Q&A: CDW Chief Marketer Mark Gambill

NEW YORK CDW Corp. chief marketing officer Mark Gambill reflects on the lengthy process that culminated in the hiring of new lead agency Ogilvy & Mather this week.

In an interview with senior reporter Andrew McMains, Gambill discusses what set Ogilvy apart from fellow finalists JWT and The Martin Agency, why clients increasingly are producing what agencies pitch in reviews and how business has become “less bad” for CDW, a provider of technology products and services to businesses, governmental bodies and schools.

Adweek: What factors prompted this review?

Gambill: I think it’s healthy to take a look at all of your vendor relationships and pull back. When you get into something and you’re in the middle of it, you tend to not be able to pull back and have perspective. One of the things that I was able to do coming into the company three-and-a-half years ago was to take a look at all our relationships. And the relationship that we had with JWT was very good on a number of levels. But I felt like there were some areas where we could improve. So, we worked with them to try and realize some of these things and while they did a nice job and they showed improvement, we felt like it’s in our company’s best interest to just see what else is out there [and get] some fresh thinking, some fresh perspective. 

What led you to The Martin Agency?

We used a consultant [Jones Lundin Beals] and we went through a very detailed process of trying to understand what it is we wanted to accomplish and who out there had the strength to be able to deliver that. And The Martin Agency had a fantastic team. They came across very well. It was just a matter of seeing who else is out there and they have a very good reputation.

Was this more a strategic pitch or did you have agencies show creative ideas as well?

Soup to nuts.

What made Ogilvy stand out?

We got down to four, then three finalists and every one of them had pieces of what they were doing that was very powerful. One of them might have been in their ability to understand the digital landscape, another one might have been in their ability to come up with a big idea. But what we felt with Ogilvy is that they put it all together. They had a very sound strategy. The foundation of the thinking was very good. They did very good due diligence in terms of the research. And they came up with a creative idea that we think will have resonance and it will apply very well to our business model.

Were you looking to realize cost efficiencies in doing this consolidation? You’re going from several agencies essentially down to one main agency, correct?

For the most part. There are still a couple of other agencies that we work with on some of the items. But it wasn’t really a cost consolidation that was driving it. Moreover, it was just getting that consistency of message, of brand, of approach to the marketplace. [We were] really trying to hone and articulate our value proposition and how we presented it in the marketplace, in an integrated fashion and strategically.

How likely is it that what Ogilvy pitched will be produced?

We’re doing some internal checking right now. They’ll do some more testing on it. There’s a good possibility that that will become what comes out into the marketplace. We’ve got a little bit of time here because we’re in the midst of a transition going into the new fiscal year. So, we are giving good due diligence to this so we make sure it is what we think it is.

Why do clients seem to be producing more of what’s pitched these days?

It’s a matter of the investment that both sides make in really trying to deep dive into this is what we’re trying to accomplish, this is who we are, this is what we think are the key compelling factors around us. And then if you go through a tissue session, you’re going to give them additional feedback, saying, “Well, that’s a little bit off” and “That’s really the wrong approach” or “This works well.” I experienced the same thing at Manpower when we re-did the global brand and we worked with Grey Worldwide. It’s a matter of a company may just get it. And they come in with much more knowledge investment and awareness of what the client company is trying to do. The other side of it may be that business is hard to win right now from an agency perspective and they’re really into it and putting their all into it in terms of coming up with something that just resonates with the client company.

How long was your process?

Too long! We started at the end of last year and our goal was to have an agency selected by June 1st. But the challenge of calendars is, with every company, pretty tough. Plus, we had so many good presentations the first run-though, we couldn’t make a decision. It was that close. So we wanted everybody to go back and tweak a few things. 

Does the length of the review also support the notion that if you have something good, get it in the marketplace sooner rather than later?

No, rather it’s the opposite with us. We want to go out in 2010, so obviously we have a transition going on. We want to actually make sure we vet this correctly, get a lot of very good feedback and have a good internal plan because we are of the belief that if we have folks [who] internally and passionately believe and surround themselves with this, that the external part should feed upon that. 

Will Ogilvy do more than traditional ads, direct and digital marketing?

Those are the basics. One of the things we’re going to challenge them with — as we’re doing ourselves — is looking at what our [media] mix should be, how we think about it and how we measure those. [Also], understanding the role and impact of social media. Not just running to something because it’s hot or a fad, but what role should that play in the context of our broader, mass-targeted marketing? 

Next year will you spend more on digital, as a piece of the pie, than on traditional ads?

We’re absolutely shifting funds. The absolute mix is still to be determined. But yes, obviously, you’re seeing a shift away from print and some of the other traditional media to take advantage of what’s going on in the digital space for a number of different reasons.

What’s your sense of next year’s marketplace and how clients will spend money? Will the money flow more freely?

I think there’s still some inherent risk in the economy because of the uncertainties. And it’s a jobless recovery, to a certain extent. We’ve absolutely seen an uptick [in customer spending] over the course of the year. But, having said that, it’s just we’ll say, less bad, than it was before. It’s just one of those [things] where it’s tough to call right now. . . . We see additional investments being made and some more optimism in certain areas of technology spend. You’ve got replacement reschedules coming up as well. You’ve got companies that have held off replacing hardware now for going on four, possibly five years. So, there are some factors working in [our] favor — Windows 7 release — that should prompt technology spending. But again, a lot of it is dependent on how this healthcare debate plays out [and] if we start to see more job creation. So, those are the big risks that are sitting out there in the market right now.

Is CDW likely to spend more next year in terms of marketing dollars?

We anticipate about the same at this point.

Will we see Ogilvy’s first work in the first quarter?

We’re going to shoot for that, without anything written in stone.