American Express CMO Elizabeth Rutledge Shares What Top Marketers Are Talking About at Cannes

Inspired by experiential work

The company recently launched a new rebranding campaign.
American Express

Elizabeth Rutledge made her first visit to Cannes Lions this year at a time of change for American Express marketing: she was officially promoted to CMO in February after spending 25 years at the company, most recently as evp of global advertising and brand management. Last month, she also confirmed that the credit card brand would be placing its global media business in review after launching a big rebranding campaign with new creative agency partner mcgarrybowen.

Adweek spoke to Rutledge regarding her first impressions of the festival and the issues that occupy the minds of her fellow CMOs this summer.

Adweek: What has impressed you about Cannes 2018 so far?
Elizabeth Rutledge: I spent two hours just looking at the work, and that has been the most inspiring part of this whole time. I particularly focused on the experiential work because that’s at the heart of the AmEx brand. It’s in our DNA, and I wanted to see what other people are doing and draw inspiration from them.

I’m very focused not on one-time events but on creating experiences on a consistent basis; it’s not a stunt, it’s something that you feel and then you keep experiencing with us. How do you capture that on a mass scale without compromising how you feel as an individual [while] in that experience?

Any interesting events or panels?
I was on an Economist panel Wednesday morning with Antonio Lucio of HP and Molly Battin of Turner, and I was asked what’s been a [recent] wake up call to marketers. We’ve been talking about frenemies, enemies, partners, and all that stuff, but I feel like we need to leave that behind. Clutter is the enemy. How can you stand out in this sea of different devices and choices consumers have to see, feel and hear from brands? We talked about creative magic, the importance of language, and the [brand] experience in terms of how special it needs to be.

What are your fellow CMOs most interested in discussing this year?
We’ve been talking a lot about talent, both on our own teams and with our [agency] partners. It’s good to talk to other CMOs and hear sometimes that I’m not alone in terms of things I’ve been thinking about. We’re also talking about measurement and … organizational structure in terms of getting the work done from a process perspective.

[AmEx has] begun to dig deep from an agile perspective, flattening the organization and then also putting in scrum teams, with enough people around a [table] to make decisions not only from a brand advertising perspective but from an everyday decision and retention marketing perspective. That means having copywriters and product managers around the table making the decisions more quickly, getting some senior executives out of the discussion and empowering the team. To me, at the heart of that is customer insights and creativity around those scrums.

AmEx was also one of the first brands to bring its own media buying in-house. Have you been moving forward on that front?
We’re absolutely thinking about that, but it’s not just ‘let’s move it all in house.’ It’s absolutely a balance, and we are growing some of that talent internally, but I also have great partners. We run a very integrated, relationship-based team. That’s how we launched our brand platform—really great partnerships from mcgarrybowen and Digitas to Pentagram from a visual identity perspective, Mindshare from a media perspective, all around the same table.

What I like about that conversation is that you often can’t tell one [of our agency partners] from the other. That’s the kind of environment we’ve created, and I feel like that gets the best work out at the end of the day. We’re just putting the customer in the center.

Can you elaborate on that a little?
We’re talking about how it’s been B to C [business to consumer] instead of C to B [consumer to business] and flipping it. In terms of the customer, no matter whether that’s a business client or persona, you need to listen to them. Customer centricity is the thing I’ve heard, felt and seen the two days I’ve been here.

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