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News Analysis 8 Jul 2020 - 3 min read

'Don't come in banging the table': Former Unilever CMO Keith Weed urges marketers to show empathy not frustration with media, agency partners

By Josh McDonnell - Senior Writer

Ex-Global CMO for FMCG giant Unilever Keith Weed has implored marketers to show empathy with their agency and media owner partners rather than making demands, adding that everyone "has suffered" and the only way forward is continued levels of investment and greater transparency.

What you need to know:
  • Keith Weed, ex-CMO for Unilever has called for greater empathy between marketers and their respective agency and media partners.
  • He says brands can't expect it to be "business as usual" and start "banging the table" demanding more for less.
  • Australia's agency execs privately says it's already happening, with marketers pushing for heavy discounts, less investment and expectations of heavy talent and resource commitments for no cost  
  • Weed says continued investment levels from marketers was the only way forward if they are going to experience any kind of "bounce back".
  • He said those who didn't would be hit by a "double whammy" and be left with all the same costs but no revenue to show for it.
  • Describing it as "preparation" not "hibernation", Weed also urged brands to realise the early crisis period was over and withholding spend now would set them back even further as things evened out.
  • However, the former global marketing boss also believes greater transparency is needed among publishers, who's audience trends have changed significantly during recent months.


Marketers, be empathetic, not aggressive

Keith Weed, ex-CMO for Unilever has called for greater empathy between marketers and their respective agency and media partners.

Speaking as part of the Verizon Media Decoded Series, Weed says brands can't expect it to be "business as usual" and start "banging the table" demanding more for less.

However, agency execs say the opposite is already taking place as they report pressure mounting from marketers to stretch budgets, or work for nothing, and push weaker marketing investment further.

This has also been reflected among media owners which are in an arms race for lower rates and heavily discounted sponsorship deals.

Last week, Mi3 reported discounts of up to 50% on deals for the AFL, while last month agency executives indicated an incoming CPM crash likely to impact the most vulnerable sectors like cinema, outdoor and radio.

"Everyone has had a tough time and businesses are not going to go back to usual straight away and the fact of the matter is we're all going to have to be a little more empathetic," Weed says.

"When you re-engage with your partners do so with empathy, recognising that they have had a tough time, so don't go back banging the table demanding [more]."

Weed says what marketers should demand of their media partners, firstly with agencies and then with media, isn't cost benefits but the need to have real transparency about what consumers are doing on different platforms and how consumer habits have changed.

The former marketing boss also pushed a message of "preparation over hibernation", saying brands needed to realise that the initial crisis planning period is over and there was a real need for investment.

"What happened was we went through a crisis period and it was very right that you had to tighten belts very tight," Weed says.

"But let's be really clear - we have all suffered from the decline of the crisis and the worst thing that could happen to your business now is that you miss the bounce on the other side - that's called a 'double whammy' and you don't want one of those."

Weed says the onus was on marketers now to make the case for investment and ensure that it once again begins to be viewed less as an unnecessary cost.

He says the opportunity to get ahead is now and those brands that don't make their case for consumer engagement will suffer from one of the most common trends "being forgotten".

"If we don't get sales and revenue going quickly, what you'll do is you'll end up with all of the costs but none of the revenue and where seeing consumers come back, slowly, but the only means brands need to move quickly to be ahead of the curve," Weed says.

"Right now is a critical time to make the case for reinvestment and welcome consumers back to your business, you have no time to wait because other competitors are already running and if you don't feel as you are doing the same, then you're really behind."


Weed's one-liners on adland:
  • On purpose-led marketing: "The shift has been ongoing...we built purpose-led brands during the nine years I led marketing at Unilever from Dove to Ben and Jerry's and what we found was that those brands became more profitable than the rest of the portfolio." 
  • On stage one of the COVID crisis."The first thing you had to do was worry for survival - that means liquidity, cash, costs and the easiest things you can do is cut budgets, with marketing being one of the first."
  • The next steps in the COVID recovery process."You don't want to be hit by the crisis and continue on nose-plowing after that, so this is the moment right now for marketers to step forward. The next big wave is the one we've been talking about as marketers for years, data and personalisation, which has taken a big jump. It's something that you are going to have to think about really deeply coming out of this
  • On the e-commerce boom: "Some things will go back but one thing that won't is the penetration fo e-commerce. People have 'teched' themselves up and become much more savvy." 
  • How the e-commerce advancement will impact digital marketing."You might have done a lot of Google search [ads] but now should you be doing more Amazon search because people are spending more time on e-commerce. Start thinking about where your consumers are and how their behaviour has changed." 

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Josh McDonnell

Senior Writer

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