Geometry Global CEO Beth Ann Kaminkow on 'creative commerce' and agency's reset

"The recognition that commerce is the center of gravity for marketing and media should push us all into new territory."

It’s been a little over a year since Beth Ann Kaminkow joined Geometry as its global CEO after serving as chief executive of Kantar Consulting Americas – and the WPP agency has gone through many changes since its new leader came onboard.

On an episode of Campaign US’ Pillow Talk, Kaminkow dives into how the agency hit the reset button a year ago to help its business grow and better serve clients.

In addition to talking through the reset and how Geometry’s client base and capabilities evolved, Kaminkow chats through the future of "creative commerce" and she shares how she’s staying motivated and sane amid COVID-19 shelter-in-place guidelines. Check out the video below, followed by an in-depth Q&A with Kaminkow.

It’s been about a year since you joined Geometry and you’ve been focused on a bit of a reset of sorts, right? Why was that the right time for a reset?

This was the right time for growth. The business was stagnate and in some markets, in decline. The industry we once led was moving faster than we were. A fresh perspective was needed and I was fortunate to be given the runway to look at the business holistically in the context of evolving client need. In our case, it was a unique partnership of global CEO and global CFO-COO team with Stacey (Ryan-Cornelius) coming to the business at the same time.  Together we were/we are committed to a new, relevant positioning, vision and strategy for how we return the business to growth by focusing on how and where we drive our clients’ business growth and performance. 

Tell me what the reset entailed.

It started with a clear review of the space we operated in. It is easy for agencies to lose focus and try to be all things for their clients by claiming they could do everything. I believe there is real value in focused, specialism at global scale. Our core strength was anchored in brand activation at retail. The retail space was no longer one-dimensional. The convergence of physical, digital, and social had created an expectation of a more connected, unified customer experience, yet marketers were busy driving digital transformation without a view on what that means across commerce channels. What we were quick to realize is that our deep discipline expertise gave us a strength where most other agencies hadn’t yet honed their skills – the area of commerce. 

How did the agency’s team handle the reset?

Fortunately, our people and leaders pointed us in the direction of what needed to be done and what had been missing. The fact that the business had been struggling meant that the conditions were right for embracing new leadership. People were immediately receptive to a change agenda. What Stacey and I needed to do was validate our decisions through observation, business reviews, and getting out to markets and meeting people. But, we were able to move pretty fast (immediately really) to lead a new vision and narrative and work alongside our leaders globally to simplify, craft and refine our language and offer. We’ve been on hyper-drive since to redefine the space of commerce, unlocking it’s potential as a canvas for creativity. In parallel and to give everyone a reason to believe, I began to look for the work that already existed and that aligned to our new ambition.  This became the nourishment to build internal confidence and connect the centers of excellence globally that were embedded deep into individual markets to bring us closer as a network. 

Geometry’s client base over the last year has evolved quite a bit. Can you walk me through that journey?

I insisted from the start that our development and transformation had to happen in service of clients and as an outcome of doing better work for clients. I have witnessed too often in my career, when a ‘reset’ becomes a protracted internal exercise. So we piloted all of our new positioning, platform and tool development with clients and prospects as we were building it. We also socialized it across WPP Global Client teams, WPP ExCo, and industry influencers to ensure that it was linked to a need that existed. The outcome of this has been a new type of conversation with clients and consultants– one that gives us permission to elevate and enhance briefs that limit commerce to merely tactical executions.  The result, a much improved conversion rate of new business, specifically in North America at over 75 percent, and a jump in scope coming from newer capability areas like e-commerce with existing and new clients.

Give us some insight into Geometry’s Living Commerce approach or platform – and where it fits into your offer to clients. 

An essential component of our transformation was modernizing our way of working and becoming more technology enabled and data-driven in all that we do. Our belief is that while we may never know as much as our clients about their own business, we must know as much or more about their consumer. It is our job to help them become more consumer-centric in all that they do and especially in how they serve consumers across commerce channels. People and how they buy is changing so rapidly, it takes a deep expertise enabled by a technology platform to surface insights from data, strategy from repeatable methodologies, and consistent approaches to how we design creative solutions for our clients.  

Have you changed or expanded any other capabilities? 

Our four key practice areas are:  Retail, Experiential, Innovation and Design. We are continuously evolving, strengthening and investing in capability under each. Within retail, we are hyper-focused on our e-commerce, social commerce and Direct to Consumer offers. Within Experiential, we just recently put new definition into the discipline of producing Digital Live Experiences in response to the global pandemic. This brings all of our Experiential expertise and knowledge together into the digital domain, but with a lens of creating meaningful physical engagement. Within Design, we are designing new formats and packaging for e-commerce, even product solutions with our latest retail innovation, Handle on Hygiene.  

What about talent at the agency – what roles have you added or what positions are you looking to add?

We believe it starts with leadership. Mark Read orchestrated the timing of a new global CEO and CFO partnership on literally the same day. The first thing we collectively did was join up our GroCo (ExCo focused on agency growth). This has been a combination of hiring new talent, like Lindsey Yoselevitz, SVP MarComms; promoting newer talent, like Tyler Murray CEO NA, who I worked with previously, existing employees in new roles with refreshed remits. We also hired Jesse Lin, CEO APAC. We have brought in several new creative leaders and specialized creative talent across the globe and three in leadership positions. We are creatively run by a group we call the Fab Five v. a single Global CCO. And we continue to look for people that recognize Commerce and Experience as the next frontier for Marketing.

What’s the next step for the agency as it continues on this transformative path?

Execution with urgency. We feel very confident in our strategy, our leadership and our team. We know the winners understand that it isn’t what you talk about doing, it’s what you do that creates the impact. We are also in service of our clients’ transformation agendas. By doing this, our own transformation will be an outcome of the impact we can have with clients. We are also partnering across WPP agencies in new ways to create more seamless solutions for our clients. As well as building unique capability with external partners like FB/Instagram, Google/YT, Amazon/Alibaba, TikTok to help our clients get the most out of these newer commerce platforms.  

And lastly, what do you think the future of "creative commerce" will look like in the industry?

 It’s quite validating when external organizations like Cannes and Effies elevate creative commerce to a category of its own. Despite the pause on the 2020 award season, will see the most innovative work in the industry be brought to the forefront --- and Geometry will be there leading the way. The recognition that commerce is the center of gravity for marketing and media should push us all into new territory and with a new creative expectation of its role in driving both brand equity and conversion.

Where and how brands engage with consumers through experiences that propel people to discover, share and buy is what we mean by our role in ‘reimagining commerce’. We are hoping that our use cases and case studies will write the playbook for its future. Marketing and sales no longer exist as isolated functions in organizations. Selling is not just tactical and functional, it is most productive when fueled by emotional storytelling and solutions. Marketing includes building brand equity across commerce channels and owning accountability for driving commercial outcomes. How we plan and spend to engage consumers requires a more holistic view of channels – and creative commerce will emerge as the way companies grow.

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