Elizabeth McCune on in-housing, talent and the supply chain

GroupM's chief growth officer reveals where she sees the industry going and what she thinks should be left behind.

Elizabeth McCuneThe Industry Wish List is back. MiC is looking back at the issues and trends of 2018 with some of the brightest minds in the business, discussing how the industry has changed in the last 365 days, what challenges lie ahead and how brands are adjusting.

It feels as though the media industry is on the precipice of change.

Seemingly every day, the agency world is inundated with headlines about in-housing trends, issues of transparency, trust and potential shortfalls in talent. But Elizabeth McCune isn’t sweating it.

McCune, GroupM’s chief growth officer, knows that the industry is in flux – it always is. But the New York-based exec, a seasoned expert with experience from MPG, Oglivy and Mather, Omnicom Media Group and Maxus Global, is all about making a plan and forging ahead. She knows the agency group has to future-proof, but she’s ready for that future.

McCune shares her insights into the industry with MiC, revealing agencies are changing with the times.

This interview has been condensed for clarity and length.

With the rise of consultancies and in-housing, how do agencies change up their offering?

First of all, I think in-housing is a bit overblown. It’s not to say it isn’t happening and that there aren’t clients looking to bring certain things in-house, but I do feel like it’s the topic of this year like some other headlines have been in prior years. We’re not seeing this dramatic increase of business moving from the agencies.

Having said that, I think for some clients it does make sense for them to look at what they can bring in-house versus what they have with their agencies – and it’s all about value. For a client that has a really strong set of data that they own that is willing to invest in their own data management platform, is willing to hire and invest in the kind of people that can manage that and appreciates what’s involved from a legal perspective with licensing and software, it does make sense.

I don’t know that we are specifically changing the way that we do business to work around that situation as much as we’re continuing to be fluid and flexible with our offering. Most agencies out there have not just accepted but embraced the fact that we are in a client service business – our role is to provide clients with what they feel like they need and part of that is being flexible and trying to figure out the best way to add value, whether that’s through a client or brand relying on the tools or technology that we have or us supporting what they have. I would be surprised if there was an agency out there that would take a hard line on not supporting a client.

Is it enough to be good at what you do, or do agencies have to become good at different things?

In terms of media agencies, I hear in client pitches that our they still expect us to be very good at media planning, research, trading and investment – the nuts and the bolts of the business that separated media agencies from creative agencies when everyone broke apart. Those expectations are still there, and I think there are still a lot of clients around the world that rely on our media agencies to do these things very well for them. It might not be the sexy, shiny part of what’s talked about in the press or what wins awards – although it does win awards.

There’s always growth. As the marketing industry evolves, as brands change, as the way that consumers interact with brands change, we have to, as an industry, figure out the best way to meet consumers where they are, and that sometimes requires a different approach. The strategy, the creativity and potentially the tool development and research that we use to offer brands the best way to meet their consumers is an evolution, but I think structurally the expectations of clients is for us to be able to do that while we’re still delivering great plans, delivering on the trading side and being very creative.

Talent has been a recurring theme – both recruiting the right talent and training them for the future. How is GroupM future-proofing its talent?

Talent is a challenge – it’s a challenge for everyone because unfortunately these days there’s a finite number of people in our business and a huge demand for them.

What we’ve been doing differently in the past couple of years is taking a much more collaborative approach. It used to be that you had Mediacom, Wavemaker, Mindshare, m/SIX and Essence and they were all part of GroupM but also their own entities.

Five years ago, it might have been that a media supervisor working at MediaCom who wanted a promotion may not have been able to get that promotion if it wasn’t a position available at MediaCom. Now, it’s not just MediaCom that that person is looking at, they have an opportunity to look across four other global agencies that are part of GroupM.

Anyone in the industry right now would say that talent is one of the biggest things that we spend our time thinking about and trying to figure out how to not only keep the people we have but make sure that we have the right people doing the right things. You can’t just have the same workforce that you had five years ago and expect them to do things completely different, so sometimes it’s training or retraining, or pushing people into different paths based on their skillset.

If the media industry could make one collective resolution when the clock strikes midnight on Dec. 31, what would you want it to be?

If the digital ecosystem could be safe and monitored that would certainly make everyone’s lives better. It’s the U.S., it’s Canada, it’s China – it’s all around the world. The challenges exist in the integrity of the digital supply chain, if that could be mitigated I think that would go a long way in allowing us to focus on more meaningful things than trying to clean that up.

Want your wishes on the 2019 Industry Wish List? There are six publishing days left on the Media in Canada 2018 editorial schedule. We already have feature interviews lined up with execs from Havas, MKTG and Snap. If you or a leader from your media company, brand or agency wants their voice heard, reach out to Bree Rody-Mantha or Catherine Phillips.