CM Conversation: Laura Desmond, CEO Starcom MediaVest Group

FM's third CM Summit is just two weeks away (register here), and as I have in the past (and will with other speakers as well as folks I'll interview at Web 2), I turn to the collective intelligence of Searchblog readers to help me prepare. I'll be having conversations…

Speaker Desmond FM’s third CM Summit is just two weeks away (register here), and as I have in the past (and will with other speakers as well as folks I’ll interview at Web 2), I turn to the collective intelligence of Searchblog readers to help me prepare. I’ll be having conversations with Evan Williams (co-founder Twitter), Gian Fulgoni (founder Comscore), David Rosenblatt (CEO DoubleClick, now at Google) and many others.

But first up in terms of thinking out loud here is Laura Desmond, Chief Executive Officer, Starcom MediaVest Group, a unit of the Publicis Groupe. For those of you who might not follow the world of marketing too closely, SMG is one of the largest and most influential marketing services companies on the planet, its clients include Kraft, Allstate, Kellogg’s, Walt Disney, GM, Coca Cola, Proctor & Gamble, RIM (Blackberry), and on and on. The company collectively controls billions of dollars of marketing spend, including a significant chunk of the monies that fuel the Internet Economy.

In other words, Laura is one Very Important Person in the world of the web, even if you’ve never heard of her.

Given what I do for a living, I’ve come to know Laura and find her extremely candid and refreshingly absent the marketing-speak that sometimes creeps into top executives’ vocabulary. GIven the economy, it’s an extraordinary time to have a conversation. Here are some of the topics I plan to cover:

– SMG’s clients represent a comprehensive sampling of the largest marketers in the US and global economy. Given the economic crisis, what are they saying to you now about their plans for spending? Are they going to continue to shift to digital, or are they going to pause or move spend to places where they’ve lived in the past (IE TV, print)?

– CPG (consumer packaged goods) brands are just starting to lean into digital. What have they learned, and how far do they have to go before they view online as central to their plans, if ever?

– How has the digital world changed how agencies within SMG do their work? (This in light of my writings on CPG vs. Conversational Media, here).

– Lastly, I’ve asked Laura to bring examples of work done by SMG agencies. I’m looking forward to the show and tell.

But here’s where you can help: What else should I be asking Laura? Chime in in the comments!

10 thoughts on “CM Conversation: Laura Desmond, CEO Starcom MediaVest Group”

  1. Ask her how brands (her clients) plan on doing social relationship management (a new term I coined) and measuring social influence and impact on the brands?

    Shouldn’t brands try to find a efficient way to measure digital influence and connect/manage relationships with the digital influencers that are already speaking about their brands?

    Just a few top of mind thoughts as I push forward with a new project


  2. I’d ask Laura what SMG are doing to try and integrate measurement across the board – ie, be able to report on a campaign across mediums and being able to start analysing the impact of each channel in the purchase funnel. Digital is still measured effectively in a silo and very rarely is any insight gained into how internet works with TV, mobile with radio, in game with magazine etc.

    Disclaimer: I work for MindShare so am mainly asking this question more out of curiosity … but I do think it’s a relevant issue for agencies looking to increase client confidence/spend/advocacy on digital channels.

  3. John:
    First, I believe you left off a link here:
    “…my writings on CPG vs. Conversational Media, here…” [I’m dying to read what lies on the other end of the phantom link! or was that “my writings, here” just an oblique reference to all our writings on this site?]

    I digress.

    I’ve got a few to toss Laura’s way:
    a) We hear a lot about how the digital channel has “opened up” the creative side of marketing — but does Laura feel anything has been lost or is constrained by ever-smaller media?

    b) How does she/SMG convince clients that brand marketing works — or even better, when it’s NOT working and that it’s time to pull the plug or switch gears? (A perfect segue to get her 2¢ on the MSFT/Seinfeld campaign(s), btw.)
    (You may have to lead into all this, of course, by asking if she’s a believer in brand marketing in the first place.)

    c) I also love @rodneyrumford’s point — above — about **metrics** in this Brave New (Social) World of ours – what metrics has Laura seen that (really) work, and what are they telling us about the maturity of digital?

    d) Since she’s playing show-and-tell, can you please insist (well….strongly recommend) that she bring along a **failure** to discuss, as well as case-study-worthy successes?

    That’s it for now.
    Good luck with all the prep work you must be swamped with/by.

  4. as a top executive at SMG Laura has a big responsibility over *buying* media for her clients.

    Still, despite all the growth, *buying* media (even on digital) most of the time is just the traditional way of thinking applied to new channels.

    With the growth of social media, where customers are in charge of relationship with brands and products, pure one-way “push media” tends to play a secondary role. Far from being unimportant (it’s much more actionable and measurable than traditional channels), but you don’t necessarily need to spend huge amount of money in media to get your message on customer’s mouth.

    I’d suggest you ask her

    1) what does the future reserves to SMG, considering the new context where customers are in charge and less open to media of any kind, regardless of channel?

    2) will search kill the retail campaigns on display media?

    3) what’s the role of content on the media plans.

    4) what’s her forecast for 2009-2010 in terms of growth? Will the conversion from TV and traditional channels offset the economy slowdown?

  5. Is Ms. Desmond concerned about monopolistic exploitation on the Internet (e.g. by Google, Inc.)? What risks does she see if her clients were to become too dependent on one provider of information services (such as online advertising and/or internet marketing)? On the other hand, if she doesn’t fear any negative results of “putting all the eggs in one basket”, could she wager a guess concerning what opportunities might be attainable by using such a “betting on one horse” strategy? Finally, what does Ms. Desmond expect might happen if all of a sudden there is a widespread realization that ppc advertising and/or link-based marketing/advertising models are a “folly”?

  6. would be interesting to know how SMG handles flatness of the world, maybe Tom could help to formulate the question.

  7. “In our day and age when traditional online marketing strategies based on content oriented advertising are gradually becoming obsolete and first attempts to introduce a new user oriented advertising model (like Becon) failed miserably, what is in your opinion holding this new trend back – is it a lack of clearly defined methodology capable to realize the colossal potential for targeted delivery we have in raw user data, or merely a lack of processing power to implement those methodologies, or perhaps it is just conservatism of advertisers coupled with stubbornness of Social Networks who are afraid of sharing any data about their users that’s slowing it down?”

  8. Another one from me – how is Starcom transitioning from being a ‘media buyer’ to a communications/business partner (ie strategy, planning, activations, events, content creation, econometrics etc) and how is this being received by clients?

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