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Why Daimler’s Conrad Fritzsch is joining the bespoke Publicis agency he helped build

Fritzsch has spent the past four years at Daimler, where he was instrumental in appointing Publicis Groupe

As Conrad Fritzsch makes the leap from Daimler to Publicis Groupe, The Drum catches up with him to find out why he’s choosing to move agency-side and the lessons he’s learned from the automaker’s transformation journey so far.

In 2018, Mercedes-Benz owner Daimler was one of the first big clients to invest in Publicis’s ‘Power of One’ proposition. The car marque finally settled on a bespoke agency model, dubbed Publicis Emil, following a year-long, drawn out pitch process.

Now, in a rare move, Conrad Fritzsch, one of the brand marketers charged with appointing Publicis, is jumping ship to the tailored agency he helped create, taking on the global role of chief transformation officer at Emil.

The former head of digital agency model and data activation spent four years at Daimler and following that 2018 pitch, led the establishment of the new agency model that will be deployed in 40 markets and reshape how data is used at Daimler.

“My biggest achievement at Daimler is not that we built a system globally to drive traffic and KPIs. It’s that people within the business have started to talk about KPIs as they occur and understand how we influence the behaviour of our customers using data.”

Based out of his native Berlin rather than Daimler’s HQ in Stuttgart, Fritzsch will now scale the two-year-old agency model across all business units in order to drive Daimler’s transformation from car maker to a digital automotive business. He will also broaden Emil’s geographic footprint to include all regions, with a big focus on Germany, the US and China.

Fritzsch likens transformation within any big business to playing Russian roulette with five bullets. “There is more possibility of shooting yourself in the face than there is of you getting lucky with the empty sixth chamber,” he says.

And while Daimler’s transformation has been “painful” at times, he says the company now feels in better shape to “make better decisions and produce leads,” which has only been achieved through adopting a new approach to targeting and personalisation.

“I don’t want to pollute the air with better advertising. When people want something, we as a brand should have an answer and the answer should be surprisingly interesting. It’s all about precise, one-to-one advertising. And, sometimes, another brand will fit a customer better, but in order to have compelling answers for customers seeking us out we need to have the right products in front of them.”

Another key part of Fritzsch’s newly-created role will be driving the brand’s ‘connected hubs’ system, which sees talent pooled from Publicis Communications, Publicis Media, Publicis.Sapient and Publicis One, in order to push results globally. He will also be charged with developing a global working and cultural model to drive transformation. This is a sticking point as Fritzsch believes his mission to be a “cultural” one and not just a business brief.

“Cultural change is critical and over the past few years my focus has been to drive this change at Mercedes-Benz through the unification of global processes and regions, destruction of silos and challenging the traditional ways of thinking.

“Through doing this, we facilitate a global transformation of marketing, creating a new and connected world in which Mercedes-Benz can make better decisions through data, with increased consistency, efficiency and effectiveness.”

Supporting clients that aren’t Daimler

In 2019, Daimler suffered its worst results in decade with earnings diving 60% following €4bn in legal liabilities to compensate customers for the alleged manipulation of diesel emissions (for which, the business continues to deny any wrongdoing).

While sales remained at the same level, the company and its agency will certainly have their work cut out when it comes to retuning the automaker to full financial health amid a wider slowdown in the global car market.

For Publicis Groupe too, Fritzsch’s appointment will support it in its mission to “productise, package and scale the ’Power of One’ model to other clients,” not just Daimler.

Nivea owner Beiersdorf AG and P&G are among the advertisers already working with the French holding giant in this manner.

Since its $4bn acquisition of data-focused marketing business Epsilon, the Groupe has won significant business with the model including Disney+, Novartis and Mondelēz.

Despite a tough 2019 and two years of downgraded sales forecasts, it emerged as the surprise leader of JP Morgan's annual holding group new business rankings for 2019. Following its significant investment in tech to power its own transformation, the world’s third-largest ad holding group will be counting on other brands to invest in its agile working model.

Fritzsch believes that over the course of two years, Publicis has learned from Daimler’s approach and apply this to other clients, especially in the midst of Covid-19.

“Of course, every transformation is different. Brands have different systems, different capabilities, different processes and different people. Every company needs a learning programme, but the content has to be different from business-to-business.

“Brands stand to learn a lot from our journey at Mercedes-Benz, and [there’s scope] to package up those learnings as a product for other clients and help them.”

He says that results of the Publicis/Daimler partnership have been measured through not only the ROI on advertising a car, but also the “lifetime value” of a customer’s first purchase and how the agency continues to communicate to them as they start thinking about another vehicle purchase.

Publicis says Fritzsch’s appointment was confirmed in March 2020, prior to its Covid-19 hiring freeze.