With those eight words, Cavallo became an unintentional hero for an ad industry feeling beaten down and disrespected on many fronts.
“It was the dissing of the industry that I think is like a cancer and it not only feeds a client's perspective of the value of advertising, but it feeds the industry's perspective of its self-worth,” said Cavallo, adding that she would do the same thing all over again. “That affects the talent that we're able to attract and the ideas that we come up with.”
Since then, Martin has become somewhat of a beacon for the ad industry. The shop reported the second-best growth year in its 57-year history, posting a 30% revenue increase in 2022, which included 40% organic growth from existing clients and seven new accounts. It lost only Coinbase, which the agency declined to re-pitch.
And in an industry that seems to continuously see agency-of-record opportunities disappear in favor of shorter-term projects, Martin is one of the few shops that has AOR relationships with the majority of its clients.
“We look at projects with a really discerning eye because they always have to be replaced and we certainly don't pitch for projects,” said Cavallo, who is now also global CEO of Interpublic Group of Cos. sibling agency MullenLowe Group. “We're looking to develop relationships with people, because the truth is business ebbs and flows. I think one of the reasons we did so well in a year of COVID was because we had AOR relationships; we didn't have to stop and wait for a brief.”
‘People over brands’
This is part of the agency’s philosophy, “following people over brands,” according to Michael Chapman, Martin’s chief client officer.
“The philosophy has always been to stay in touch with the best marketers in the business and wait for them to be in places that maybe don't always have the best and then go and make something that sets the world on fire,” Chapman said.
Last year the shop fired up agency of record responsibilities for Legal Shield, Royal Caribbean and Santander without having to pitch due to having prior relationships.
“We know who we are and what we stand for, and that leads us to knowing what kind of clients we need to go after,” said Danny Robinson, chief creative officer at Martin. “Once you have those two things … selling [ideas] isn't necessarily the hardest thing.”
The agency’s most notable win came when it was named AOR for Bud Light line extensions including Bud Light Seltzer and zero-calorie Bud Light Next. Since then, the agency added the vodka seltzer brand Nutrl to its remit.
The Bud Light pitch was led by Jerry Hoak, an executive creative director at Martin, according to Cavallo, who said the agency welcomed ideas on the brief from the whole agency and received more than 200 at one point.
“The brief was very specific, but Jerry was like, ‘I think we should give them an appendix that's 100 ideas for 100 days,’” said Cavallo—which is what Martin did.
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Confidence and self-control
Benoit Garbe, Anheuser-Busch InBev’s U.S. chief marketing officer, says the challenge for the brand was the fact that people were confusing its seltzer brands with beer brands. Garbe said what stood out about Martin during the review process was its transparency and “simple” yet “laser-focused” approach to building brands.
“When they met with us they were very transparent and said consumers don’t remember 84% of advertising,” Garbe said. “And they shared their philosophy, which is we need to be very clear on the enemy, which can be a competitor or category, be super sharp on what we stand for, and be crystal clear on what we stand against.”
Another aspect that stood out for Garbe when looking at Martin’s other clients was its ability to balance creativity and strategy and remain consistent in terms of a brand’s message.
“I do believe the biggest challenge [in marketing] is the fragmentation of media and fragmentation of experiences. So the more cohesive you are, the more likely you're going to leave a mark or an imprint in the consumer's mind,” Garbe said. “It’s about being comfortable as a creative to do the same [brand messaging] for the next five years … I think it takes a lot of self-confidence in who you are … and it takes a lot of self-control.”
“Too often there is a quest of what's next, what's trendy and how do I reinvent myself,” Garbe continued. “While it sometimes keeps marketers and agencies excited, often it's not good for the brand and it's not necessarily good for consumers who are not keeping track of who you are as a brand and what you stand for.”
A big point of difference for the CMOs interviewed for this piece is the fact that they are able to quickly reach Cavallo and Robinson when needed.
“The way the relationship is structured is that it's not through a one-way door,” said Damon Burrell, who was named Geico’s CMO last April. “I've worked with other agencies before where you have that one account person and every single thing has to go through that one person. And then there's one person on the client side and everything goes through those two people.”
Cavallo says the agency makes it a point to have members of its executive committee regularly speak to its clients without the agenda of trying to sell them an idea.
“I’ve seen in agency pitches, there's a certain team that shows up, and then the team that you end up with three months later is a completely different group and that's not where the chemistry was established,” Burrell said.
Beyond new business, Martin showcased a breadth of work that stretched beyond the TV spots for which it is known.
To help TIAA highlight the fact that women retire with 30% less than men, which amounts to $1.6 million in potential retirement savings they’re missing out on, Martin enlisted the help of designer Fe Noel to make a 16-foot-long dress made out of $1.6 million in artificial bills that was highlighted during Fashion Week in New York City.