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The Buzz About Wendy Clark

A strong believer in collaboration, Coke’s go-to integrated marketing exec sparks conversations online and off
  • February 27 2012

Wendy Clark is one of those lucky people who doesn’t need much sleep. And that’s a good thing because as SVP of integrated marketing communications and capabilities for The Coca-Cola Company, her task is immense. Already one of the best-known brands—if not the best known—the iconic company has the goal of doubling its revenue by 2020. You can imagine the pressure on Clark.

While a company of that size and reputation could easily move slowly and depend on its past successes, under Clark’s stewardship, Coke’s marketing has been both forward thinking and nimble.

“A 125-year legacy is an incredible gift to any marketer,” says Clark, “so our jobs here become a responsibility. When there’s a legacy that precedes you, you better take your job pretty seriously. In order to be successful, it has to be hyper-relevant to every new generation in over 200 countries.”

Hours alone won’t get that job done.

“Wendy is what the future of our industry should be,” says Susan Aminoff, managing director of audio identity for Elias Arts, and one of the three people who joined together to nominate Clark for AWNY’s Advertising Woman of the Year Award. “She has big ideas and she is changing the form and shape of how we do things in this industry. It’s about being collaborative with one another and looking at things in a way that is all-encompassing as a holistic solution.”

Aminoff first met Clark after hearing her speak at an awards event. At the time, Clark was SVP of advertising at AT&T, and Aminoff approached her to discuss doing business. Shortly after the meeting, though, Clark moved to Coca-Cola, so the two never got the chance to work together. But they did become friends.

“She’s very warm and effusive and even at our first meeting, she encouraged me to follow up with her. She is genuinely passionate and invested, but she is also kind—to individuals and to the industry on the whole through speaking engagements. She shares what works for Coke and she also shares what has not worked.”

Not just effective, collaborative and kind, but also “wicked smart,” says Laura Desmond, global CEO of Starcom MediaVest Group and AWNY Advertising Woman of the Year in 2009. “Wendy knows the right thing to do and cares about doing the right thing.”

Desmond also points out that Clark is smart enough to know she can’t go it alone. “She’s strong and she’s decisive,” she adds, “but along with that, she puts a lot of energy into partnering and collaborating with her team to get it done. She does a great job of combining the strong authority and decisiveness of a natural great leader, coupled with a focus on the people side of the business. Over the past two years, she and her team have leaned into the future of marketing at Coke.”


Giving Up Control

Clark has dubbed that future Liquid and Linked, a stategic approach designed to create even deeper connections with consumers. “Liquid” because the market landscape is constantly changing and communications should be multi-faceted and expressed across multiple platforms. And “linked” because no matter which platforms are used or how, all brand messages must remain “linked” to Coca-Cola’s core brand strategies and objectives.

Clark’s first major success with the Liquid and Linked strategy was Coca-Cola’s FIFA World Cup sponsorship in 2010, the company’s largest global marketing initiative at that time, hitting 160 countries. In addition to traditional marketing efforts, Coke tapped into a global passion for music and the overarching concept of “celebration” with FIFA commercials that featured a remix of Somali rapper K’naan’s song “Wavin’ Flag”.  This passionate anthem was so well received it was released as a single and climbed to number-one in countries like Mexico, Germany and China. The company also brought the FIFA trophy to the world, allowing more than 500,000 people in 84 countries to have their pictures taken with it.

Those are the kinds of things that get people talking and the results were clear: Coca-Cola earned more print stories than any other sponsor, along with 370 million social media impressions.

Another multi-platform effort Clark cites is last February’s Super Bowl campaign, led by the North American team, which was designed to capitalize on the 60 percent of the audience projected to be watching with a second screen. To that end, the Coca-Cola polar bears came to life in animated  TV ads, responded in real time to the action on the field via a website and even tweeted their thoughts about the game.

Next up for Clark and her team is another globally integrated campaign, this time revolving around the 2012 Olympics in London. In February, the company released a new song, “Anywhere in the World,” written by Mark Ronson and Katy B, as the anthem for this year’s “Move to the Beat” sponsorship, along with a YouTube commercial to introduce the song before launching a TV campaign. Other elements so far include a documentary about the creation of the song, Olympic hopefuls acting as ambassadors, packaging tie-ins and activations across text messaging, mobile web, new apps and more.

The numbers tell just how successful the Liquid and Linked strategy has been. On November 8, 2011, USA Today reported that the Coca-Cola Facebook page boasted more than 35 million “likes.” By mid-February, that number had jumped to more than 39 million.

But a “like” is only the beginning. People are talking and Clark believes that’s the real goal: use marketing to establish a connection that’s so compelling that people want to continue all forms of conversations. She defines this approach as “curating”—or sparking—the conversation, rather than trying to control it by, say, loading up Coke’s Facebook page with self-serving posts.

“The days of control are completely over,” says Clark. “We acknowledge the conversation and we participate in it, but we don’t control it.


List as You Climb

That concept of integration also extends into Clark’s personal life. “Life balance is a false goal,” she says. “I can’t figure out how to pit the family I love against the career I love. Instead, I’m constantly integrating all the bits. If I need to take time to go to a ballet recital or something like that, in return I will slip on my laptop later. I want to be very present for both my family and my job.”

At 41, Clark has seen what she calls “dramatic changes in the accommodation of female managers and male managers over time.” She is acutely aware that her experience is far different from that of even those women who came right before her.

When she started working at AT&T, for example, Clark had two children. A female manager with whom she was close strongly encouraged her to have a third if that’s what she wanted to do. “She was adamant—adamant—that I have a third child,” says Clark. “She had one child and she told me one of her biggest regrets was not having more—that she had had to pick between her career and having children. But she reminded me that I didn’t have to make that choice. Her encouragement really put voice to what she had to go through—and she’s only 20 years older than I am.”

That said, she notes that women still make a disappointingly small appearance on industry lists of top achievers. “There’s more to do,” she says. “My mantra is: ‘List as you climb.’ We need to create room for the women around us and after us.”

With a strong appreciation of the help she received from others along the way, Clark now does her part to help others move along their own path. “It’s critically important to find mini-me’s—people we believe can advance or do better with our help.”

To that end, she spends time regularly mentoring some 15 to 20 women, on a formal and informal basis, taking the time to respond to emails and phone calls, and meeting for coffee to talk about challenges, experiences and passions.

“If someone asks me, I never say no. Younger women in the workplace now are incredibly articulate and able to tell me exactly what they want from me and how they want it,” she laughs.

“That gives me tons of confidence—I love that. I’m not very much about my own brand. I’m far more driven in seeing other people succeed, and knowing that I had some small part in that is much more rewarding to me than a focus on me.”

As for Clark’s own plans, “I love everything I’m doing,” she says. “I have a job that gets me out of bed before my alarm clock every day. I’m so thankful for that and it feels almost greedy to want more than that. I want a job that I feel this way about always…so as long as I feel this way about this one, this is where you’ll find me.”