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?