5 Minutes with... Leonid Sudakov
If you’re into animals, Leonid Sudakov might just have the best job in marketing. He’s the Chief Marketing Officer for global pet care at Mars, looking after brands like Pedigree, Whiskas, Cesar and more – spending his days thinking about our relationships with our mutts and moggies. It’s a role that’s about creativity and also effectiveness, and judging by some of the award-winning work that’s come out in the past year, particularly for Pedigree, it seems that they’re on a bit of a roll. This year he’s heading up the inaugural Creative Effectiveness Jury at Eurobest, so LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with him to talk smart marketing and, yes, doggies.
LBB> How did you first get into marketing? I know you studied economics and then did an MBA at Harvard – what drew you to the more creative side of business?
LS> To start with, I’ve always been a huge fan of maths. That’s what made me move to Moscow to study economics. After graduation I applied for a financial analyst role at P&G – only to be told after eight interviews: ‘We like you. You’re crazy. We think you should join us in marketing.’ Same happened with my MBA. I actually majored in corporate finance - the case study I co-wrote in my second year is still being taught as a part of the M&A curriculum. Understanding the algorithm of business performance strongly influenced how I shaped my marketing roles. I always believed marketers to be in the business of growth. In this sense, creativity is our core capability in shaping the performance of tomorrow.
LBB> What inspires you, creatively?
LS> Fresh and honest ideas that aim to challenge the status quo. Work that has real intent and commitment behind. Taking a stand. Nothing throws me off more than seeing people waste their amazing brainpower on things they don’t really believe in, or not ready to fight for.
LBB> What does your typical day look like?
LS> In a global job like mine, the privilege is to spend most of my days with the marketing and agency teams from around the world. One of the things I love most about working at Mars is the calibre of associates I get to work closely with. This means a lot of travel – and the increasing reliance on mobile video! Collaboration and connectivity were the two priorities we defined when I became CMO. This takes some planning as work magic happens somewhere between Sao Paolo, Moscow, Nashville, Tokyo, and many other Mars locations. We are a uniquely personal and decentralized culture where relationships matter greatly. And that’s what makes it fun.
LBB> As a bit of a dog-obsessive myself, it seems that you have something of a dream job! Obviously there’s a lot (lot) more to it than being contractually obliged to work with/look at/think about dogs and cats every day but that can’t hurt. At heart, I guess it’s about helping pet owners keep their animal friends happy and healthy… So I’m guessing you must be a bit of an animal lover yourself? Or at the very least a convert? Has working in your current role made you rethink the relationship between pets and their owners?
LS> Our corporate mission is to ‘make a better world for pets’ - simply because they make a better world for us. So when you come to work here, you’ve got to have this deep-seated belief in the fundamental good that the pets bring to our world. What was new for me in this role was finding out just how much science exists around the human benefits of pet ownership. Some of the studies produced through a multi-year partnership between Waltham Centre of Pet Nutrition that Mars family set up over 50 years ago, and National Institutes of Health in the US, were truly eye-opening. These include proving pets’ positive impact on kids’ development, well-being of the elderly, or feeling of neighbourhood cohesion. Afterwards, you do look forward to coming to work every morning.
LBB> Whether it’s a lap dog or a farm dog, people have such deep emotional connections with their pets. How does this emotional side of things factor into your marketing strategy for your pet care brands?
LS> Just look at the amazing explosion of pet content online. Every other video on my Facebook newsfeed has a dog or cat in it – and never fails to either move or entertain. For each of our brands, we want to find a distinctive story that translates a true pet insight into creative content that consumers will want to watch and enjoy again, and again, and again. Any story needs to break through the clutter, but it also needs the staying power to be remembered.
LBB> How do you measure the effectiveness of your own brands’ creative communications?
LS> Mars always believed in the power of effectiveness measurement. Several decades ago, Mars family set up the internal analytics shop, which in the last ten years did significant work on tracing the direct effect of our advertising on sales. This work has been a source of our marketing competitive advantage – and it’s interesting to see how the new media giants realized in the last two years the need for measurement. So when talking to Google and Facebook today, we’re speaking exactly the same language of effectiveness.
