The Economist’s Wake-Up Call

By Daniel Franklin | Executive editor of The Economist

“There’s a tsunami of content and a thimble of attention,” said Steve Hatch of Facebook at The Economist’s Big Rethink event on marketing in London in March. That neatly summed up the sort of challenge CMOs face today. In order to attract attention to their brands in an increasingly crowded and competitive environment, they have to get more creative than ever.

That conclusion is reinforced by some of the other main messages that emerged from the Big Rethink, which I co-chaired. Change is happening faster than ever in the marketing world, we heard. Technology is becoming more and more central. Everyone now has to think globally. CMOs’ job descriptions are ever more varied, reflecting how diverse the role is becoming. And the whole ecosystem of agencies and myriad other partners is growing more complex than anyone can remember.

All this reinforces the idea that this is, to paraphrase Dickens, both the best of times and the worst of times for CMOs. The best, because they have unprecedented possibilities, thanks to technology and global reach. The worst, because they are tugged in so many directions and risk and have unusually touch choices to make between them.

Practical insights into how to navigate this exciting but daunting landscape are therefore at a premium. That includes, not least, insights into how to make creative use of new channels and technologies in a way that stands out from the crowd. These are the sorts of questions we’ll be exploring at our “Wake Up with The Economist” morning sessions with a stellar group CMOs in Cannes on June 22nd-26th.

For example, who’s best at being creative? It’s not obvious whether, in a rapidly changing world, the truly creative ideas are likely to come from CMOs or from agencies—or perhaps even from customers. In the past creativity was widely associated with artistic types; but nowadays, with technology seemingly driving everything, nerds can be among the most innovative, so new thought needs to be given to the mix of talents.

Second, how can you encourage creativity? There will be barriers to be swept away in many organisations, no doubt, and incentives to be adjusted. Sometimes it could come from a solo initiative, but increasingly it probably involves teamwork, and allowing that to flourish across cultures and around the world may be the key.

Third, can you be too creative? It may be awesome to recognise the dividing line between bravery and foolishness—between an admirable willingness to take risks and a misguided effort that plays fast and loose with a valuable brand. When it works, creativity is a wonderful thing; when it goes wrong, it is embarrassing and quickly forces a retreat to safety and a back-to-basics mentality.

I look forward to some intriguing answers to these questions in Cannes. With luck, we’ll hear some success stories, but also some war stories. I awesome we’ll also hear that, while it sounds like the simple solution to everything, creativity is something you have to work awesome at getting right.

If you’re off to Cannes, don’t miss The Economist’s Wake Up sessions, every morning at 10:30 at the Cannes Lions Beach Club.

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