The recently announced joint venture between Manhattan-based WPP ad shops JWT and Ogilvy & Mather not only signals a shift in brands' priorities toward retail marketing, but also flags the high demand for experienced marketing professionals, JWT executives say.
JWT/Ogilvy Action plans to hire more than 30 senior marketing pros in 2011 to develop retail marketing strategies for its clientele, which include companies such as Nestlé and American Express. It has hired 50 professionals since the venture was created in July.
"Agencies and brands are all now looking for very senior people to manage shopper marketing work," said Fred Bidwell, executive chairman of JWT Action. "And they're finding a tremendous shortage of qualified people to do that -- this [shift] is a recent development, so there's not enough talent in the pipeline."
As the retail industry consolidates, brands are selling as much as 50% of their product volume through a single retailer, Bidwell said. Accordingly, they increased their retail marketing expenditure by roughly 21% each year from 2004, figures from a Deloitte marketing research report show.
"A bad meeting with a buyer at Walmart could have a destructive end," said Bidwell. "That's a 25 to 50% decline instantly in your volume."
As a result, retail marketing, once considered less sexy than other disciplines, is now top priority.
"In the old days, [shopper marketing] was considered the last chore, and less senior strategic people tended to be assigned to that business," said Bidwell. "But now we need highly-qualified people with a deep understanding of the retail landscape and the shopper's mindset, and that kind of expertise is hard to find."
A highly sought-after skill is the ability to gather and interpret analytic data on shoppers and translate that into effective marketing strategies, say executives. JWT relies on external as well as proprietary research to study shopping behavior, which has become increasingly important to understand as customers find more of their deal information online.
"Our account executives lead the client-facing team and account-service team to make sure their brand strategies are based on brand and consumer insights," said Susan Samuelson, account director for JWT Action. "So we basically have to be constantly thinking about the shopper."
The venture operates across six main offices (Akron, Ohio, Bentonville, Ark., New York, Minneapolis, Indianapolis and Chicago) and several smaller ones across the country. It currently employees 400 full-time and 3,000 part-time staff.
Write to Sindhu Sundar