How Starcom’s Twitter Deal Was Born

Tide, and Laura Desmond's breakfast with Dick Costolo

CANNES, France — Starcom Media Vest Group, along with a host of its Publicis brethren, took over The Majestic on the Croisette during the Lions Festival, holding court alongside companies like Facebook and clients like Coca-Cola. Adweek met with SMG CEO Laura Desmond to discuss why her agencies are here and how the group's recent Twitter deal came about.

What are you hoping to get out of Cannes this year?

Laura Desmond: This is our eighth year at Cannes. When we started we were looking for things to do. We knew we had to be at the center of creativity—it was very much a creative awards show. Today, it's very much a creative and technology conference. So what are we looking to do here? We want to very much help enable a conversation around what's next, in terms of technology and creativity, in terms of new digital and technology companies who can target audiences better for our clients, and in terms of partnership. We're here meeting with new companies, thinking about the future, and trying to decide how to best partner on behalf of our clients as well as for ourselves.

Any more you can share about your how your new Twitter deal is structured, and what you're looking to accomplish? 

We haven't spoken about the [financial] specifics of the deal, and we still won't. But it's hundreds of millions of dollars over a multiyear period of time. If it was only about inventory and first looks and better pricing, we wouldn't have done the strategic partnership. We're Twitter's largest partner as it is now. We've done tremendous work with them—whether it be Oreo, Coca Cola, P&G—over the last 18 months. The reason that we entered the strategic partnership with them is [Twitter CEO] Dick [Costolo’s] view of the world, his view of the future, is very aligned with ours. It’s about experiences. It’s about getting consumers and people to participate in brand stories.

Was there a pivotal event that made you say this is the time to do this deal?

There are two things. When we saw what was possible with the P&G Tide Nascar opportunity, where Tide was used to clean up an oil spill [at the 2012 Daytona 500]. We were able to make, working with Twitter, Tide the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter two days in a row, which was equal to $8 million of paid media value.

The other pivotal moment quite frankly was when Dick and I got together for breakfast one morning in Chicago. He'd been in Michigan to see a U of M football game and visit his family who still lives in Michigan. We had this sit-down conversation where we just shared views of the world, visions of the world, what did he see, what did I see, how did we think collaboration and partnership could look. So we put those two visions together over coffee at breakfast, we just started saying wow we're really pretty aligned here. At that point, our people started working on it. It took two or three months. It wasn't something that we just rushed right into … We wanted it to be upstream.

That's pretty fast though?

On top of 18 months. I'd say it was a reasonable amount of time where you're not rushing it but you're not laboring over it.

Any thoughts or comments on WPP following up with its own big Twitter deal?

Well, we're first.

@GabrielBeltrone Gabriel Beltrone is a frequent contributor to Adweek.
@lgranatstein Lisa Granatstein is the editor, svp, programming at Adweek.