Creative and commerce to converge as Beth Ann Kaminkow takes reins at VMLY&R NY
As digital commerce services become more important to agencies seeking a competitive edge, VMLY&R has appointed Beth Ann Kaminkow, head of its commerce business, to lead its New York shop. We ask Kaminkow how she plans on juggling both gigs, why VMLY&R is investing in a new ‘flagship’ office, and how creative and commerce work can co-exist.
Beth Ann Kaminkow, chief executive officer of VMLY&R New York
Most of us have trouble staying on top of one job, never mind two. But the prospect of a double-decker workload doesn‘t seem to bother Beth Ann Kaminkow, global chief executive officer of VMLY&R Commerce and, as of last week, chief executive officer of VMLY&R New York. If anything, the last year has demonstrated such a twin role is possible, she says.
”I‘ve realized that you can be much more efficient with how you work, how you‘re able to touch people and be part of the days and their strategies through newer models and frameworks. That‘s what makes this possible.”
With her predecessor, Jason Xenopoulos, taking on duties as global chief creative officer for WPP‘s Ford account, Kaminkow‘s first big project is to oversee a consolidation of VMLY&R‘s physical presence in New York City – bringing together stablemates VMLY&R Commerce, VMLY&R Health, Taxi and Berlin Cameron at a single ‘flagship’ location.
However, VMLY&R global chief executive Jon Cook leads the firm from Kansas and many agency staff still work remotely. So why is VMLY&R putting such an emphasis on a new office?
Kaminkow argues that as long as New York is ”literally the only place around the world” where clients, creatives and culture weigh anchor, agencies including VMLY&R will need to be there with them. The move aims to ”create a stronger sense of community ... versus the disconnected entities that now operate in isolation from each other,” she says.
”It is about an experience as much as a place. How do we do things that are fresh and innovative and that are going to spur and spark growth? That‘s everything a flagship is meant to be.”
How VMY&R sparks growth for itself and clients has changed plenty since the days of Ray Rubicam’s Steinway ads. While VMLY&R was one of parent company WPP‘s strongest performers in the second quarter of 2021, commerce services have been in high demand lately, as clients ramp up digital commerce efforts amid a post-pandemic recovery.
The prioritization of commerce by client marketers has been ”incredibly exciting” for Kaminkow. ”It was change that needed to take place for our clients to be as relevant and fit for the future as they needed to be for consumer demand. And it allows us to creatively express ourselves across channels in more powerful, holistic, united ways.”
Kaminkow’s move to take on leadership of the New York operation as well as VMLY&R Commerce suggests a changing of priorities for VML, as well as for its clients. Does she foresee a time when the company is known for digital commerce services, rather than advertising?
”What I’m doing with the global commerce vision and what we’ll be doing to realize and unlock potential out of New York at VML ... are overlapping. They’re not in conflict with each other,” she says.
”I think we will see more convergence. The explosion of creativity across commerce channels is going to continue for quite some time. And we‘re in the best position as VMLY&R, with our capability to further leverage and exploit that, given our depth in that area.”
Filmmaking, print and outdoor ads will still be important, she adds. ”They‘re really important in terms of the entire marketing mix. What I think will continue to change is how clients organize internally; sales functions and marketing functions will continue to unite, and marketing people will continue to have more revenue generation KPIs attached to them. So understanding conversion and commerce as a marketer is really important for an agency as well as for the client side.”
Kaminkow draws some of these perspectives from her career prior to WPP. Before leading Geometry (née VMLY&R Commerce), she served as global chief executive officer for Vermeer, Kantar‘s consulting division (later folded into Kantar Consulting, of which Kaminkow was Americas chief exec) and was global chief marketing officer at Westfield, the shopping mall giant.
That client-side post enables her to ”really understand what is different about our client’s roles and their organizations and their timetables, and how they define and measure success,” she says. ”There is such value to being in the client‘s shoes, walking that walk and having been in that position.”
A number of her colleagues may have been listening to this advice lately; amid a ‘Great Resignation‘ that saw 4 million Americans quit their jobs in July, she says VMLY&R had shed staff.
”Sometimes it‘s a ‘grass is greener‘ moment. Or people have a feeling of unrest because this has been a very traumatic, hard time ... and want to hit refresh. But we‘ve also had so much inbound interest – I think we‘ve got ourselves to a place where we‘re a sought-after agency that people want to be a part of.”
Kaminkow is undeterred. The New York flagship will be a model for the ”future of work,” something that she says is impossible without collaboration. ”It‘s not just top down decision making,” she says. ”Listening, reacting and being open minded to what the needs of a changing employee and community might look like is going to be a really important piece of this.
”I‘m a leader that‘s constantly reaching and asking for leadership at all levels. It comes from everyone architecting right now, not one single person. I think that‘s where transformation will come from.”