Young Marketers on Why Flying Solo Doesn't Work

Industry Achievers Share Insights on Keys to Successful Marketing

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The star power of the "Mad Men" days of advertising is long gone, and today's ad practitioners, pushed by the fragmentation of media, the speed of digital, a deluge of data and a need for diversity, are "probably the most collaborative generation of marketers in history."

That was the consensus of six inductees into the American Advertising Federation's 2014 Advertising Hall of Achievement, which honors those 40 and under. "On your own you'll never get there," said Ross Martin, exec VP-marketing strategy and engagement of Viacom Media Networks, when I interviewed the 2014 honorees (with the exception of Bozoma Saint John, head of marketing for Beats Music, who couldn't make it).

Ross Martin
Ross Martin

"Advertising is a team sport," said Lauren Connolly, exec VP-executive creative director at BBDO, New York. "It takes a team of very brilliant people to solve serious issues like, do M&Ms wear underwear? And it really takes that teamwork, it takes that collective, it takes the spirit of everyone together, focused on trying to make the best creative product. And that relentless pursuit of editing, revising and continuing to push isn't an individual endeavor."

And diversity plays "the most important" part of team building, Ross added. "A diversity of perspectives, especially people from all walks of life who are approaching a business opportunity from directions that might surprise you."

Bringing social responsibility into the marketing mix is "table stakes," as he put it. "You can't be in business today and expect consumers to pay attention or care or purchase your products if you're not giving back in some way."

I asked the group how they keep their people involved and motivated. Elias Plishner, executive VP-worldwide digital marketing at Sony Pictures Entertainment, said the most important thing that motivates people "is to see you passionate and authentic, and supportive and driven. I think teams know when you're faking it, and when you're committed and have purpose and integrity."

He continued: "Digital has created a really intense fragmentation and the pace is punishing, and it's hard to sustain motivation, and I think teams struggle with long-term motivation today, when one project moves into the next into the next into the next."

For Elias it's all about engagement. "Creativity is good, but if it doesn't create engagement with our consumers, it's completely useless to us. So for engagement, we look at likes, shares, comments, retweets, reblogs, anything that generates social noise. And if it's creative enough and it's engaging enough, those things happen as a result."

He added that the days of coming up with one "mind-blowing" creative idea are over. "Today we'd rather have hundreds of small lightweight campaigns that are all used to generate engagement, word-of-mouth. We used to build these amazing large websites for our movies, and now we're scaling back, and instead we're building a lot of lightweight content that we hope will do all those little things."

Erika Nardini, CMO of AOL Advertising at the time of our interview (she has since stepped down), reiterated that it's not about one story anymore. "That's the change. It used to be a finite number of stories. Now it can be hundreds, and in the future it will be millions of stories. Automation will help match the right story with the right person, but the idea of meeting creativity in heart and emotion with power, whether you want someone to see a movie or buy a product, or to give to a cause, is just exploding."

I asked Erika if marketers are over-enamored of data. She answered it's what you do with the data that matters -- "how data yields intelligence. And what I'm really passionate about is when you put data with a brilliant piece of copy or an image that moves you. That's what marketing is."

Sarah Hofstetter, CEO of 360i digital ad agency, credits the "tough love" she brings to being a mom with motivating her troops at work. "It's a little tough to bring that mom-ness into work, but the part about being a mom that applies the most is tough love. My kids know that I love them, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to give them a hard time about certain things. And when I think about the folks that work with me and the people I work with, there's a lot of tough love, but that toughness is always balanced with love."

Sarah's other work-shaper has been journalism. "I was a journalism student in college, and I think that really has helped me tell better stories, more sustained stories, write tighter headlines and, as people say, get to the freaking point."

Jennifer Warren, senior VP and CMO of RadioShack, talked about how the company is using Weird Al Yankovic in its ads, and she admitted that she was a little nervous about the choice of him representing the brand. But so far, she said, RadioShack has received a "really positive response."

I asked her why marketers weren't more disruptive. "I think it's risky to be disruptive. ... With disruption comes a lot of risk, so my guess is it's just people being afraid to make the wrong decision."

But she added that disruption is necessary to be successful, "because you need tension points. If there's no tension, then it's boring, and then nobody pays attention."

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