Speros pushes return to basics

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Jim Speros, chief marketing officer of accounting firm Ernst & Young, is the new chairman of the Association of National Advertisers, a trade association representing more than 300 advertisers and marketers. At a time when the industry faces significant economic challenges, Speros says marketers need to get back to basics and focus on creating superior ideas and great campaigns. He also urges companies to invest in marketing so they’ll be better positioned when there is a recovery. BtoB recently talked to Speros about his vision for the association and the marketing industry.

BtoB: Given the economy, how should companies be spending their marketing dollars?

Speros: One of the things I would tell all companies is not to take the throttle off the marketing pedal. What companies often do during difficult economic times is to pull back on their marketing expenditures, which is exactly the wrong thing to do.

Now is the time to build our brands, to strengthen them, nurture them and invest in them. Because so many companies pull back during difficult times like this, this is the time where if you do invest, when the economy does in fact turn around, you should come out of it even stronger.

BtoB: What will Ernst & Young’s marketing budget look like in 2003?

Speros: We’ll continue to market aggressively. I expect we’ll spend at the same level in 2003 as we have been. I can’t divulge any specific amounts for competitive reasons.

BtoB: Do you expect to see a recovery in ad spending next year?

Speros: We’re seeing some rebound in network TV. Print continues to have a difficult time. Some sectors, such as telecom and IT, are continuing to experience tremendous problems.

Probably by mid-2003, I expect to see greater investment in the marketplace overall. A lot depends on what happens with a war in Iraq. That could certainly put a huge damper on the economy and spending—especially on discretionary spending.

BtoB: What are your goals as chairman of the ANA?

Speros: One of the key goals that I have is to focus on creativity and innovation in building great marketing programs.

What has occurred over the past number of years, because of management changes and so on, is that we’ve lost the discipline of building great and lasting campaigns.

BtoB: How do you define "great and lasting campaigns"?

Speros: If you look at some of the great campaigns that have existed over the past 20 years or so—GE’s "We bring good things to life," the "Marlboro Man," AT&T’s "Reach out and touch someone"—if we look at some of the hallmarks of excellence in advertising, I think we’ve lost some of that. I don’t think we’ve lived up to those standards. It doesn’t mean that we haven’t created great individual commercials, but I think we’re losing the discipline of creating campaigns.

BtoB: What can you do as an organization to help drive this goal?

Speros: I think we need to refocus on the fundamentals of what really is a superior idea and look at new and innovative ways to communicate those ideas through all communications disciplines—not just advertising alone, but by taking a much more holistic view of the entire marketing mix.

For example, we just held a senior marketers’ roundtable at my offices. We had some 35 very senior marketers attend the session to discuss branding, branding approaches, measuring, managing and enhancing brands, and looking at how we could better understand customers.

I also want to take a hard look at a number of the events and conferences we have to see if we can inject more around the ideas of innovation and creativity.

BtoB: Does this vision apply to business-to-business marketers?

Speros: When you look at the business-to-business cycle, it’s a more complex process than in the traditional consumer environment. Also, the purchases often tend to be more significant.

If you’re buying a major engagement from a professional services firm or buying a very expensive piece of equipment, you’re not going to be swayed by a single ad itself. The role of communications paves the way for understanding, awareness, consideration and so on to begin a dialogue with customers and prospects.

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