TBWA believes in marketing orientation rather than just pitch orientation: Laurie Coots

By Ashwini Gangal , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | April 20, 2011
Laurie Coots has been part of the TBWA network from the word go. Twenty seven years later, she is still at the agency, but as chief marketing officer. In a chat with afaqs! at Goafest 2011, Coots spoke about her role at the agency, the upcoming plan for TBWA India, and more.

Laurie Coots has been with TBWA since it was a one-location creative agency in Los Angeles, with just 75 people, almost three decades back. Today, the agency has 285 offices in 77 countries, and over 12,000 people. As the agency grew from a 'California shop' to a global network, Coots role grew with it. In a candid interview with afaqs!, she talks about her role at the agency, plans for TBWA India, the digital wave, and lots more.

Excerpts from the Interview:

afaqs!: Tell us about your designation as chief marketing officer (CMO). We've seen this role on brand marketing teams, but seldom in an agency. Explain your mandate as CMO.

Coots: Yes, CMO is a very unusual term in an agency. I think I was one of the first to get that designation! The purpose of this designation is to ensure that we maintain a marketing orientation, and not a pitch orientation.

My job has three aspects to it. Firstly, I have to figure out what kind of company we need to be; so, I do some of the R&D and product development work. I listen to clients about what their needs are and figure out what kind of agency network we need to be in the future.

Secondly, in order to help our company understand how to 'go to market', I visit far-flung places and help people there understand our 'Disruption' methodology. I want the man in Sri Lanka to be able to tell the IPod story as if he was in the room when Steve Jobs invented it. There should be a level of intimacy with our stories and with the way we work everywhere in the world.

Thirdly, I go out and meet prospective clients. So, it's a very developed pipeline.

Sometimes in the midst of all this, I get involved in calling the shots as far as the strategies with our global pitches go. So, there's a lot of consulting work. As a result of this, we end up being the kind of agency that pitches only 20 per cent of the time instead of 80 per cent of the time, and 80 per cent of our business comes from growing our existing clients. This is far better than chasing every single thing that's loose in the world, which turns out to be a very expensive way to grow.

afaqs!: We've heard the creative side at TBWA explain the agency's 'Disruption' mantra. How does TBWA's CMO define 'Disruption'?

Coots: Disruption is the killer app! The whole idea is that Disruption helps us help companies understand what their core belief is. When I understand my core belief, I know how to act, as do companies. Disruption is similar to a religion or a code. It is a deep-seated thing that's true about you and your company, and it helps us understand that in our clients. Convention in any category is something that gets in your way and needs to be over-turned. Enter Disruption.

afaqs!: What's TBWA India's plans in the days ahead?

Coots: TBWA India already has an excellent management team in place. We have planned three big initiatives for the agency in India.

& #VIDEO2 & #The first initiative is an implementation of a real shopper marketing strategy; this is different from commercial advertising. Shopper marketing understands not only the mindset of the shopper, but also that of the brand and the retailer. This is going to be important in India as the country is going through a huge change in the way people buy things. This has big social implications as the hypermarket is affecting the social fabric of the company.

The second plan is in the area of understanding what 20-somethings think. We're going to replicate a study that was originally conducted in the US. This will enable us to understand which brands -- and the social causes they stand for -- are important to youngsters in India and how their inner values affect their plans in life, the products they purchase and the brands they interact with.

Third on the list is to understand the sweet spot between old India and new India. There's an amazing energy going on here and I can't think of any other country in the world that has this degree of literacy, sophistication of financial services markets and education, and at the same time is still an emerging market! The whole world is going to be scrutinising India in the days ahead -- the country's going to have to get used to the whole world staring at it.

afaqs!: What are the key differences between the typical Indian consumer and the quintessential consumer in the West?

Coots: The main difference is that while Westerners are spenders, Indians are savers. The typical consumer in the US spends whatever money he/she has, and often spends more on credit. The prototypical Indian buyer on the other hand is very practical when it comes to spending habits and tends to think more about the long-term than about the instant gratification they need to get from their money.

The second difference is that despite what their life is like, I don't see or hear Indians complaining. They approach their goals with a sense of optimism and at any given point they focus only on the immediate task at hand.

afaqs!: Every second brand now has a Facebook fan page, and constant Twitter updates seem to be the order of the day. Are we using the digital medium correctly?

Coots: Great question. I am personally and professionally interested in that line where virtual and reality collides. So, using the digital zone to make something happen in the real world and reporting something happening in the real world, digitally, is something I find fascinating. As regards the spurt in online communication, what you're seeing right now is experimentation. Everyone is exploring their options -- Facebook, Twitter, Microsites. Many brands feel they need to be present on this space in order to be 'cool' and considered, but they still haven't looked at it from the perspective of 'brand first'.

afaqs!: By when you do think will the digital media set in fully?

Coots: Right now, digital technology is in the hands of the technologists. Soon, it will move into the hands of brand artists and advertising artists. That's when we'll start to see what the consumers really want. A suggestion for these artists is to recognise that internet users are increasingly accessing the web via their handheld devices. Going forward, the trick for artists is to try and create a brand experience -- via little alerts about the brand/pieces of educative information -- in the palm of someone's hand. Artists are also going to have to think about engaging people who have just a text phone (as opposed to a smart phone).

afaqs!: Given the spurt in the online space, is the role of traditional media diminishing?

Coots: No, not diminishing, but changing. When television grew, radio changed. When the internet came, print/magazines changed. Now, given the growth in the online medium, the only medium that may have a problem is newspapers. Also, the role of magazines might change; magazines that are information-based (as opposed to photo-driven magazines) will probably be seen going digital. We'll start to see different models of subscription, changes in the way things are sold, and there will be a lot more custom publishing. So, one of the things print companies will be asking themselves is -- "What was our purpose to begin with?" Even radio will re-invent itself soon. In fact, with the opportunities of internet radio, the models of radio will be different, but the medium will surely continue to exist.

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