“Marketing Matters” Looks Toward 2015 with MDC Partners, Doner and RedScout

Aired October 1, 2014

Advertising Week in  New York City is an “Opportunity to kick off the new year,” as MDC Partners Chairman and CEO Miles Nadal puts it. With the gathering of marketing & communications leaders in full swing last week, Marketing Matters took the opportunity to speak with Nadal— as well as with Doner Co-CEO and President David Demuth and Managing Director of Redscout San Francisco Ryan Ku—about continuing changes in the advertising industry and the strategies they’ve used to prepare for them.

A paramount concern that all three guests reiterated to hosts Jerry Wind and Catharine Hays was the need for innovation, both in approaches to marketing and in how a brand addresses the people to whom it’s trying to sell a product. Nadal, whose MDC Partners owns a stake in over 80 agencies, detailed a strategy for nurturing innovation from the top: “We absorb the risk ourselves at the parent level of our holding company… Inherently people have a a fear of failure and to suffer short-term pain. What we’ve done is encourage people by asking them for their best ideas, getting them to quantify what success would look like, then investing behind that. If you’re not prepared to do that, people will usually be so mired in short term that they’ll punt… This only happens at the senior level. Leadership comes from the top.”

demuthDeMuth, for his part, mentioned that Doner allocates 5 to 10 percent of its budget to experimenting with innovating new advertising strategies and platform, to “try new things and be opportunistic.” In the case of Doner’s work with Fiat, that involved placing ads in new formats and new locations, such as a series of videos hosted by Funny or Die, a humor website popular among Fiat’s target market of young urbanites.

Ryan KuKu, meanwhile, outlined the “brand innovation” process that Redscout uses when working with clients. In solving for particular problem, Redscout brings to bear the tech sector that surrounds it in San Francisco, and the philosophy of “experience design” that the tech industry has incubated. “We step back and put ourselves in the shoes of our most important stakeholder: Our customer,” Ku said “We try to get into the heads, mind, hearts of the customer, and once we map that consumer journey across time it becomes clear where the problems and opportunities are.”

Also key to each guests’ approach to innovation was the need for different departments within a company to break down organizational silos and work together, sharing both reward and risk, and to escape situations where a department is saying, as Nadal put it “‘I’m not sharing a budget. That’s my budget!’… We’re going to reward everybody who works for the client, even if it’s 2 things that work out of 8; otherwise, people will act out of benevolent self-interest and be territorial.”

Doner, according to DeMuth, has “the capability, within our four walls, to make anything we need quickly and efficiently: Digital, Social, Print, TV,” and works in cross-functional “brand teams” consisting of art directors, creatives, digital experts, and media planners and buyers to orchestrate campaigns across touch points and deliver a  unified message and experience.  “An analytics person and an art director may come from different worlds,” says DeMuth, “but that’s where interesting things happen.”

Collaboration between technical and creative personnel, Ku says, is a key to finding truly innovative solutions. “A ‘technological moonshot’ is not going to solve the problem necessarily. A lot of friction is human-to-human. It can be a customer service or policy innovation… a process, not a gadget. We live in an era where we hear about big data and analysis as a huge narrative. And they’re valid, but there’s still a fundamental customer business relationship that can get pushed to the wayside, and that’s as important as analytics.” Bringing these disparate disciplines together in the same room allows firms to try many possible solutions quickly, a process that Ku refers to as “rapid prototyping,” and which allows adjustments for the increasing rate of change in business. As Ku says “I’ve yet to see a client who said ‘I’d like it slower.'”

Key Takeaways for this episode from Professor Jerry Wind:

-The importance of understanding people, and delivering creative ideas based on this insight;

-The importance of CEOs to be bold and creative;

-The importance of experimentation and an experimental culture, and providing incentives for experimentation;

-The importance or orchestrating a customer experience across all touch points.


This edition of Marketing Matters will be available on Sirius XM On Demand until November 1, 2014. Non-subscribers to Sirius XM can sign up for a free trial here.

The Wharton Future of Advertising Program airs programs monthly on Marketing Matters, a weekly call-in show airing on Wednesdays from 5pm to 7pm on Sirius XM Channel 111, Business Radio powered by Wharton. Listeners can call in during the show at 1-844-WHARTON (1-844-842-7866). Programs will be rebroadcast throughout the month. Full channel information available here: http://businessradio.wharton.upenn.edu/

-Matt Wiegle, WFoA Program Assistant