GRAND RAPIDS, July 3, 2012 – I recently spoke with Michael Fassnacht of DraftFCB. Launched in mid-2006, Draftfcb is a new breed of agency— “the first global, behavior-based, integrated marketing communications organization operating against a single P&L, one which believes there is no way to separate creativity and accountability to learn more about the new direction being taken under his leadership.”
In just several tumultuous years, the 140 year-old company has seen a merger, major client acquisitions, and losses. Michael took the post as president of DraftFCB Chicago in August 2010, and is spending his time reworking the company toward a deeper understanding of human beings and the wealth of data that is now becoming available to advertisers.
Rob: What did DraftFCB previously mean to people, and how is that changing?
Michael: We are 140 years old. So I always see today’s stage as chapter eight, nine, or ten, and that’s different than what you see around the world. For the past 140 years this agency was always about transforming the industry with great groundbreaking work, or with industry changing ideas. With the brand today, I think you have to ask, “Why do you exist, what do you do, and how you do it?” You need a clear answer to all those questions. Why we exist. We exist to change consumer behavior. We are the change business.
It’s not about a digital banner, TV talk; it’s all about transformative ideas. With how we do it, with Draft FCB we bring art and science together like no one else in the industry. We bring in artists, scientists, PHDs. We bring them in but we also create and work in a culture that creates great work.
Two big areas for us are data and behavior economics. I think the industry is changing from the past 50 years on trying to understand the rational drivers on how people make decisions. First, it was emotional decisions, then it was all logical decisions, and now we are learning about instinctual decisions. We look at food decisions—90 percent of them are instinctual. And that gives us a methodology that helps us bring ideas to people. Because marketing is becoming more data rich, scientific, and we already have known that that area is important to us.
Rob: How do you recruit?
Michael: There are only two things that attract talent: “You did that? I want you.” And, “Your brand as an agency is so huge I want to join because the brand is so large.” We go to more colleges and we really try and reach new students. But Chicago is very incestuous, so we try and get outside. But I think when people meet us, see the energy, and see how not only how we make money, but how we create great work. I think the good thing about the states is the global talent likes to come to the states. It’s the most interesting industry place to work.
Rob: So when you came to DraftFCB what did you want to change?
Michael: We have always been a smart agency, but we never focused on the work. We need transformative ideas. We were very hierarchy focused. But now anyone can get on my calendar and meet with me. My strategic partner always tells us to have fun. If you don’t have fun you should just go home. I think the thing is if someone has an idea here. Do it. Don’t ask for permission.
Rob: And how has the client relationship changed at DraftFCB?
Michael: Speed. You have the create things much faster, more nimble. I think this is becoming more of a business relationship. I may like you, but if I don’t get the sales I want, you better keep pushing it. There’s a lot of cost and sales pressure. I think the business is always about the relationship and the work. You have to have them know you have their best interests in mind. The world probably has become more complicated and more complex because there’s more data, insights, and market.
Rob: How has that relationship changed in the face of emerging digital platforms?
Michael: I think our job for our client is to understand the complexity and simplify it. We can’t add another level of complexity. We need to understand it, what’s the best idea, and how best to execute it. The idea has to be channel neutral, across all platforms; it doesn’t matter if it’s a digital banner or a film. We have to simplify things.
Rob: Any advice to new people coming out of school?
Michael: Be curious. Only because you finished your studies, doesn’t mean you’re done being a student. Create something. You need to produce, produce, produce. Every single day. Don’t complain, just do it.
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