“When I came on board three and a half years ago, the ambition was to build a marketing organization and strategy to drive growth for the company. I think about growth as three ‘Rs.’ Growth for the brand, which is reputation; growth for our clients, which is relationships; and growth for our business, which is revenue.”
Teresa Barreira was outlining her vision before meticulously describing the steps on the way to achieving it. Barreira is SVP, Global Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at digital transformation consultancy Publicis Sapient, present in 17 countries and serving clients like Walmart, Nestlé and Audi.
Starting with strategy
“I started by building a strategy that was agile, entrepreneurial and – most important of all – data-centric. I describe it as content-based, issues-driven and outcome-focused.” The overall success metric can indeed be defined as growth, but surely there are some more intermediate metrics by which you know whether the strategy is working?
“Everybody in the team has individual metrics,” she said, “but we all have collective outcomes which we collectively own. We win together or we lose together.” An example is pipeline. “We set a target for how much marketing-influenced pipeline we have to deliver. We own that as a group even though there are probably some people who are more accountable for it. That’s a major metric for us.”
Other metrics, however, can offer guidance on progress, especially if looked at year-over-year. “I like to look at how we’re progressing versus individual metrics,” she said. “We also look at journeys. I’ve moved away from doing campaigns. We moved from campaign creation to journey enablement, and what that means is something long-term and sustainable. Campaigns are like the fountains at the Bellagio: A lot of effort to go up, you’re up for five seconds, then you go down.”
The performance of the journey is constantly reviewed: “Then we optimize for performance, for efficency, for quality. The idea is to continually optimize and then you can see the growth.”
One example of a journey from Publicis Sapient is the Digital Life Index, an extended and ongoing global research initiative focused on our new digital lives. It’s not transactional content, in the sense of an attempt simply to sell the consultancy’s services; it aspires to thought leadership. “That’s a very good example of journey,” she agreed. “The purpose of the Digital Life Index when we launched it was to have something we were going to build over time.” The purpose was to gather data on how people engage over time, for example, with purchases, with banks, with travel, with their health. “We’re in the third year with the study,” she said.
Hiring for diversity of thought, experience and background
Barreira was convinced that she needed a certain kind of team to enable that strategy. That meant looking for new talent. “We have around 150 people on the team today,” she said, “and I think 70% of them are new – they’ve been here for less than two years. I wanted to hire people who had the right skills, the right mindset and the right experience. I brought a lot of folks on who had never actually worked in marketing. My first hire had never had a job in marketing or even in a corporate environment. I was hiring for diversity of thought, diversity of experience and – really important – diversity of background. In my team today 80% are women and 60% come from a diverse background. It’s important to bring that into the product, into the service and into our thinking.”
Those statistics reflect a remarkable level of diversity by today’s corporate standards. How was it achieved? “It has to be intentional,” said Barreira. “I believe most companies have a positive intent. The problem sometimes is that it takes time. If you want 50% of your leadership team to be women, you have to make room. It’s not just hiring.”
She added, “I had two roles for which I wanted to hire Black women; you have to say, that’s who I’m going to hire – someone who is amazing in the role but also has that background. The candidates exist. You just have to look for them.”
Getting into the pod
Barreira’s organization is manifestly structured as an agile organization. Although she occasionally uses the term “agile,” she prefers to talk about the “pod model.” “The pod model was created to help accelerate agility but also to accelerate collaboration,” she said. She compared it to an operating room where surgeons, nurses and an anesthesiologist come together with the joint mission of saving the patient.
“A pod is the same thing – it’s a virtual pod where we have different skills. We have one pod for each industry (we got to market by industry) and we also have a brand pod and a social pod. Some people stay in a pod permanently – like a designer or a copywriter – but others come in and out of the pod and work in multiple pods – like a data scientist or someone who does journey management or website analytics. Those individuals come and go. These people come together into this construct of the pod and they ideate, solve and execute together.”
A culture of celebration
“The last thing is to have a culture that celebrates experimentation and even failure – we call it learning,” she continued, “a culture that empowers people and allows them to innovate. We allow people to make decisions as if this was their company. You make decisions, but you’re also accountable for them, good or bad. I think that served us well, especially during the pandemic, allowing us to make fast decisions and to favor speed over perfection. If you don’t have that culture, none of this is going to work.”
One unusual element of culture at Publicis Sapient is the recently introduced option of working, not simply remotely but internationally. “It’s really exciting,” she said. “You get to work six weeks out of the year from any country you want. We can help you find housing and get a visa and we have a 24-hour hotline you can call if you have a problem. I think it’s an amazing experience for anybody. It’s good for existing employees and it’s also good to attract talent.”
It’s not four steps and done. Hiring, of course, is an unending process — but there’s more. “One of the things we constantly do is evolve. Our strategy is continuous; it’s a living document. You continue to iterate, you continue to add to it.”