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Creativity has to be a means to an end: Carter Murray

Interview with Worldwide CEO, FCB

Devina Joshi 

Carter Murray
Carter Murray

Technology should be used not to serve creativity but to work with creativity to solve a client brief, otherwise it's self-serving, Carter Murray tells Devina Joshi

It is perceived that FCB's strongest work and resources are concentrated in North America, with weaknesses in emerging markets. How do you propose to improve the focus on Greater China and India?

We're very proud of our people and what we do in North America. But that perception is categorically not correct. Take our track record at Cannes last year as a benchmark. We won a Grand Prix in the mobile category from our agency in Brazil - one of our key emerging markets. We won a gold for Coca-Cola in South Africa. FCB New Zealand was voted two years ago as one of the top 30 ad agencies in the world. We have a breath of talent across the network. Like all networks, we need to be stronger in some places and maintain strength in others. We are very strong in the United States for sure but we are proud of many of our offices around the world. I wouldn't hesitate to put any of those teams in a global pitch… including the India team.

From a global perspective, the BRIC markets are always talked about as a priority. We have very different plans for India and China. In India, we have scale and a stable team that has been here for a long time with a very large roster of clients - we are among the top three agencies here by size. We want to do more of what we have been doing, and never be satisfied.

In China, we're going through more of a reinvention. I hired Ed (Edward) Bell, one of the top strategists at Ogilvy, to be our CEO for China. He speaks fluent Mandarin and Cantonese, and has worked in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. We have started getting invited to more pitches, while more assignments are being won. With the new leadership in place, FCB China is in the process of defining what the agency wants to stand for, whereas FCB in India has been in a leadership position since a while; the culture is clear. Both are dynamic markets for us, but they are in different stages of development.

FCB is said to have a greater number of local clients as opposed to the much coveted global alignments which other networks boast of. What are the strengths and weaknesses of having such a business model?
I think it is a massive strength. I could not have recruited an Ed Bell to run China if we didn't have an origination, local archetype agency. A lot of local agencies (of networks) have been reduced to adaptation roles. The benefit we have of not being dominated by global multinational clients is that we have a lot of origination, which in turn means more responsibility and opportunity to break ground creatively. I love the fact that we're strong locally; I think it is the right way to do it.

Having said that, we do want global clients, and we have some we're proud of. Our orientation gives us the opportunity to go to global clients with a different story from other networks that are built around centralisation and adaptation. All global clients want strong local insights and people on the ground. We have the capabilities to do global work but when we are meeting clients, we tell them about our local strengths. It is a competitive advantage.

What is the biggest paradigm shift which marketing professionals have to accept if they are to succeed in the age of digitally integrated global markets?
I think it's easy to think of what needs to change; it is harder to think of what needs to remain the same. And these would be - it is very important to keep a creative culture. Clients come to us for creative solutions to their business problems. A lot of times, clients hire strategic and creative people in-house. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. So whatever happens with technology, digital, with people's lives or media, you need to have a creative team that works in a creative environment to address your business problems. That's why clients come to us.

I don't have all the answers and I don't believe anyone else does. But if the client feels he has the smartest, most creative people in the room with the hungriest mindset - not arrogant, but humble, hardworking and collaborative people - then I think we come up with interesting solutions. Technology, when used in the right way, can help us help our clients get those exponential returns on their marketing investment. When we're at our best, we use technology not to serve itself, not even to serve creativity, but to work with creativity to solve a client brief. Otherwise it is self-serving.

What is social media's purpose in the grand scheme of things? Could you please give examples of recent social media campaigns you have managed?
Social media is clearly an area that one needs to pay interest to. Working on its exact role still has some way to go for marketing. There are some clients that dive into it head-on, and some that are deliberately avoiding it. Martin Sorrell (chief executive officer of WPP Group) said a few years ago that it is a PR vehicle… it's an interesting point of view. If you speak to Facebook, they'll tell you it is mass one-to-one marketing that every client has to do. So this has a lot of different points of view on it. I don't think that social media today is the be-all and end-all of marketing; we're all still trying to work out its exact place in the marketing mix. I think as an awareness vehicle it can be effective. I recently read in the news in India that a marketer is very happy as he got 1.5 million views on YouTube. And then, you remember that India has 1.25 billion people, and you go, "that's not so impressive", even if you rule out the people below poverty line.

I see an important role for social media, but I don't think one can dive off the deep end and take one's eye off all other marketing activities. The Oreo 'Daily Twist' campaign that we did two years ago in the US to celebrate the event of the day, was a huge hit. Or take the work we did in Brazil for the CNA language school, where we used technology to connect people wanting to learn English in Brazil to people in retirement homes to teach English to them. It was a viral sensation.

Scam ads are notorious in the ad industry. Does a showcase of creativity really help an agency improve its image in today's competitive environment?
I don't believe in scam. It distracts you from the main business and doesn't really help in achieving new business, either. I do believe every agency should dedicate five or 10 per cent of their creative time focusing on innovation - on taking new technologies and new thinking to try and address client problems and break new ground.

If you look at award shows, it is very clear when entries win, whether they are for a real problem of a real client, or is it something an agency is doing to feel better. It is the award that is given for genuine creativity for a client's business problem that transform an agency. If you look at Fallon's 'Balls' campaign for Sony Bravia from a decade ago… it transformed Fallon. It was not a commercial for the window washers of Hyde Park in London; it was for a big client on a big assignment with a big, new creative idea. Creativity has to be a means to an end.

  • Carter Murray took the reins of FCB as Worldwide CEO in September, 2013. Prior to this, Murray has also worked as president and CEO of Y&R Advertising North America and chief marketing officer at Publicis Worldwide, Paris
  • A Duke University graduate, Murray began his advertising career at Leo Burnett in Chicago as a Philip Morris account executive
  • During his tenure, he has partnered brands like Nestle, Kraft, P&G, Hilton, Land Rover, Barclays, Marlboro, Del Monte and Coke in markets including the US, Europe, Korea, Indonesia, Australia, South Africa and Ukraine

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First Published: Mon, October 27 2014. 00:13 IST