LBB> There’s a lot of debate in the advertising and marketing community about metrics especially when it comes to things like ‘views’ or ‘likes’ – which can be faked or can sometimes just measure a couple of seconds of viewing an ad. How important are these sorts of metrics to you as a CMO?
LS> We were never on the ‘like’ craze. I still remember a chart that I presented to our marketers that quoted Kipling’s ‘If you can keep your head when all about you // Are losing theirs and blaming it on you.’ Since last year, we saw the dramatic industry move in focus from engagement to reach and effectiveness. It’s critical to combat fraud and to measure effective reach – but what’s most important is that we’re all now looking for exactly the same thing that is business growth.
LBB> Following on from that – I’m sure a lot of the case studies you will see when judging the creative effectiveness category will rely quite heavily on those kind of social ‘stats’… What would you like to see – in terms of metrics, thinking, evidence – from agencies putting their cases forward?
LS> One of the recurring jokes among the members of the Cannes Lions’ Creative Effectiveness jury this summer was about ‘yet another’ submission vouching to have broken the Internet for a moment... Together with the members of the Jury, I will be looking for inspiring and significant creative work that delivered against a clear set of effectiveness goals and made a real difference to the client’s business.
LBB> Heading up the inaugural eurobest creative effectiveness category is also, I suspect, a great opportunity in terms of what you will be able to learn. What are you hoping to gain from the experience? And what will you be looking out for?
LS> It’s first and foremost an amazing opportunity to learn. I will be on the lookout for examples of inspiring collaboration that I could bring back to our teams and for work from the often overlooked corners of Europe that may surprise us all.
LBB> This year has been really successful for Pedigree, particularly with the work coming out of Colenso BBDO in New Zealand being a real highlight. K9FM was hilarious, the Lost and Found app inspired. What’s been the key to that creative collaboration between Pedigree and Colenso?
LS> It has been an amazing year for Pedigree. The secret behind all the creative recognition we’ve had is the trust that exists between the Colenso BBDO team and the local Mars team. They are the real heroes behind all our record D&AD and Cannes wins this year. It’s built on the basis of mutuality, one of Mars Five Principles of Mars. With trust, fear goes away, possibilities emerge, and ideas are freely shared.
LBB> I know that developing markets are a big part of the global strategy for Mars Petcare – I loved the recent ‘First Days Out’ campaign from Almap BBDO. What are your goals in these markets, what are the challenges you face in reaching your goals… and what role does creativity play in that?
LS> It’s about talent, talent, and talent. Both internally in Mars and jointly with our creative partners, we are always on the lookout for the best local talent. These are competitive marketplaces – and that’s why it’s important to set up the benchmark for what you can achieve with Mars very high. We need to continuously inspire with what you can do, the responsibility you can have in the local marketing jobs in these markets. That is why I was so proud that our new global campaign for Pedigree kicked off with the work, produced by Marina Sachs, our Brazil Marketing Director jointly with the amazing team at Almap.
LBB> Earlier in your career you worked in China for PepsiCo and BBDO. It’s interesting to see how that market has evolved both in terms of creativity and in terms of tech and digital platforms (WeChat, Alibaba). How are global brands and marketers having to re-think how they work in the Chinese market?
LS> It’s been a decade since I left China, and the environment has already changed many times since then! What really transforms categories in China today is the convergence of the media and the eCommerce platforms. It’s a fascinating and very entrepreneurial environment. What the global players need to learn is adapting to the speed and the reactivity of the marketplace. But that’s what makes it so much fun – bringing the A/B testing to life in the FMCG world.
LBB> You’ll be judging at eurobest, which is all about the best European creativity. Which European markets are particularly exciting for you right now, in terms of their creative output and opportunities for your brand?
LS> I’ve always loved the humour and the independence in the work from the Nordic agencies. We have given the Grand Prix in the Creative Effectiveness category at Cannes this year to the Swedish shop Forsman & Bodenfors for their digital series for Volvo Trucks. What inspired me was both how amazing the creative output was, and how close the agency team worked with the Volvo marketers. But at eurobest, I hope to be positively surprised by creativity from the places we don’t normally expect it from.
Entries are currently being accepted into the Creative Effectiveness category via www.eurobest.com