Philips global digital boss on in-housing while keeping agencies on side

Philip’s global digital boss: We’re in-housing data but we don’t want to be a media agency

Philips may be ramping up its in-house media capabilities but it has stressed that despite outside perceptions it isn’t looking to become a media agency.

Last year, Blake Cahill was tasked with unifying Philips’ digital capabilities across the 17 markets and 100 countries where it advertises. It came with a shift in job title from global head of digital and social marketing to senior vice-president of global digital marketing and media – the inclusion of the second ‘m’ word hinting that the 126 year-old business wanted to claw back more control over its media spend.

However, Cahill told The Drum that while it’s investing in internal tech and talent to better value the dollars it spends on media, that doesn't negate the need for agencies.

“We have done quite a significant amount of investment when it comes to bringing our media data inside our four walls, in conjunction with our agencies,” he said. “It moves them a bit more into strategic roles, like planning.”

The in-housing of media planning and buying has been a hot topic since it emerged that giants of the industry, Facebook and Dentsu Japan, had inadvertently inflated some figures being handed back to marketers. It drove many clients to address the role their own knowledge gaps had played and, according to recent research, Cahill has been joined by a projected 65% of brands to bulk up their internal know-how by hiring dedicated digital and media leads.

Understanding brand safety, ad fraud and the wider issues and opportunities of buying programmatically is something Philips is now doing with “much greater speed in-house” than it was 12 months prior, according to the executive.

“That’s really opening our eyes in terms of our ability to be efficient and get more bang for our buck out of media,” he said.

“We’re definitely growing on that side. We’re working with our media partners, around how we get sharper.”

But, he stressed, its “north star” is not to become a media agency.

“We want our data and we want to be best in class around optimiastion, personalisation and brand safety,” he explained, and for that it will – for the foreseeable future – rely on its agency partners.

Philips media brief has been split between Havas and Carat since 2011, but now the marketer sees media partners as having a more "strategic" role rather than handling granular elements of the process, like data.

From his perspective, this means bringing agencies “up front” when it comes to mapping out campaigns.

“We actually start in the ecosystem in media insights and planning before we start coming up with creative ideas and briefs, because these insights will determine – especially in digital – what type of content we should be using amid other things."

When pressed on where consultancies, which have been edging their way into ad land territory over the past 12 months fit into his plan, he is clear that relationships with the Accenture and Deloitte of the world are distinct from those of his long-term agency partners.

No stranger to acquisitions going on in the space – an early agency he worked at was acquired by Deloitte – he joked: "I mean, everyone's an agency now right?" before making it clear that the purpose of consultancies working with his business is purely in a problem-solving capacity, not a creative one.

Admitting they don't work on a lot of "big projects" with consultancies, he continued: "We’ve had a number of engagements during my tenure and that’s my model, I want them in and out as fast as possible so we do not do anything that’s more than an eight-week project."

Regardless of where its agency partners emerge from, Cahill is taking the bull by the horns when it comes to getting the wider Philips team up to speed on digital media.

Since joining the electronics giant in 2013 he has led its digital centre of expertise, which pools talent around six silos including: social media, e-commerce, online ads, reviews, community building and search.

Before introducing these “digital centres of gravity” which are embedded into the business, the global marketer admitted that Philips' digital output was “spotty and not consistent.”

Since he took the reins, the number of staff working across the company’s six digital capabilities has increased to almost 5000, while 7049 of Philips' 114,000 employees have earned 'digital passports', showing the provenance being placed on these skills.

Philips has clearly been building out these efforts for some time, but the trend for assembling integrated international teams of specialists to spearhead digital is being adopted by other international brands, such as drinks giant Diageo.

His comments came amid the launch of a new global marketing initiative from the brand called 'Better Me, Better World' which lets consumers decide what social causes the company should support in 2018.

The push is part of the company's goal to improve the lives of three billion people a year by 2025, with Cahill saying he hopes the engagement fostered by the campaign will help drive consumer loyalty in a more unique way.

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