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5 Minutes With... Catherine Davis

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President of Vizeum Americas on the importance of ‘reading like crazy’

5 Minutes With... Catherine Davis

Catherine Davis might be a poster child for the new multi-disciplined ad industry. Over her career she’s worked for creative agencies, brands like Diageo and Morgan Stanley and now she’s putting that experience to good use in the world of media and strategy, heading up Vizeum Americas. LBB’s Laura Swinton talks to Catherine about the decline of specialist agencies and how she clocked up 15,000 personal Twitter followers.

LBB>  What is it about Vizeum that makes it unique right now?

CD>  We help brands organically find a place where they can add value within people’s lives and communities. Building these ‘connections that count’ is our philosophy at Vizeum and what drives us every day. Our expertise is marrying data and analytics with an emotional understanding of brands to develop and distribute content that’s more relevant to consumers and their environment. This has resulted in exciting work for our clients, such as a branded content series for The Glenlivet starring Bryan Cranston, Ed Burns and others.  These ‘Single Stories’ mirror the kinds of occasions and moments when people choose The Glenlivet brand.


LBB>  You've been with Vizeum US since 2011, tasked with building a foundation in North America. What were the key challenges you faced and what were the keys to overcoming them? How has the agency evolved since then?

CD> When we launched in the U.S. in 2011, nobody knew who we were. The general assumption was that we were simply a conflict shop for our sister agency Carat. We worked very hard to carve out a distinctive point of view, which led to our strong position in the Americas region. Our success is evident by our growth – we’ve experienced 300% growth in the past three years. In the past 12 months, we increased new business by 200% by adding New Belgium Brewing, Dow Jones, Discover Card, Sonos, and Maserati to our roster.


LBB> Have there been any projects that you've been involved with in that time that particularly stick out as having resonated with you?

CD> The work that we've done for ABSOLUT has been really creative and consistently strong across the board. Whether it was becoming the most “Shazamed” ad of 2012 to the wildly successfully ABSOLUT Lunch Break, we have shown a unique understanding of the brand’s target audience. What’s remained critically important is the strategic link to the brand in everything we do. Because of that, we've been able to create some really powerful programs and brand experiences that have gone far beyond just placing media.

LBB>  How and why did you first get into advertising and marketing? I see you studied marketing at uni - did you always have a clear idea of where you wanted your career to go or was it a chance sort of thing?

CD> I always wanted to do something that used creativity and innovation to solve business problems. Most people graduate from college assuming they will find and follow a clear linear path, but so much of it all comes down to serendipity.

Throughout my career, I have transitioned through a variety of clients, shifting from brand to agency side, from financial services to alcohol, most of which happened through great relationships, a focus on marketing strategy, and an innate sense of curiosity that allowed me to adapt to change. I moved from Morgan Stanley to Etrade in 2004 because I thought it was important to gain more digital experience, but more often, one has to react to the opportunity rather than strategically plan for it.

LBB>  Over your career you seem to have worked in all corners of the industry, from creative agencies like Leo Burnett to working client side with brands as diverse as Diageo and Morgan Stanley. How do you feel this breadth of experience and understanding has helped you now that you're on the strategy and media side of things?

CD> Working in multiple categories has been incredibly valuable to me. This diversity of experience allows you to have a fresh perspective while also enhancing your skillset. Fundamentally, the marketing principles remain the same. Having brand and agency experience gave me a clear vision of what's important to all parties involved in the marketing and creative process, and the ability to strategically marry these in a way that creates a compelling proposition for our clients.

LBB> Media platforms are proliferating at an unprecedented rate - how do you keep abreast of new technologies? And how do you figure out which new platforms will be useful for clients and consumers and which are likely to fizzle out or lack impact? 

CD> Simply put: I read like crazy. It’s so important in our business to pay attention to everything happening around you in culture and other industries that intersect or influence ours. I constantly try new technologies, regardless of whether I adopt them in the long term. I always aim to view everything as a consumer first, and as a businessperson second. New technology has to satisfy a consumer need, and then add a simple and elegant interface that people are attracted to and want to adopt. If I don’t find it useful as a consumer, then neither will the people we want to reach.

LBB> You've got 15,000 Twitter followers - why has it been important for you to be engaged with social media at a personal level?

CD> It’s funny because I actually hated Twitter at first, but now it's an innate part of my day – all because I was willing to try it. Twitter has become this incomparable immediate news source that has also been an incredible way for me to interact and gain exposure to people I never would have interacted with before. Twitter has the ability to expand your horizons and give you a more diverse point of view. The web has become so personalised, with information being tailored based on past behaviour. I think creativity comes from actively exposing yourself to new perspectives.

LBB> What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry today?

CD> Choose a job where you think you will learn the most. As simple as it sounds, make sure you enjoy what you’re doing. It will play a huge role in your success.

LBB> I'm interested to know your thoughts on the evolving relationship between media agencies and creative, particularly as media agencies seem to be moving increasingly into content creation and the inventive/effective use of media can be seen as a creative discipline in its own right. Do you see the structure of the industry changing? Do you think we'll see a return to the old days when creative and media were just different departments in the same agency? Or is specialization important? 

CD> Having started out on the creative agency side and also having experience as a brand marketer, I understand the importance of collaboration – something my team and I are huge proponents of. As a media agency that is part of the Dentsu Aegis Network, we have access to an amazing amount of data that other agencies don’t have. Likewise, creative agencies have their own distinctive way of viewing the world. The combination is really powerful.  I don’t think these partnerships have to take place within the same structural organisation – it will ultimately depend on the client needs. However, I do think the number of specialty agencies will decline and we will see more and more consolidation and integration.

LBB> Last year was the year of Big Data in terms of headline-grabbing trends. However from what I've seen in media agencies in particular the most interesting thing has been how that 'big data' has been combined with strategy/planning to create a smarter, more creative approach. I was wondering what your thoughts were?

CD> Everybody is still figuring out the best way to combine data with strategy to create a smarter approach. We are focusing primarily on two areas. The first is combining the data sources contained in different channel ‘silos’ to connect the dots and identify human insights that can build brands. The second is to effectively balance your ability to target with the need to drive scale. While ‘one-to-one’ marketing can be more effective, it is often very expensive to implement.

LBB> What does 2014 hold for you and Vizeum?

CD> Vizeum is in the midst of a huge growth trajectory that we believe will continue in 2014, propelled by the amazing work our team is doing for our clients and our clients’ desire to grow and disrupt the market. I believe our ability to leverage the advances in technology, push boundaries, and collaborate with our clients and their partners will set us up for continued success.


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LBB Editorial, Wed, 07 May 2014 16:26:53 GMT