Robin Jaffray

Robin Jaffray on cross-market strategy

04th Oct 2019

One of our Advisory Board members explains what it takes to manage multi-market strategy


Robin Jaffray has a wealth of experience managing strategy for top global brands, both on agency and client side. After many years with several network agencies including FCB Inferno, Leo Burnett and McCann, Robin took the role of VP Global Brand at Western Union. Throughout this journey, he came across many cross-cultural hurdles and successes, which he shares with us in this podcast. He also discusses his view of the industry and the relationship between agencies and brands.

Creative Culture: Hello and welcome to the Creative Culture Podcast interview series. Today we’re focusing on the opportunities and challenges in cross cultural communications, and I’m delighted to have Robin Jeffrey from the Creative Culture Advisory Board here to tell us more. Robin, please introduce yourself.

Robin Jeffrey: Hi. Thank you. So I’m Robin Jeffrey, and I’m a brand strategist, and I also consult with creative businesses directly. But my background is primarily in advertising agencies working both in big network agencies like Libanet and McCann at an international level and in a number of local markets around Europe and the US. I’ve also worked for smaller agencies that don’t have the global networks, but they do have international requirements and service global brands. So most notably FCB Inferno, which was about 40 people in a group to be about 200 people, and also a sort of global footprint. Okay. And then client side, I’ve worked on with Western Union, helping them with brand strategy and with setting up a global in house studio to service their creative needs around the world.

Creative Culture: Fantastic. And so when and why did you decide to join the Creative Culture Advisory Board?

Robin Jeffrey: I’m just trying to remember how long ago it was. I think it was a year when Melanie was setting it up and asked me if I’d like to be involved. And I think that the whole category of not just of transcribing, but getting this global insight, this cross-cultural intelligence, is such a fast changing category, fast changing world that it’s operating in. If you look at the developments of things like AI taking over Ad tech and having to operate around that, the speed of change within brand organizations in particular, I think it was a fascinating opportunity to get closer to Melanie’s sector and see if we can make some positive impact.

Creative Culture: That’s really interesting. And when you look at this marketplace, what do you think of the main cross-cultural challenges that both brands and agencies face?

Robin Jeffrey: Yeah, I suppose picking up on that point about how fast things are changing, I think this sense of speed certainly working brand side, you see it almost more than you see it on agency side. I think agencies can often be quite a little bit complacent about how fast the world is. Their planning cycles tend to be longer than the client cycles. I was working with one brand recently who looks at hourly sales data, and the challenge is for the agency to be able to keep pace with that sort of rapidly changing demand. So I think speed and the kind of the ability to pivot strategy in time around what’s happening in the market is obviously a big challenge. I was talking to one brand a couple of weeks ago whose strategy is being set in the US. For the European markets, but there are developments in the European markets that are happening much more quickly than they are in the US. And the brand needs the flexibility and adaptability to respond to those sort of cross market challenges. I think from an agency perspective, the sort of counterpoint to that is as the world gets faster, creativity becomes more disposable and particularly the huge amount of work that you need to produce to feed programmatic machines and things like that.

Now a piece of creative work might be seen once, if at all and then thrown away and something else replaces it. And I think there’s a big danger in just doing stuff to be fast rather than doing stuff that is insightful and relevant and respectful of customers. Seeing those ads in other markets, I think there’s a real dilemma: which way do you do it right and good but slow, or do you do it sort of fast and disposable.

Creative Culture: And have you yourself within your career faced any of those particular challenges or are there any challenges that spring to mind?

Robin Jeffrey: Yeah, a couple, I suppose. Talking a little bit about Western Union’s in house studio, we had 57 people working in six markets we built from over a two year period that’s in house model and they’re producing something like 140,000 creative files a year, which is an incredible number of outputs and those deliverables are being served up in something like 223 different markets. So you’ve got six hubs and 223 received markets. So you could flood the studio with copyrights from all nationalities and you still wouldn’t be able to serve the range of need not only in terms of writing it well, but also insightfully and respecting kind of local insights. So I think that was a real challenge on the agency side. Most of my interest now stems from the type of work I was doing in Inferno where you’re working with you’re a London agency or a Paris agency, whatever you are, but increasingly servicing global business. And we were pitching for Nokia, so I’m showing my age now, but we were pitching for Nokia globally and the client loved the creative idea that we had for them. He said, you’re not going to win this pitch unless you can prove to me that this is a truly global idea.
The thing is we only had about three days between that and the pitch so we had to go full speed ahead to prove it was a global idea.

Creative Culture: What was critical to resolving that sort of challenge?

Robin Jeffrey: Well, that particular challenge with the Nokia pitch was I think it’s authenticity actually. We took the creative idea as a phrase which was the amazing every day and we sent it out to people in lots of different countries and different customer segments and we asked them what it meant to them. And the stuff we got back, the images, the videos, sound files, stories, the realness of all of that was something that you couldn’t replicate just by googling it and hoping for the best. What resolved the copy requirements for the Western Union sort of studio I think was the ability to have the studio managers be able to work directly with Creative Culture so they didn’t have to come through like a centralized resource, but they became sort of like an embedded partner to a system. So it was much more expensive and much more practical to operate than a sort of traditional sort of vendor agreement.

Creative Culture: Great. And do you think those sort of cross-cultural challenges will evolve over the next ten years or accentuate or other challenges do you think will come in?

