JWT's consulting division sets new marketing standard

By Published on .

One month ago, I highlighted a challenge to the marketing services industry: Who within it will match wits, skills and insights with the evolving class of "Super-CMOs" becoming increasingly prevalent at client companies?

Super-CMOs were identified in research by Harvard's Gail McGovern and John Quelch, and in a study by the Association of National Advertisers and Booz Allen Hamilton. Instead of just managing vendors to deliver good advertising, they are chief marketing officers who "partner with the CEO in driving corporate growth; direct brand strategy, business development, and innovation; drive the marketing capability agenda and ROI; and are empowered by the CEO to align marketing in the business units and their personnel to the central agenda."

J. Walter Thompson is showing one way agencies can respond. Two-and-a-half years ago, it appointed Robert S. Scalea exec VP-chief strategy officer for North America. Since then, Mr. Scalea, 49, has built a small, integrated internal consulting unit that has learned the hard tasks of adding value to account teams and their clients.

"Forty years ago, agencies owned marketing strategy," says Mr. Scalea. "They abdicated in favor of being qualitative and being creative. Now, they are waking up to the fact that they can't live with that model. "

This model bridges the gap between art and science. It helps client teams with business modeling, pricing strategy, product portfolios, distribution strategy, and new-product development. Many agencies have abandoned these functions, reasoning that they can't compete for talent with high-paying consultancies and investment banks, and that their unmatchable core competence is creativity, anyway. JWT begs to disagree. "We have to be able to compete with what I call `the consult-ification of everything,"' Mr. Scalea said.

Open and energetic, Mr. Scalea is a throwback to the days when advertising was an industry of renaissance men and women. A molecular biology major at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he abjured Ph.D. studies to join a small computer imaging company. When it grew from 19 to 400 employees and went public, he found himself evolving into a marketer, running the functions for three divisions. He left to step onto the fabled Boston advertising merry-go-around, and ended up spending seven years at Hill Holliday, where he created a "marketing sciences" group. Along the way, he met Bob Jeffries, now JWT's CEO, who offered Mr. Scalea a chance to build a similar capability on a grander scale.

In the old days of advertising, grand meant large; there was a time when agencies like Grey had research departments that housed hundreds of people. Today, grand is not about staffing, but in creatively using the profusion of available information. For one client suffering flattening sales of a primary product, Mr. Scalea's group used the client's own voluminous but largely unexamined research to develop a "behavioral pathway" and accurate sales forecasting mode that was able to link sales to marketing activity; optimize the marketing spending and media allocation; and, as he put it, identify the most compelling message that changed mind-set that altered behavior that increased sales and market share.

Such internal consulting roles are not without risks. Account directors fear that staff executives' strategic recommendations might reduce account profitability. Mr. Scalea says the core skill in overcoming such resistance-other than having his own clients-is perseverance.

Randall Rothenberg, an author and longtime journalist, is director of intellectual capital at consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton.

Most Popular
In this article: