The Marketing Society Conference - an afterword

The conference - an afterword

We had a wonderful day at the BFI in London last week, and so, I hope, did our participating friends in Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore and Mumbai.

Terrific company. A varied program. Time that flew by.

The obligatory dodgy wifi that messed up the VR demos, just to remind us marketers that we all still live in the real world.

Followed by a great dinner and a compelling, if less than celebratory, speech by the world’s most socially influential marketer, Paul Polman of Unilever.

But now the dust has settled, and we have time to take stock: What did we see? And what did we learn?

Fran Cassidy’s magnificently contrapuntal program mixed it all up and made it fun, but looking back on the day, we had three distinct themes and styles.


Every good conference needs one or two of these. Put them together, and the conference itself has a vision.

This year’s was ‘collaboration’.

We kicked off with Ed Lu, the American astronaut who was next in line for the Space Shuttle when Challenger blew up. How would they keep the space station going when the US program clearly had to be grounded? Ed hitched a lift with the Russians. With all the political conflicts which we see on our screens ever day, it was wonderful to see the two original superpowers helping each other out, for the benefit of mankind.

Facebook has a tough rap much of the time (jealousy, probably) but Nicola Mendelsohn’s irrepressible cheerfulness carries any day. I can’t remember what she said about privacy but I do remember the home movie of Mark Zuckerberg’s weekly town hall meeting, where any Facebook employee can ask him personally, any question they like. Even about his dog. Openness is a big part of collaboration and Facebook are winners for a reason.

In a different spirit – Mark Wilson of Aviva, a “Turnaround CEO” who is clearly not there to be liked, talked about how Aviva aggregates data from all kinds of sources. Like the free data that’s available from local councils, on the kind of trees and water pipes in your street. The actuaries may sit in ivory towers and the marketers may be fluffy, but Mark is out there learning about what really makes your house more likely to get flooded. Collaboration is not just about people, it’s also about data.


At the end of the day, none of us HAS to come to a marketing conference. So we do like a bit of entertainment. Joe Wicks, “The Body Coach,” is a loud, high profile vlogger about food and fitness. Many people find him entertaining. I found him honest enough to admit that if he went away for even a week’s holiday, everyone forgot about him. Ten for impact, zero for sustainable brand-building.

Parag Khanna is one of those American pseudo-academics who talks very well, providing you don’t listen too hard. His themes were globalisation and infrastructure and he had many examples of how urban societies are becoming more inter-connected. He told us how the global internet of mega-cities was vastly more significant than national borders. Oddly, he barely mentioned the counter-current represented by Trump and Brexit. In the immortal words of Michael Palin’s Monty Python character, who claimed to have written the works of Shakespeare despite being born four hundred years later: “That’s where my claim falls down, really.”

Graham Fink, Multimedia Artist and Chief Creative Officer of Ogilvy China, was the best and the worst. He gave us a classically arrogant Creative Director caricature - “My Chinese name means GREAT” and “the Screen isn’t big enough to show my work, because the Marketing Society logo takes up too much space” - a theatrical coat removal (it was a beautiful coat) - a little personal insight into his own private world - "I’ve flown over from Shanghai this morning and I’m going back tonight” (First Class, we do not doubt) and altogether, he took as back to the good old days when Admen ruled the world. The fact he is guiding the clients of the biggest western agency on how to engage with Chinese consumers, when after five years he has not found it worth learning more than two words of Chinese and apparently still believes that making big-budget commercials for (government-controlled) TV in China is more influential than engaging with e-commerce and peer-to-peer social media, must be more than a little concerning for his clients.

Which leads us to..


We are all marketers, one way or another and the most lasting benefit of this kind of conference is often contained in the homespun wisdom of people who have really walked the talk. At the end of the day, if I was starting out in marketing, these are the people I’d want to report to.

Silvia Lagnado, Global CMO of McDonald’s, talked of “learning days” when she disconnects from the day to day world to catch up on what’s happening in the world her consumers live in. That’s why you can now order burgers on your mobile in France.

Roberto Guidetti, Group CEO of Vitasoy in China, who has taken the trouble to learn Chinese (!), told how he is steadily building his business using the latest trends in China’s unique marketing ecosystem of social media and e-commerce.

David Wheldon, CMO of most major companies in his career and currently CMO at RBS, advised marketers to talk to their Boards in language they understand: “customer-obsessed” means something to the CFO, “brand led strategy” simply does not.

Martin Glenn, retiring President of the Marketing Society and now CEO of the FA, joined Paddy Barwise of the London Business School in encouraging CMO’s to be known as revenue generators and not cost centres. Perception counts for a lot.

And finally, Mark England – Director of Sports Services for TEAM GB at the Rio Olympics and his two amazing medal-winning colleagues, showed us the benefit of meticulous preparation and attention to detail. Health and Hygiene are critical factors in any athlete’s performance. We all knew the Olympic Village was not going to be perfect, but Mark’s team went in and fixed the toilets, while the Australian team manager went bleating to the media. And we all know what happened.

Now there’s a winner. And better still, he made us all winners, through the amazing spirit of collaboration and mutual support which he created in the British Olympic team. They were the heroes of the day, and if you missed your train to catch this session, it was well worth it.

Julian Boulding is President of thenetworkone and a Director of the Marketing Society.
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