Opinion

Pernod Ricard Asia marketing chief Glen Brasington on the value of pitching, tribal marketing, and why he’s not a fan of full service agencies

Glen BraslingtonGlen Brasington, a former PepsiCo and Diageo marketer in Australia and Asia, is two years into his role as the vice president of Asia marketing at drinks giant Pernod Ricard.

In this interview with Mumbrella’s Asia editor Robin Hicks yesterday, the Australian marketer talks about his approach to marketing, what he values in an agency, why a pitch is like a job interview, and Pernod Ricard’s biggest marketing plan for next year.

What is your view on the value of agencies for the brands you manage?

Pernod Ricard's brands

Pernod Ricard’s brands

I’ve been in this role for more than two years now. We’re very decentralised as a company. We have some regional and globally aligned relationships, but I don’t manage many retainers. From my experience working at other companies, I’ve seen the re-emergence of full service agencies, but I’m not sure that this model is relevant anymore. I’ve always relied on advertising agencies to focus on creating great communications, or research agencies on uncovering great insights, and so on. But with the re-emergence of the full service model, you lose something as a client, as agencies try to become adept at everything.

I’ve worked with account directors in the past who have a positive desire to understand everything about my business. But in truth I don’t want them to understand every detail of my business. I want them to understand everything about advertising.

What is your expectation of your agencies?

Of course there are KPIs [key performance indicators] they have to meet, but we look at how responsive they are, and how creative they are. We need them to be challenging our briefs and pushing us in the areas that they are experts in. If they say yes to everything, then they are not stretching us in the areas where we need to be stretched.

Beyond that, I would say personal relationships are important with our agencies, but if they are too close that can be dangerous. If you’re friends with your agency partners, there’s a risk that you won’t hold them accountable for timings and the quality of executions. The relationship has to be professional and accountable on both sides.

Are pitches the fairest way to assess an agency’s value and purpose?

I think in Asia, where there is a lot more competition than where I’m from in Australia, agencies feel they have to say yes to every RFP [request-for-pitch]. In Australia, I think there are more agencies who are prepared to say no.

We ran a pitch in Australia where we paid agencies to participate. It was a very tight brief, and the three agencies produced three very different responses. One spent a lot of time and money on fancy graphics, but they didn’t clearly understand the brief. The second spent a lot of time on research and focus groups and digging into the brief. The third agency created a workshop-style approach and brought in external experts. They didn’t claim to have answer, but understood that we needed to work on difficult areas to get to a new approach. We chose the third agency.

The common way of pitching in Asia is for agencies to think that an idea will be bought straight from the pitch and executed in its entirety. But that hardly ever works. A lot of work needs to go in to refining an approach to get to the big idea.

What is your personal view on the value of pitches?

The pitch is like a job interview. If an agency talks more about why they might qualify and asks questions about how they’d approach the brief, then they are more likely to get the job. If they come in with a half-formed idea that a client will either love or hate, then they take a bigger risk.

Do you think that agencies that pitch for your business should be given a fee for the ideas they present to you?

Yes. But I think it’s really difficult to cost out what that fee would be. All agencies will approach a pitch differently and will spend their money differently. Some will spend hours of their creative teams’ time on a pitch, when they would be better off spending that money on getting it right further down the line.

What is your approach to marketing? What is Pernod Ricard’s marketing viewpoint?

I started in sales at Diageo in 1997, selling across a portfolio of brands. I moved into marketing a few years later. I think you need a healthy empathy of the sales function as a primary driver of business to be a good marketer. Sales is the hardest job there is. My marketing training came at Diageo, which was a pivotal time for me. Then I worked at PepsiCo for six years. As it’s a franchise model, it’s a completely different approach. It’s 100 per cent focused on marketing, which helped me define my skills in understanding the consumer and uncovering insights. Working at PepsiCo in Australia and Asia gave me that understanding, how to scale it and how to integrate big ideas.

What attracted me to Pernod Ricard is the challenge of working on premium products. The way you go to market is different, as people tend to have a stronger emotional bond with the brand.

Tell us about tribal marketing, which is a big thing at Pernod Ricard.

It is about how to connect brands to communities. Underpinning it is the understanding that consumers who invest in a brand can be that brand’s crusaders. It’s then about finding the leaders within that community and giving them the right tools. It should be a natural fit. It can never be forced. We’ve failed as many times as we’ve succeeded.

In what instances has it not worked?

Sometimes we’ve chosen a tribe with a strong fit with the brand, but they’re not very social people, so it doesn’t work.

Can you give an example of where it’s worked well?

Cafe de Paris in JapanA good example comes from Japan. There, we have a flavoured premium sparkling wine called Cafe de Paris, which has been in the market for a while. We identified a consumer group of young women who are very active on social media, and one of their hobbies is nail art. When women sit down to have their nails done, they gossip. Our brand is fun, vibrant and feminine, so it’s a perfect fit with that tribe. We then identified a nail artist with a huge following on social media. We started using nail artists in content pieces. We also started serving Cafe de Paris in nail salons.

We saw a huge uplift in brand consideration among 20-29 year-old women, which gave us the confidence to invest more in media.

What are your marketing plans for the next 12 months?

We’re looking at experimenting with new innovations, and Japan is a very active market for that, as is China. We’re also looking at ways of combining categories, such as flavoured spirits which appeal to a broader range of audience groups.

But the biggest thing is the 300th anniversary of Martell Cognac, which is around Chinese New Year next year. We have a huge amount of activation around that, as our number one category in Asia is cognac.

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