Mindshare’s Phil Cowdell on how to market to clients


Mindshare CEO Phil Cowdell, since being in the driver’s seat at the media agency beginning in May, has scored quite a few clients with his team. A few examples — just in the last four to six weeks — include Sun Products, Farmer’s Insurance, Skyy Vodka, and they just defended and were re-appointed British Virgin Islands travel.

We asked Cowdell about the rash of wins he and his team have scored for the agency as of late: What’s the secret? (And this is great advice for any account exec in the broadcast/media biz about helping clients).
“One of the questions I got recently when I arrived at Mindshare was, ‘What’s happening with new business prospects?’ We just hadn’t won the Home Depot pitch and we had lost the Mars-Wrigley consolidation. And my answer to the team was, ‘Our number one new business prospect right now is our current business. Our current clients are our absolute priority.’ Kimberly-Clark is a great example. They were the first client that signed with Mindshare when we launched. And for seven years, they were a sleepy client—there wasn’t much growth, there wasn’t much innovation. Now, we have grown top and bottom line, we’ve extended our scope and we’re doing great work with them now and they love it. They are an advocate of ours.”

You had probably worked with Mark Kaline, who was in charge of Ford’s media before his now similar role Kimberly-Clark. Before running Mindshare, you represented WPP in Detroit for Ford and you worked in the Motor City.
“We introduced Kaline to the job there. And I’m talking now on the Tony Palmer level (the CMO). So Palmer is circling Kaline – all of them would give a before and after view of what Mindshare has done to help them get where they need to get to. And they’ve gone from sleepy to front and progressive. We’ve gone from helping them do their media and media training to training their marketers on the K-C marketing process in places like Istanbul, Israel, South Africa and Moscow. So we’ve gone from being media to being their I&P partners. That’s the level of relationship we have now.”

Isn’t that what you ultimately want to do for clients—super serve them?
“Yes, and that goes back to the first point—our current clients are our key and that’s where there is opportunity to grow. We have to ask them different questions and we have to frame what we do in a different way—be more commercial and more focused on them and less about us. It’s about them being happy and profitable….not us. And when they are happy and successful, in part due to our input and advice, then hopefully we too get happy and profitable, which in turn ensures great morale, talent retention and the funding to keep adding new talent and expertise.”

Since taking the top job at Mindshare, Cowdell has been visiting some 20 clients personally. And since those visits, the company has done planning workshops and session with the clients to revitalize their engagement. So the CEO is running planning sessions—he’s rolling up his sleeves and showing his commitment to helping his clients succeed.
“You lead from the front, you give a shit and show them love and attention – and you challenge them. One comment the other day was, ‘He’s not like a normal CEO, because 1) he gives a crap; 2) he gets out and works on your business and rolls his sleeves up.’ To our team it’s not about sitting back as a media order taker waiting for them to come and say ‘Hey, I want a TV plan’.”

He adds, “By the way, Royal Caribbean is a lovely example. They just launched their new fleet of the new Oasis ship, which is just phenomenal. So my account team on it –a good team — said everything was great with the client. And I said I have three questions for you—what is the occupancy level of cabins on a cruise line to break even?’ It is in the low 90’s – a hell of a number. Think about the capital costs and capital infrastructure—it’s high because, of course, it is a lumpy business. The second question was you’re launching Oasis—they’re bigger, aren’t they – so how much is the increasing capacity? Oasis is +40%. And the third question was in a recession, how are consumers still deciding to buy or postpone cruises? And they weren’t sure at the time. So we put a little sales study in place. 70% of people in the market to buy a cruise on average are deferring the purchase 14.5 months. So I went to see the client at the docks in Miami saying three things: 94% breakeven; Oasis comes with 40% increased capacity; then you have 14.5 months deferment. So our job is to help you get over that.”

Cowdell says that is typically what they do with all of the clients—ask the three challenging questions first. “I think as an industry we’ve gotten full-up with the artifice of PowerPoint and 10 people standing up and saying what they do in a conference room. No—go in there, do some talking, show an interest and try to frame how potentially you might be able to help. And then to get to the answer. I started this with Ford—a series questions we try to work through to find our how to get a better marketing plan. We bring in a big white board and magic markers with the questions written on top. We then take the client on a story grounded on  the job that needs to be done. The different consumer segments and what their issues, beliefs and perceptions are—not what they need, but what do they think. Then you start to find different groups for building connections with clients to tell stories. It’s all about story-telling bases on both insights and emotional beliefs of consumers.”

With Holiday Inn (scored in July), Cowdell told them they have people that love you and people that loathe you. “A loather won’t even listen to your advertising. You’ve got people that don’t know and people who don’t care. The people who don’t care won’t even listen to you until you find something they care about. So how do you build a conversation to get to those they care about and then lather in how you can match that care and deliver a product for them. So it’s different ways of looking at the prejudice, beliefs and behavior of people. It’s so far away from a functional benefit, but each of them leads you into a different communications strategy.”

This is good advice for broadcasters and AEs in the media business in general about helping clients as well.
Cowdell concluded, “It’s about how together we deliver value for the client. It’s not about price and even CPM—of course that’s a hygiene factor, but it’s about what can do that can make a difference? How do we sell those extra 10% of cabin rooms?”