McCann Erickson, in a bid to underscore the expanding role of planning in the development of client business ideas, has added a third leader to its New York planning department and directed each to focus on a specific aspect of the discipline.
The new leader is Anne Benvenuto, former director of strategic services at Interpublic Group's R/GA, who becomes director of behavioral planning at McCann. At the same time, co-directors of strategic planning Devika Bulchandani and John Kottmann have shifted to director of brand planning and director of business strategy and analytics, respectively.
Each executive shares leadership of the 35-person department and reports to McCann N.Y. president Thom Gruhler.
Historically, IPG's McCann has been known for its brand planning, which stemmed from an understanding of consumer attitudes toward brands. This move attempts to expand that capability into behavioral research and business analytics.
"We have a very well-developed muscle" in brand planning, Gruhler said. "What we have been doing is dabbling in the other parts of the equation, which is what consumers are doing and how they're behaving. It's my personal philosophy that the closer our ideas are to what we know about consumers and what they're actually doing, the more likely, the more easy [and] the more measurable our ideas will be for clients to purchase."
Of course, the data that comforts clients can also confound them, and that's where smart planners can make a difference, according to Gruhler.
"The best use of our skills is not in analytics. It's in synthesis," Gruhler said, with a nod to a recent speech by former McDonald's marketing chief Larry Light at the American Association of Advertising Agencies' Transformation conference in San Francisco. "We're going to have a lot of information, more and more information at our fingertips. And those of us who will win in the end are the best synthesizers of what that means."
Benvenuto, 55, spent nearly six years at R/GA in New York, where she oversaw three departments: insights/planning, analytics and connections. Her clients there included Walmart, Subaru, Johnson & Johnson, Purina and S.C. Johnson. She left in October and had been working as a freelance consultant when she agreed to join McCann.
Before R/GA, Benvenuto worked at WPP Group's Wunderman in New York, where she helped develop the shop's interactive practice and led its experience planning efforts. Earlier in her career, she worked on the client side, as director of marketing at Autobytel.
Among the obstacles Benvenuto expects in her new job is the conservatism that the recession has bred among clients in general across the industry. The challenge, as Benvenuto sees it, is to convince clients that they're making sound marketing decisions and that's where insights from planning can play a role.
"Client decision-making today is taking longer. In general, people are being much more considered about the decisions that they make, the people they hire, the money they spend," said Benvenuto. "And I think when you realize that times are challenging now, you know [that] it's about people and it's around clients making smarter, better decisions because they're making them more slowly and more cautiously. They want agencies who can think on their feet and help them do it."