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McCann’s latest bid for an edge? An ‘audience architect’ in the C-suite

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By Sam Bradley, Senior Reporter

April 26, 2023 | 7 min read

McCann’s newest C-suite appointee explains why his new brief’s a necessary one – and why it’ll make the creative network more competitive.

nathan brown

Nathan Brown has been appointed McCann’s chief audience architect / McCann

If you’ve ever been met with a blank, uncomprehending stare after patiently describing your job to a parent, spare a thought for Nathan Brown.

As the newest member of McCann Worldgroup’s executive suite, the former Universal McCann (UM) global chief strategy officer occupies a position created especially for him, and one he’ll be explaining for quite some time – global chief audience architect.

What does an audience architect do?

It’s the first time McCann has appointed an ‘audience architect’ to its C-suite. In fact, it’s the first time anyone has appointed one. In his own words, the aim is to build a bridge between the agency’s creative and data practices.

“In that march towards a more certain, future of creativity, my job is to make sure that our creative people, our strategists, our account people and everyone else in between has the right inspiration and data available to inspire creativity.”

He says he’ll be helping colleagues join the dots between “everything from how we understand consumers and how they consume products, and what they think of them, right through to what insights we should be leaning into for CRM.

“McCann has been about ‘the truth well told’ for 100 years. But in many ways, the truth has never been harder to despite the plethora of data we have around us.”

According to Brown, McCann’s teams haven’t to date operated with a “disciplined approach” to sharing datasets, insights or information across the business.

“Agencies like McCann and MRM have been incredibly good at getting to deep insights about what brands want and need, and spaces in the market for them to win. They’re not as good as they could be at understanding what consumers feel about brands, what consumers feel about the category and what consumers feel about the world in general. That’s the sweet spot between what matters to a brand to grow, and what matters to a consumer. That is rocket fuel for growth.”

That’s a big enough priority for McCann Worldgroup’s global chief executive Daryl Lee that he’s elevated Brown to the company’s top executive council. Brown says that a greater awareness of data, and better access to insights, has to become a priority for every top position at the agency. “Everyone from our global creative director to global strategy director to our global finance director… everyone’s all in on it. They need to be part of that team.”

If he can institute that way of thinking among his colleagues, he says his job will be a temporary one. “I hope that my role is redundant in two years’ time, if not before. I would hope that the organization is in such a rhythm with this that I’m no longer needed.”

It’s also a nod to the shrinking distance between the work of media and creative agencies. Brown says part of his brief is “to bring some of the modern media mindset into our ways of working. It’s not to be a media guy in a creative agency, but to bring some of the rigor and thinking around data infrastructure over,” he says.

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Team building

Brown’s architectural practice won’t be a one-man band. “This isn’t something I’ve been sanctioned to create in a silo. I will have technical, strategic people to help me kind of create, and almost like design the right glue around the data, infrastructure, and audience infrastructure for each of our capabilities.”

That will mean hiring at least one other ‘audience architect’ for North America, he says, potentially from outside the company.

“I don’t imagine there’s going to be 50 Nathans. I think there’ll be a Nathan and probably one regional person, and then a squad of people that make it happen,” he explains. “I imagine we’ll have to bring in some talent to fill those gaps. I don’t feel we’ll be pushing things far enough without bringing some new hires in, and probably from within [parent company] IPG.

“I’m not the end user of this – the end user is a creative director in Mumbai, a strategist, someone that’s going ‘wow, that’s interesting’.”

As well as the bridge-building gig between teams and McCann’s constituent parts, Brown’s architect title means he’ll also be brought in as a pitchman. “Doing this will help us better connect our offering for existing clients but it will also show up in new business pitches. I think it’s going to be a differentiator for us.

“It’s a bet we’re making and a bet we believe in.”

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