Hilbert sells Unilever on 'big idea' integrated efforts

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Dan Hilbert is a self-described "media agnostic." But he wants integrated marketing to be something Unilever can believe in and he's not afraid to sacrifice a few sacred cows.

That Mr. Hilbert is playing a role in Unilever's marketing at all is a sign that maybe the cows should be scared. When he became Chicago-based director of integrated marketing at Unilever Home and Personal Care for North America nine months ago, he became a rare entrant at the director level in an organization where promote-from-within has been more typical.

He comes to the newly formed integrated marketing post with a decidedly integrated background, starting his career in the early 1990s as buyer for the now-defunct Caldor mass-merchandise chain. Caldor strived to be the Target of the Northeast but fell victim to too much expansion too fast with too little cash, Mr. Hilbert said. With Caldor in Chapter 11, Mr. Hilbert moved on to the National Football League as director of marketing, handling everything from licensing to commissioning the "Field of Power" ad campaign. He then worked five years in brand management on Rolling Rock beer for Labatt USA, followed by a stint as VP-marketing for the Loews Cineplex theater chain.

Mr. Hilbert's experience in retail, the theater business and sports marketing give him a far more rounded background than the typical marketer at Unilever or other package-goods companies, believes Allison Harmon, marketing communications manager at Unilever.

general view

"It's very much of a general management view I bring," Mr. Hilbert said. "I found in my stint at Labatt USA that traditional marketing really puts the emphasis on expertise in particular areas. But marketers today need to be generalists ... becoming much more general managers of their businesses. You need to ability to move in and out of different channel conversations, different consumer conversations."

His stints in sports and entertainment help him do that, he said. But those jobs haven't inclined Mr. Hilbert to favor sports or entertainment marketing-or any particular channel.

Emphasis on touching every touchpoint rather than building campaigns around big ideas is what Mr. Hilbert believes has given integrated marketing a bad name for many marketers. "Part of my role is to redefine what integrated marketing is," he said. "It's about the big idea. It's about the passion for the creativity. It's less about the analysis of channels and how we execute in the channels."

To drive home that point, Mr. Hilbert has convinced Unilever's brand teams each to pony up several tens of thousands of dollars to reward the ad agency, promo shop or PR firm that comes up with the best integrated idea in 2005. He's also challenging Unilever marketers to make decisions even when the data is less than complete.

going for it

"Pre-testing is [for when] you've never done it before," Mr. Hilbert said. "We're a pretty big company. ...We've done a lot of things before. It's just a matter of sharing [knowledge]. Ultimately we may have to decide that no test is really going to replace a willingness to just say we're going to do it, the courage to say: `We don't know. Let's take a crack at it.' The whole conversation about [return on investment] you find across the industry, even within our organization, needs to be balanced with why we all became marketers."

Mr. Hilbert points to one of Unilever's most successful integrated ideas: Quinn, the Axe mannequin who sprang from a TV commercial originally created by Interpublic Group of Cos.' Lowe Worldwide affiliate in Argentina. Quinn ultimately became a PR icon, too, generating buzz in The New York Post, on Viacom's MTV, on NBC's "Saturday Night Live," even "authoring" an article on Playboy.com.

"The great learning there is not what we did, but what we didn't do, which is control it," he said. "There are some things as a marketer where you have to let go. And it took a lot of courage to do that."


Name: Dan Hilbert

Age: 37

Now: Director-integrated marketing

Who: Former retail buyer, NFL and movie theater marketing executive and beer brand manager who took a new post at Unilever Home and Personal Care last year.

Challenge: "Exorcise the sacred cows, continue to be channel agnostic and understand that the core functions of a marketing plan-research & development, sales and brand [management]- are all equal partners in the planning process."

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