MRM’s Michael Mclaren on the Company’s Changing Business

Digital and direct is moving into predictive marketing

As the new worldwide president at MRM, Michael Mclaren brings more than a decade of experience working within McCann Worldgroup, the parent of the digital and direct company. The Australian has worked around the world in Sydney, Tokyo, Singapore, San Francisco and New York, most recently returning from Tokyo 18 months ago, where he was regional director of Worldgroup’s Asia Pacific region and chief of its Japanese operations. Now that MRM global chief Bill Kolb is shifting into a Worldgroup client-specific role for GM, Mclaren—along with commerce president Hank Summy—is taking over Kolb’s day-to-day management. Mclaren spoke to Adweek about his changing role, MRM’s evolving business model and how a one-time Navy midshipman went from navigating by the stars to steering the future direction of a global network.  

You came back to New York as president MRM East, global clients solution director. How has your role changed?

One of the key changes is I’ll have a view over our international offices and get engaged with them more directly, not just through the client's lens, but also from a business operations perspective. Our business model is to be a lean network where we have centers of excellence around the world. What we want to do is to quickly bring those skills to bear on opportunities or client challenges anywhere. One of the things I’ll focus on is making that even faster and more pervasive. Another opportunity is for us to scale client relationships.

How is MRM evolving within that new industry landscape?

MRM’s roots are in direct marketing so the company was very data-centric and focused on engagement and ongoing connections with customers. That moved into a CRM world where we were managing relationships and doing it through multiple points of contact and becoming increasingly digital. Now it’s migrated to a much richer world. We call it customer experience management and consumers’ engagement with brands and the types of information and values they’re looking for.

Other Worldgroup companies like McCann Erickson, where you were previously U.S. president, are bolstering their digital resources. Is there overlap with MRM?

For a McCann to create the brand narrative, which is their DNA, they need to be able to do that in any environment where the customer will receive that message—so it may be digital or television. As the media landscape evolves, McCann absolutely needs to evolve those skills. Our DNA is about engagement and interactivity with the customer and it starts with a commitment to knowing who they are and capturing data, having a two-way dialogue. If you go back to direct marketing, intelligence was built up about these contacts with customers and now as you fast track up to a customer experience world we still remain 100 percent committed to walking a mile in the customers’ shoes, owning that experience. We live in a digital world and a physical world and do a lot of offline work for a wide variety of clients.

Have things changed greatly in the business here while you were in Japan?

They have. One of the beauties of working with technology companies is that they give you a window to the future. What Microsoft and Intel did is that they moved away from a mass media model and toward a one-to-one model which was obviously digitally-enabled. But a lot of other marketers were relying pretty much on mass media as their primary weapon in the marketing mix. What happened in the three years I was away was that more and more companies woke up and realized they needed more diversity and different ways of connecting with people. If you use the rule of thumb to say what percentage of spending goes into non-mass media channels, one of the inflection points was the 30/70 rule. Once they moved across 30 percent, that’s a sizeable chuck that’s getting directed into “alternative” media  channels and more and more marketers had crossed that threshold.

What are some of the most exciting things happening now that are changing the way your clients think about brands and communications?

More and more marketers and the industry are catching up with data-enabled marketing. We’re moving from a world where there was reactive marketing, where you looked back in time at information you collected in order to make smarter choices about what you’re going to do in the future. Now we’ve gone into a phase of real-time marketing so we’re starting to get social media feeds, we’re reacting to conversations going on in real time and marketers are building listening posts and mission controls to be able to handle that real-time information. Very soon we’ll go into predictive marketing, which is pretty cool stuff.

What are the technology devices you can’t live without?

I’m tethered to my phone and my latest is an HTC Windows phone which is elegant and cool. I use a tablet more as an entertainment medium. I always carry my laptop with me because I find it easier to create and curate content on a laptop, with all the power it brings to the table, than to do it on a pad.

You learn a lot about social media from your teenage daughters. Any great insights about them?

My daughters are 15 and 14, going on 28 and 26. It’s instant gratification. If a text happens in the middle of dinner, you would swear the alarm bells had just gone off and there was going to be a fire. Their attention is immediately drawn to that text. If you project that into the social environment, with things like Instagram, Snapchat, it’s interesting because they text each other these goofy selfies photos and it has a time limit as to how long the other guy can see it. The millennials are certainly natives in taking on multiple sources of input at any one time. My daughter cans sit there doing Snapchat, having an IM conversation, doing homework, watching television, talking on the phone all at the same time and she does it without even blinking.

You were a midshipman in the Royal Australian Navy. How does your military experience shape your management style?

When you’re on a ship they teach you everybody has a critical role to play for the integrity and safety of the ship. Whether you’re the most junior sailor or most senior captain there’s a mutual respect that exists in that environment because everyone knows our lives depend on it. That’s an extreme example but what does apply to business is that we respect the role that everyone brings to the table.

How did you move from the Navy into marketing?

I also went to college while I was doing that and I was interested in international business and marketing. I ended up spending time in the recruiting area of the military and really enjoyed it. So after I finished my term of service, I left and I and joined Unilever as a junior brand manager. That was where I cut my teeth in a very difficult marketing organization, which was an enriching experience. I would go to meetings at the agency and I was drawn to solving the marketing problem and understanding how communications could make a difference while having fun with the creative product. So when I got an  opportunity to take a role on the agency side, thinking it would be a very short period because I was going to go back into marketing, I took it. That was 20 years ago.

Your personal motto is ‘work hard, play hard’. What do you do when you’re not working?

I’m very passionate about my family. I’ve taken them around the world so I try to spend as much of my down time with them as possible. I also try to stay healthy. I love running, riding my bike and keeping active but I also love to have fun with people. We spend a lot of our waking hours at work and a lot of nervous energy trying to come up with these solutions. At the end of the day, it’s still advertising. We have to have a sense of humor and enjoy the company of others, grab a beer after work, catch up with people on a human basis.