pull. It needs to be dynamic and refreshed on a regular basis.

How much does Starcom rely on Facebook and Google vs. the "other guys"?

Obviously, Facebook and Google have been great partners and they’ve proven that scale is still very relevant. But by the same token, there’s plenty else out there that comes from the, if you will, other guys. In this day and age, one of the other guys is as likely to innovate something as anyone.

How do you vet technology partners?

You certainly need to have an approach, but it can’t be one-size-fits-all. One vendor could come in and pitch us on something that might only be relevant for one particular sector or category of client, and then there are the technologies that might have more horizontal offerings that we can scale across assets.

You need to wade through it all and at the same time make sure you’re not just chasing technology because it sounds cool. Is it meeting a fundamental consumer need or changing a fundamental consumer behavior? If the answer is “yes,” that’s what we’re after.

What’s the difference between serving a more traditional client like Kraft-Heinz and a mobile-first client like Airbnb?

The new establishment brands like Airbnb are great because they have the mindset that there is no wall they can’t break through and no hurdle they can’t clear. They’re mostly startups and they move quickly. On the flip side, more traditional marketers, like the CPGs, for example, are looking to be more agile. They feel like they make decisions too slowly and they want to move quicker.

They’re on opposite ends, but in a sense, each is looking to be more like the other. New establishment brands want help with process, to put a little more science around the art, while traditional marketers are looking to be more dynamic in their thinking and actions.

The new establishment brands are also sitting on a ton of data, which they do use toward things like bettering their business and making their platform more easy to use. But they will not necessarily have thought about how that data helps marketing. Then we come along and let them know that all this data they’re sitting on – it’s very, very useful.


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