IMG (the premier sports, entertainment and media company) has a new SVP / Chief Marketing Officer. It is none other than my friend and associate Robert Birge. Up until now, Robert has been the Managing Director TBWA\Chiat\Day New York – where he and I came to know each other via the Nextel account. Robert will be assuming his new role in just a few weeks (August 14th to be exact), so I decided to catch up with him for a quick interview before he starts his new digs.
CRAIG: What impact do you see Viral Marketing and Blogs having on traditional advertising agencies?
ROBERT: Very little. Video-based advertising will predominate web media as broadband conversion continues. This has already begun, and will happen faster than blog consumption will (can) increase its share of media consumption. This is because filmed storytelling is the superior means to convey a selling message. Traditional ad agencies have a strong competitive advantage in creating this form of marketing message.
Further, the broad socio-economic trends eroding free time for consuming media will continue unabated. If blogs take a meaningful share of media consumption from on and off-line content creators, the established media companies will acquire them (e.g. MySpace) - creating the economic need to generate more advertising revenue that will be increasingly converted to video-based messages.
In terms of the tactic of participating in blog content, there are obvious limitations and ethical questions marketers are facing. If this expands significantly, I would think PR firms are better suited to advise clients in this area than either traditional ad agencies or interactive agencies.
CRAIG: Are they set up to service the shift in spend / growth of the channel if the environment changes?
ROBERT: I don’t think structure is the issue; it’s more a cultural issue. Most ad agencies are set-up to handle this channel, and most are making an effort. The issue is where the ideas will come from, and most of the smartest creators of advertising ideas are not focused on here. Until it starts making a noticeable impact on fee revenue, the business leaders won’t invest significant time steering people in that direction.
CRAIG: Right now what is the hottest brand out there? Why do you think they are so successful?
ROBERT: It’s becoming a trite answer, but it’s hard to think of any brand that’s hotter than Apple. They have continued to capture cultural significance. The company’s strategy is driven by a differentiated vision stemming from their vision as opposed to an outdated, “marketing-led” model (i.e. have the consumer define the company’s direction leading to uninspired incrementalism). Apple’s vision can be seen in everything they do. While many companies view “brand” as the domain of marketing, Apple understands that business strategy and the brand are indistinguishable, and clearly Apple’s brand manager is named Steve Jobs.
CRAIG: If you could give advice to any company right now who is struggling with its brand, what would it be?
ROBERT: Start with your competitive business strategy and ask the basic questions. If you don’t believe you have a differentiated and relevant business strategy, it’s going to be challenging for anyone to craft a compelling brand story. If you believe that your brand is lagging your business strategy, then there should be focus on looking for more compelling marketing execution. Too often, business leaders look to their marketing to define their business strategies with an advertising “positioning” as the proxy, when in fact, the core problem is the lack of a differentiated business strategy. If a CEO wants a brand as powerful as Apple, they should take on the role of brand manager.
CRAIG: Chiat uses the strategy of Disruption to help redefine brands in a crowded space. What is the perfect candidate for Disruption in the marketplace today?
ROBERT: The Democratic Party is in drastic need of Disruption. I’m an uncompromising Independent, but as a marketer, it’s painful to watch their remarkable incompetence. If you ask someone why they should buy a Mac or a PC, you will get clear answers. If you ask someone what the Republicans stand for, I believe you’ll get some very clear ideas: low taxes, conservative social values, states rights, strong defense etc. Regardless of your political affiliation or beliefs about the actual “brand behavior” of the Republican party, there is a clear brand strategy.
I can’t answer the question, “What do Democrat’s stand for?” Republicans do a better job answering that than the Democrats do, i.e. they are positioning the Democratic brand (for the Democrats). The Democratic brand is the Kmart of the political market. The Republicans are the Wal*Mart. Kmart has been pushing the next great sale, the next great spin, Blue Light specials, Martha, whatever they can get their hands on. Wal*Mart just keeps saying the same thing over and over and over and over, just like Karl Rove, the Republican party’s CMO: Always Low Prices. Always. Sounds like “Always low taxes. Always.”
CRAIG: You’ve decided to leave Chiat to become the CMO of IMG, the sports, entertainment and media company. What led to your decision?
ROBERT: IMG is a famous organization with a global presence and a great deal of business momentum, but what really excited me was the vision that Ted Forstmann, George Pyne and the IMG management team have for the company. IMG creates, owns and helps manage some of the world’s most prestigious sports and entertainment brands, from famous golfers, to some of the leading sports events like Wimbledon, to brands like Fashion Week. These brands have a great deal of cultural power that leading product and service brands can leverage in partnership with IMG. The opportunity to leverage this potential with new marketing ideas is very exciting to me. The opportunity to drive marketing innovation in general was also very appealing to me.
About Robert Birge:
Robert "shooter" Birge joined TBWA in 2001 and was responsible for leading the strategy and development of integrated services. In 2002, he become the Director of Client Services and Integration for TBWA\Chiat\Day New York, and in 2003, assumed the role as Managing Director for the Sprint Nextel Account.
Birge began his career with the Marketing Corporation of America, working with such clients as Miller Brewing Company and Cadbury beverages. He later joined Miller Brewing Company, where he served in brand management. In 1998, Birge joined The Boston Consulting Group, where he worked in the consumer and e-commerce practices with leading consumer packaged goods and e-commerce clients. During his tenure with BCG, he also served as interim head of marketing for Orbitz, a travel web site founded by the five largest U.S. airlines. Birge holds an undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College and an MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management.