Egami Group president talks controversial clients in an era when 'employees are activists'

Overton joined Egami Group one month before it won a Grand Prix for P&G's 'The Talk'

In the third of our interview series with the Advertising Club of New York’s 2019 Honorees, The Drum speaks to New Yorker of the Year, Egami Group president Cheryl Overton, about vying for controversial business, changing client expectations and how one-size-fits-all campaigns are like muumuus.

Cheryl Overton grew up thinking she’d have a career in journalism – maybe as a broadcast reporter or an editor for a women’s magazine. She earned a master's degree in journalism in 1995, only to find her way into the “crazy” world of advertising.

“I thought over the years: 'Come on, agencies are crazy places. The people are nuts. What are we doing?,’” says Overton, president of Egami Group. “But they pull me back in. I can't seem to quit it.”

Some of that fun-spirited craziness has turned into conscious upheaval, with Overton explaining that we’ve entered an age where “employees are activists.”

One of her early stops in advertising was at Ogilvy, where she worked from 2002-2004. The creative agency is now caught in an internal mess over its work with the US Department of Customs and Border Protection as employees question why higher-ups would take on the controversial account.

“What [Ogilvy] is dealing with is like a perfect storm of where we are in culture. You can't escape the headlines,” says Overton.

She adds that Egami Group, a full-service multicultural marketing agency, hasn’t had to make that kind of high-stakes decision yet, but the company does have a protocol for determining if it should take on the business of even a slightly-controversial brand.

“The way we get around it is, before we take on something like that, we discuss it as an executive leadership team and we have to be aligned on how it makes sense, and frankly, how does it marry with our DNA as a company,” says Overton.

“If we're going then participate in an RFP, that absolutely becomes something that when we talk to employees… of course if they had any objection we respect that. We have to make those business decisions at the leadership level just because we've got the full access to the information. If we decide it's not right for us, so be it.”

No muumuus

Egami Group won a Grand Prix in 2018 for its work with BBDO Worldwide on P&G’s ‘The Talk’, marking the first time a black woman-owned agency took the Cannes Lion stage.

Overton joined the agency in May, a month before the advertising festival. She says brands are finally starting to realize the power of multiculturalism.

“The market is now ready for when we talk about multicultural consumers, their buying power, their influence, and just the importance of inclusion,” she says. “One of the reasons why I came here a little over a year ago is [because] I've always been that person who believed in the strength of these consumers.

"Even if I'm working a global total market account, how are we going to weave these consumers and their journeys through what we say and do? Now that’s super critical.”

Overton says brands are starting to embrace the power of a diverse workforce, combining that inclusive mindset with troves of consumer data to create campaigns that resonate with specific groups of consumers that hold influential buying power.

However, it's still possible to create a campaign that touches everyone, but she says don’t call it a one-size-fits-all approach.

“I don't like one size fits all, because who does? That's like a muumuu,” says Overton. “Nobody likes a one-size fits all.”

Overton instead says that brands need to find a "kernel of a human truth" to effectively reach the masses with their campaigns.

"If there are campaigns that do reach and resonate with the broadest base of people, it's because there is some thread of human truth that you can relate to, whoever you are," says Overton.

Clients want more

Egami Group’s roster of clients includes P&G, US Army, Pfizer, Major League Baseball and Living Cities.

Overton says clients have gotten much savvier over the years, especially around measuring return on investment.

“I think very often agency and brand folks - I'm not saying we ever fudged it, but I think we could get away with: 'Oh it's traffic or impressions, or it's this many click-throughs',” says Overton. “It's not enough. Clients have become much smarter, and we have had to as well, in terms of the analytics."

While creative elements are still important, Overton sees brands having more upfront conversations around conversion and engagement, as more and more companies come into meetings armed with data in an attempt to size up the market.

“Very often where we come in to partner with [brands] is they might have the demographic information and the population data,” says Overton. “What we need to round that out with is the nuances.”

One of those nuances among multicultural consumers is mobile phone usage. Overton notices that this group of potential buyers is much more likely to consume media on their mobile devices.

A Pew Research Center study found that black and Hispanic US adults are 11% and 13% more likely, respectively, to rely on smartphones for internet access than white adults.

Overton says this trend has her pushing brands to try burgeoning platforms, such as TikTok, to reach a new set of consumers that may have grown tired of Facebook.

Overton hopes this changing brand-agency relationship can push advertising forward, beyond simply growing a business and into helping solve real-world problems.

“We've got a real right and responsibility as advertisers,” says Overton. “This is our medium; everyone touches and feels it. We're trying to solve for some of those bigger issues that feel more challenging and stimulating…. I think more people are seeing the magnitude of the impact that we have.”

The Ad Club will will honor its Advertising People of the Year on 5 September at the Tribeca Rooftop.

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