In an exclusive interview with Brand Equity, FCB’s global chief executive officer Carter Murray shares his views on creativity, culture and clients…
“I hate the word ‘vision’. I always say that if you have ‘vision’ you need to go to the eye doctor,” FCB’s global chief executive officer, Carter Murray states about thirty minutes into an exclusive interview with Brand Equity. Yet, Murray ends up using ‘vision’ at least twice in the second-half of our chat. A professional hazard, perhaps.
What the Interpublic Group-owned FCB has instead is “a clear idea” of where the company wants to go globally. A passionate advocate of diversity at work and in the work, Murray, who we once dubbed ‘The Feminist CEO’, says, “We want to be a creative people-led organization, where it’s all about the creative product and about believing that’s an advantage for our clients.”
Six years ago Murray took charge of one of the world’s oldest ad agencies and put in place a leadership team that’s helped turnaround FCB, which was far from the creative force it is today. FCB’s partnered one of the most celebrated marketers in recent times – Burger King, and the agency even bagged a Grand Prix at Cannes Lions 2019 for ‘The Whopper Detour’ that re-directed McDonald’s customers to the nearest Burger King.
Murray cannot overstate the importance of attracting and retaining the right kind of people. Only “uber talented alpha people who aren’t arseholes” may apply; “there are some individuals who have to be smartest person in the room and who have to charge the client. They can do very well at other ad agencies, but they don’t play well here. Across the network we have the best of the best who want to conquer the world, but they’ll do it in a nice way that’s thoughtful of others.”
In June this year, FCB resigned the Nivea account, a business that represented 1% of the agency’s global revenue. News reports stated that it was over alleged homophobic remarks made by one of the client’s representatives. According to reports, the Beiersdorf-owned brand’s executive rejected the idea of two men’s hands touching in an ad and said, “We don’t do gay at Nivea.”
When we asked Murray to shed light on the break-up he refused to comment for legal reasons. However, he shares his perspective on client-agency relationships today, in a broader sense. “All companies want to show growth, but there are some holding companies that are very aggressively trying to win new business and taking anything that comes. For a culture and agency to succeed and to attract the right type of clients and help them grow the right way, you need to know who you are and who you are not. There are many reasons why relationships break down.
Traditionally, it seemed to be all the clients making the decisions, I think that’s wrong. As an agency you want to be working with clients that have the same point of view on what great creative is and have the same value system and business ambitions.”
To have all of those factors aligned with all clients is not always possible, he admits. “But we can’t say “you matter, diversity matters, great creative work matters, us being paid fairly for what we do matters,” and then have our employees see in any of those areas we’re not holding our ground.”
Brand Equity Q&A With Murray
How far along are you in the journey of FCB’s transformation?
I remember Rohit (FCB Group India CEO & chairman) saying at our global meet in India last year that “I never want to hear Carter using the word ‘fuddy-duddy’ again.” That was the brief to everyone – the anti-fuddy-duddy agency. (Laughs)
FCB is a completely different company from six years ago. The transformation that has happened in India has also happened in other parts of the world. There are whole global ad agencies that are disappearing or being merged, it’s all doom and gloom, and we’re probably having one of the best years as a company in terms of business and creativity.
But we have to be cautious. In our business if you are ever too confident or arrogant, you get kicked in the teeth. It is, however, important to celebrate the growth. At Cannes this year we were voted one of the top three networks in the world. It’s what we won for that I’m most proud of – five Grand Prixs, for big clients, in data, in Titanium.
Between McCann and FCB (both IPG-owned companies,) together we won more Grand Prixs than all the other holding companies combined. Which is pretty cool. As a culture and a company we have clear sense of who we are, the type of clients we want to work with and the type of work we want to do.
How is the Indian market faring?
India is really the shining star among the old BRIC markets. I know that there are some political and economic concerns, but in the bigger perspective of the world, India is a beacon of hope for the business world.
I want us to be the most creative agency in India. Creativity is why clients come to us; our performance at Cannes Lions, the thought leadership of Swati Bhattacharya and Robby Mathew (Interface), we’ve got some really great talent.
There’s unlocked potential in creativity for this market and for India to play more on a global stage creatively. I was always surprised that from a digital perspective India was not on the forefront as I thought it was going to be. I want FCB to be at the forefront of digital and experiential going into the next 4-5 years.
What’s your view on the state of the advertising industry today? Is there a crisis of creativity and confidence?
There’s never been a more exciting time to be in advertising. The biggest irony is a lot of people in advertising seem to be wanting to get out of advertising. But everyone who is not in advertising is trying to get into advertising. Like the consultants and the clients in-house. There’s a weird thing going on.
The power of applying creativity to a business problem is where clients get an exponential return. Look at Whopper Detour. Burger King spent 4-5 years doing traditional cost acquisition for people to get their mobile apps. Then they applied radical creativity and in just four months they got the same return.
Creativity is the competitive advantage.
Ad agencies did too much of a gut check reaction – “we are a technology company,” “we are a data company.” We are not! What makes us different is applying our creative lens in strategy, in data, on technology, on business problems. And if we lose that creativity we become commoditized.
Today a lot of legacy agencies are feeling the pinch and holding companies are going through transformations. How is IPG placed?
What I love about IPG is that they (Michael Roth and senior management) believe in cultures and open architecture. The company has invested in organic growth strategy of letting the cultures thrive and grow, and having clear leadership. People who have skin in the game, people who every day fight passionately for the culture. The success of Mediabrands, of McCann, of RGA and FCB and MRM (they are growing like gangbusters,) the way they’ve built the company has allowed for sustainable success and organic growth. I’ve worked at two other holding companies where it’s a very different approach. With this idea of smashing companies together, the culture, as it appears to me, comes second. And I think there’s a price to pay for that.
Is the CMO a dying breed? What’s your view on the changing role of the Chief Marketing Officer?
In the C-suite, the CMO role is getting more important because tech and data allows marketing to be not just about brand metrics but about sales and trade marketing. You’re seeing now a proliferation of the needs of the CMO. The tech, the data, the platform, the operations, there’s a bigger remit for CMOs. Now, clients are reacting in two ways.
First, they are giving them more complicated titles. But the other thing that’s happening, especially in North America, instead of having two or three people under the CMO, they are now creating more verticals. So you have the CMO at the top and nobody right underneath him. Then you have a chief data officer, a chief tech officer, a chief experience officer, a chief transformation officer, the titles may be different. You’re getting less and less people that have the experience to be the CMO across all disciplines, because you’d never make your head of data the CMO.
There’s a circuit of CMOs in America that are loving it because they’re rotating and getting paid more and more. But in 5-10 years-time, there’s going to be real vacuum of brilliant marketers that can fill that role. You are getting deeper expertise, but you are lacking those generalists who can oversee all of it.
On company culture: The hardest thing to do in a big organization is to create a culture of generosity. Where people think “if you are successful, I’m successful.”
On people: The proof is in the pudding, but the cooking starts with brilliant people.
Article originally appeared in The Economic Times: https://brandequity.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/advertising/building-the-anti-fuddy-duddy-agency-carter-murray-on-fcbs-transformation/71922370