Robin Jeffrey: Yes, both of those, actually. I think in terms of authenticity, I think the big trend is about sort of cultural fragmentation and I also think there’s a bear trap in the culture-equal country, and I don’t think it is. I think you can have a lot of homogeneity between countries depending on what type of customer you’re talking to or the type of brand you are. But I think the explosion of subcultures agencies like to talk about tribes, which I think is slightly odd growth, but certainly communities of interest that pop up, Japanese hip-hop movements and things like that, that’s less to do with geography and much more to do with what drives culture. And I think the challenge for brands, the challenge for agencies, and obviously with Creative Culture in the middle of it, is how to recognize those, how to be part of that sort of emerging cultures rather than just simply recording it. And then I think the other thing I was talking about is this sort of idea of in-housing, which just seems to be growing at pace right now. And I think service providers in this space need to find new ways of plugging into the needs that particular brands have and their in-house teams.

I think that you could expect a big global marketing organization to sort of have quite good local intelligence feeding into an in-house system, but the reality is it probably doesn’t. So the ability to sort of almost act as part of a client team, I think there’s only going to be a huge trend.

Creative Culture: So we’ve seen the agency model sort of constantly challenged and stretched over, I guess, the last decade at least. And one of the things it brings to mind is whether you think production companies and content agencies are strong contestants, are taking over management of integrated campaigns across channels, and whether that has an implication for Cross Cultural communications as well some.

Robin Jeffrey: Quite a tricky question. I think one trend I do see is the platform provision of services. So the way that brands can access production companies or content agencies directly is increasingly through platforms. So you have a brief, you submit it to the platform and the platform serves up a number of responses and you can pick the one you want to move forward with. And I think the cross-cultural challenge in that model is how do you know that what you’re getting back is right and meets your needs? Does it reflect the requirements of multiple markets rather than just the market it’s coming from? And how do you know you’ve got the brief right in the first place? So I think just as platforms become more prevalent, the curation of the insight and particularly the sort of the cross cultural observations is going to be equally in opposite importance. Yeah.

Creative Culture: So do you think Creative Culture could make a difference in these new hybrid type of models? And where do you think the value lies for agencies and brands?

Robin Jeffrey: If you sit in the middle like Creative Culture do, you’re servicing two ends. So you’re servicing agencies and how they work and you’re servicing brands. And I think kind of what’s happening is that one world is becoming more like Uber. So you have to provide access more quickly to services and pass more directly to services than you might want to take some of that curation out of the equation. And you might also have to act more like an agency and wrap other services such as strategy and creativity potentially into some of the research and insight work that you do. So you become a little bit more like Uber at one end of the spectrum and a little bit more like an agency at the other end. Just extrapolating. My personal impression of Creative Culture has always been that they’ve been incredibly rigorous and the work is of tremendous quality. And I think if there is this sort of general commoditization and sort of speed going on, that’s kind of race to the bottom if you’re not careful. So I do think it’s about how critical can package up what they do really well and use that to drive an upstream agenda that brands face in this sort of changing world that we’re in.

Creative Culture: Okay, thanks very much. It’s very interesting, Robin, and moving to the advisory board itself, when we set it up as one of the main objectives was to raise awareness across cross-cultural communications in industry and industry generally as well as well as the communications industry. So from your point of view, having been on the board for a year or so, how would you like to see it develop further and perhaps where would it add more value to various stakeholders?

Robin Jeffrey: Yes, good question. I think there are two things that I would look at quite quickly. One is, and this is just from personal recent experience, which is, first of all, the kind of power of face to face and if any, members of the advisory, I mean, there’s tremendous experience on the board. And if you just took any two or three people at random and put them on a stage or on a panel, on a sofa and in front of an audience, I think they could really provide some interesting perspectives around sort of cross-cultural challenges in ways that brands and agencies might not naturally think about. So I think the power of face to face. The other is I’m working with a couple of startup type agencies that are very disruptive business models and I’m struck by the youthfulness of those agencies and the kind of innovation that people are bringing to the market. So I would encourage some younger blood into the team as well because I think there are conversations going on in certainly the advertising world that would be worth tapping into.

Creative Culture: Finally, Rio, I’d like to ask you from your own perspective what the three do’s and the three Don’ts communications might be you don’t have to do three, but just to give us a feeling.

Robin Jeffrey: Yeah, sure. So should we start with the three don’ts, perhaps, and then we can finish on a high. So I think three don’t the first is I think don’t be lazy, don’t give in to just doing things quickly because you have to do them quickly. I think there’s real power in getting a good insight and good work to resonate and be relevant across borders and across cultures. And I think work is only going to be more disposable if we make it so. I think that challenge ourselves. I think don’t equate culture just with country. Obviously there’s a geographical dimension to it, but I think culture is much more than that. I think being in and of culture is a great way to sort of address the challenges, but don’t be slow I think there are ways that we can access services and insights faster than we have ever before, so doing it properly doesn’t necessarily have to slow things up.

Creative Culture: Okay.

Robin Jeffrey: The three do’s, I think. Again, my perspective is about the importance of fresh, original, creativity to kind of make a difference to brands. And I think the opportunities of getting it right and working with people like Creative Culture is that you do work that is more relevant to customers wherever they are, that’s more interesting to them, but I think also to agencies, to brands your job is not just to reflect culture and what’s going on in the world, but to contribute, to push it forward, to change it if needs be. And I think, sure, recognize what’s happening in culture, but change that to your advantage and really use that to make change more broadly.

Creative Culture: Okay, well, thank you very much, Robin, for your time today and thanks for listening. We hope you enjoyed this episode. You can find more podcast episodes by visiting our SoundCloud or website. under Insights.

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