Interview: Andy Lark

Dell's VP of global marketing and communications spoke to PRWeek executive editor Keith O'Brien a few days before Dell announced its new global marketing agency. He discussed the rationale behind Dell's decision, detailed the anticipated agency structure, and how the agency will improve efficiencies.

Dell's VP of global marketing and communications spoke to PRWeek executive editor Keith O'Brien a few days before Dell announced its new global marketing agency. He discussed the rationale behind Dell's decision, detailed the anticipated agency structure, and how the agency will improve efficiencies.

What's the thinking behind the agency?

We want to marry the art and creativity of communications with the science of doing business. We're much less interested in traditional media analytics that tell you what what PR did for you in the last quarter. We're much more interested in developing programs and communications activities based on buying behavior and conversations and what our audiences need from us. We see a great opportunity to be more sophisticated in how we do communications and PR. We would hope, over time, that the value proposition of this agency we're creating would appeal to other clients - obviously not for direct competitors. We obviously are not going to extend the competitive advantage we created here to a HP. But people from other industries might find it attracted to take advantage of the business model of this agency. We expect there will be people who will want to come work for the new agency from outside of the winning company - so it's a pretty exciting opportunity not just for us, but for the entire industry.

Does Dell own any part of the agency?

No. It's not that we own... it's a mutual investment. They're making an investment in creating this new business and the analytics engine with us. If you'd like, we're both mutually investing in Dell... As much as we're creating a new agency, we're coming together with our partner here – to create a new product for the industry... With this new agency, we can be a heck of lot more efficient. And since they won't be worried about running around trying to win regional business, they'll be more focused on us.

Have you started looking at the all-stars in the holding companies you might want to work for the agency?

Oh, yes. We've been working through that as part of this process. If you think about the way someone traditionally picks a PR agency, you get a whole lot of talent that pitches you on the day, and you really warm up to these folks and they come up with a lot of interesting creative ideas, which they later tell you you can't afford and the people vanish as well...

It's kind of like you go to the Audi showroom and look at the RS8, and you end up with a Kia driven by your neighbor. If you look at the PR agencies that sit inside the IPG or WPP stable, these are world class, creative agencies, so we have every confidence in their creative abilities. What we're most concerned with is their ability to attract talent and have that talent dedicated to our business, and to align that talent with a clear, operating construct.

Are you worried about companies being angry with Dell for poaching agency talent that might work on their business?

We're realistic that that will hopefully happen, in the sense that we pull no punches. We're creating a magnet for talent in the new agency. These people will be rewarded for being entrepreneurs. We're confident that will occur, so we apologize in advance.

Do you think the winning holding company will look at this agency as a way to attract talent?

They've told us that. They view it as more than that. They've told us that they've got a lot of employees that have always wanted to do something like this - that say they would love to work in an integrated way with my peers. [As in], "I would love to go down the road to our interactive agency and work with them, rather than have to work with my client's interactive agencythat actually views me as a competitor for the budget . Wouldn't it be great to sit at the table with an interactive peer and a world-class creative peer and do programs that are already in the context of the client's brief?" They're telling us that there are a lot of people out there that are salivating at [the chance] to work at an agency that is fully integrated from the onset.

The way you would traditionally work the communications function is that you would hire a few agencies that would do go work, you would hire a measurement firm and look at the measurement data, and occasionally get the agency in so you could all look at the measurement data. The agency would also go and create their own measurement data and say [the measurement firm's] data wasn't right, and around and around you'd go. Now, the agency and [we] co-own the analytics system. They are plugged right in to the daily heartbeat of everything that's going on at the company. There are no boundaries that separates them and us in terms of execution and from the analytics and data that is driving our decisions. That's a very different relationship – this kind of relaiotnship will enable us to be so much more transparent with our agency partner.

Less arguing about data, more work?

We've already signed [the agency]. They don't need to come in every week and trying to get us to play golf and buy us fancy dinners. We can just focus on execution.

So, taking away the "let's try to get the Dell small business account" factor.

Yeah, exactly - "because that other agency has it, and I think I can do a better job. Gone. Issue off the table.

We hope this new agency over time will act as a platform for other agencies to plug into. So, if there's a really good diversity or minority-focused agency out there, we hope that we can say [to the new agency], "You don't have this competency [so they'll reach out to another agency]," and they'll act as the interface for Dell for that agency. So agencies that we've never been able to work with before because we didn't have the resources before to manage them - can now start working with us on niche projects.

So the holding-company agency will be the one P&L, but it won't stop you from working with other agencies - it will just be managed by the holding-company agency.
Precisely. We're creating a model where the larger agency can act as a docking station for smaller, niche agencies that can provide a whole lot of value in a narrow market area.

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