Commentary

Venice Festival: What Do Clients Want?

VENICE--What do clients want? Everything. And a lot of it.

One of the more anticipated discussions -- the Global Client Debate -- of the Venice Festival of Media brought some interesting insights and calls for change from media practitioners sitting in the enclosed auditorium of the Palazzo del Cinema.

First, one caveat; it really wasn't a discussion. The discussion part was cut off because of time-management problems. But it was a wake-up call that inspired thought and retrospection.

Laura Klauberg of Unilever was first to take the stage, demonstrating through well-recognized work (Dove's "Real Women" campaign) why Unilever earned the title of Digital Marketer of the Year (Ad Age). Laura stressed the importance of taking risks and acceptance of failure. Not everyone can "hit a home run first time at bat," she said. The takeaway for me is that baby steps are, well, for babies. Let's take some aggressive leaps with eyes wide open, acknowledge that to change the game is as much about taking risks, as it is re-writing the rules.

Bernhard Glock of P&G took on the voice of social responsibility, sharing with us Tide's "Loads of Love" campaign. It was both a moving and awakening tribute to the human spirit and corporate responsibility. And while we in the audience have the privilege to be here in beautiful Venice drinking in the views of the Grand Canal, there are others who are inspired just to have clean water.

With a quick gear change, he also dropped a word of caution: If you can't contribute to the overall marketing communications process that is both valuable and collaborative, "you won't be invited back", said Glock. These words thundered through my mind over and over. Media professionals fought for years for a seat at the boardroom table.

Now that we have the invitation, are we consistently providing value and actively leading the discussions that earned us this seat? Or are we just keeping it warm for the next contender who is more hungry? My belief: stay hungry. It's just as powerful a motivator as the possibility of not getting the second invitation. And this is a risk we don't want to take.

Closing out the "debate" was Pio Schunker of the Coca-Cola Co. and Sital Banerjee of Philips. First, Pio opened with the Coke Zero product launch case study. (If you haven't seen the commercials, do. It provides a rare lens into Coke's corporate culture and is more telling than any annual report.)

He also used an analogy that I will borrow: "matching luggage" referring to marketing plans where the same creative product is simply repackaged for multiple media outlets. Just because the marketing message lives in multiple outlets, doesn't make it integrated. "Matching" yes, but not integrated. And finally, Sital called for agencies to sufficiently train young media folks to understand basics of the craft. Not having these basics is a "criminal offense."

It boils down to leadership. To lead is to take risks. To lead is to inspire and innovate. To lead is to listen and make decisions unapologetically. And clients look to their partners to do this. That's what clients want, everything. They demand it, and deserve it. For the media professional who's sitting in that seat: hold 'em to it, protect it, own it.

To do anything less is suicide.

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