MEC's Marla Kaplowitz: How to Generate Great Ideas in Media

Strategies Need Both Deliberate Processes and Unstructured Time

By Published on .

In today's installment of Basics, our weekly series of quick conversations with media leaders about how to succeed, MEC North America CEO Marla Kaplowitz reveals how to cultivate great ideas -- such as MEC and BBDO Canada's Rotisserie Chicken Channel for Swiss Chalet.

Marla Kaplowitz was promoted to CEO for North America last fall.
Marla Kaplowitz was promoted to CEO for North America last fall.

Advertising Age: Where do great media strategies come from?

Marla Kaplowitz: Everyone has their own source of inspiration for creativity. Sometimes I have to walk away from the office. I love the MOMA design store and the MOMA catalog to look at objects that are askew or different, and it gets me to look differently at problems. When we are trying to come up with an idea for a client, we bring people from different disciplines together at MEC.

Ad Age : How do they then "make the ideas?"

Ms. Kaplowitz: It could be everything from what we call "blockage buster," which is having people focus on the biggest barrier your brand has to achieving success and then solving that . It could be "brainwalking," which is having people walk around and brain dump ideas based on words, stimuli.

Ad Age : So if I were a fly on the wall in MEC's offices I might see your employees walking around a conference room as you word associate?

Ms. Kaplowitz: Absolutely. It can be me or other partners, and sometimes we bring the client in. We have a process called "Navigator" for developing strategies, and it's three steps. The first is "discover" -- what is the business challenge and the consumer challenge and what work have we done to unlock a compelling insight? Then we move into the "create" stage, where we build and generate ideas small and large, but we're generally looking for big ideas. Then, we move into "measure," where we identify KPIs (key performance indicators) and make sure we can measure them.

Ad Age : How long does Navigator take?

Ms. Kaplowitz: It can take one month. It can take three months. It depends on whether you need to do proprietary research. We have something we do called "DigiFaces," where we gather consumers and focus on a set of questions and hypotheses and put together a community, get them to blog, talk about the issue. That's where we can get the richest insight, but you need a few weeks for that to germinate and flow.

Ad Age : What are some of the insights that have come out of that ?

Ms. Kaplowitz: For our client Swiss Chalet in Canada we were challenged to find a unique and contemporary way to celebrate its famous rotisserie chicken. We asked questions like, "What makes people hungry?" and "What makes eating enjoyable?" and the answer is people eat not just with their mouths but with their eyes. We started thinking about great-looking food, and then the sort of fireside TV channels like the yule log played on Christmas, and we said, "Why not do that with a rotisserie chicken channel?"

There was a deal done with Rogers Cable and we got an entire cable channel for several weeks, in 2011, and had people tuning in for six minutes at a time on average. They could get promo codes and coupons for chicken, and it went on to win a Lion at The Cannes Ad Festival last year, and that was all based on an insight.

Ad Age : Once you develop the insight, what's next?

Ms. Kaplowitz: The strategy and the platform is next, and you want to make sure to create something that is true to the brand. So you have to go back to your checklist and your key criteria. That could be everything from: Is this a big idea? Will it deliver at scale? Is it expensive or affordable? Will it deliver measurable goals? Can we execute against it? This is how you have discipline and rigor behind the idea generation.

Ad Age : What advice would you give to up-and-coming media planners on generating great ideas?

Ms. Kaplowitz: You can't sit at your desk and stare at a screen all day. Go for a walk, go to the museum, have a conversation over lunch, read your Twitter feed, go to a yoga class -- whatever opens your mind so you can come up with a big idea.

Most Popular
In this article: