Direct marketing firms have long considered themselves leaders in using data and analytics to understand their customers. However, many have recently bolstered their creative practices by hiring or promoting staffers to top executive-level creative positions.
“It’s not enough just to have this great information,” said David Williams, CEO of Merkle. “The way to monetize that information is to have a bigger impact on a consumer and to change [customer] behavior in a positive way. So, what we were finding is that to make the linkages of intelligence to media creation, we needed a strong executive presence.”
Merkle recently hired Mark Weninger as its first chief creative officer. Before joining the agency, Weninger was managing partner and chief creative officer of the Minneapolis office of OgilvyOne Worldwide. Previously he served as executive creative director at Wunderman/Young & Rubicam, New York. His portfolio shows off work for British Airways, General Electric, FedEx and Starwood Hotels.
For some direct shops, the concept of bolstering their creative services isn’t new. Many agencies – large and small – have included creative services as part of their offerings for years. However, more agencies are placing a higher value on recruiting and retaining top creative executives than they had in the past.
Jerry Bernhart, principal and owner of Bernhart Associates Executive Search, said he was surprised the demand for creatives at direct agencies didn’t happen sooner.
“I think it’s smart what they doing. Today, it’s all about creating customer experience,” he said. He added that at times last year, recruiting creative professionals dominated his schedule. He expects that to continue.
In recent months, companies known primarily for database marketing either recruited or elevated top creative staff members who had built their reputations at world class creative and brand agencies.
Holliston, MA-based Wilde Agency named Nancy Harhut its new chief creative officer in January. She arrived with more than 20 years of experience and had honed her senior creative management skills at Hill Holliday, Mullen and Bronner (now Digitas).
In March, Todd Dexter was promoted to VP of US creative at Carlson Marketing. He joined Carlson in 2006 after building his portfolio at Campbell Mithun Advertising and Martin/Williams.
“I’ve seen in recent years an increasing blurring of the lines — an accelerated convergence of marketing concepts, methods and technologies in addressing complex customer challenges,” said Merkle’s Weninger. “The traditionally separate domains of agencies, consultancies and [service providers] have grown closer together, and these kinds of companies now find themselves vying fiercely for the same client engagements.”
Not all agency executives are convinced the trend is a positive one for the direct industry. Michael Darviche, CMO of Acxiom, said that integrating traditional ad agency and direct or digital service provider specialties is a bad idea. He said his company will reinforce its data, technology and other areas of target marketing instead.
“My feeling is that the service providers are excellent in areas that are just as important – audience management, data and analytics,” he said. “This drives personalization, secure processing, privacy, protection, and overall, being a partner to the client.”