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Marianne Heiss: “Purpose Is the Key to Success”


The CEO of BBDO Group Germany shares her journey through the industry and explains what keeps people focused during times of uncertainty and change

Marianne Heiss: “Purpose Is the Key to Success”

The CEO of BBDO Group Germany, Marianne Heiss, tells LBB about her journey into the industry, the way to engage an audience and what she believes, through her 27 years of experience, is the key to building effective communication.

A few years ago, a journalist asked me whether I had seen ‘Mad Men’. And although I had spent a quarter of a century and for the best years of my life working for one of the world's largest and best-known advertising and marketing agencies, founded in New York in 1891, I had to admit that I had not seen the series, which features a New York advertising agency in the ‘60s. At that time, I had little interest in social hierarchies or gender roles in the world of advertising. My motivation to work in the communication sector came from a deep-seated curiosity and a considerable thirst for knowledge. 

Having grown up in unpretentious, non-academic circumstances, I was the first member of my family to opt for higher education, choosing finance as my main field of study. I was inspired by a love of numbers – when they relate to each other and ‘tell a story’. And also by the independence to be gained through an in-depth understanding of financial mathematics, accounting and international financial reporting. I found it very exciting to end up in one of the world's leading advertising and communication agencies after an initial career in tax consulting and auditing, where I have had the opportunity to work for a wide range of international industries, companies and brands over a period of 27 years. These different sectors, ranging from small local brands to major global brands, included the automotive industry, finance and insurance, retail, food, transport, travel and fast-moving consumer goods. I have always seen this diversity and complexity as a great asset and a constant source of learning.

Howard Gossage had a memorable quote sometime in the ‘60s: "The real fact of the matter is that nobody reads advertising. People read what interests them. Sometimes it's an ad." That is still true today, in fact, it is true more than ever. So I find it fascinating to always think about communication outside the realm of advertising and to focus on what interests people, what motivates and drives them. And there has never been a better time to do that. While the ‘what’ - the needs and motivations - and the ‘why’ - liking, sharing and buying - of brand work have changed little, the ‘where’ and ‘how’ of consumer interaction are in a state of flux - and there is still too much untapped potential. Never before have we had so many data-driven insights to work with to identify points of relevance. Innovations include virtual realities and artificial intelligence (AI), another significant area for brand builders to create relevance. 

And this is what has driven me for the past 27 years, working for companies and brands that add value to people's lives. If advertising and communication succeed in making people's lives a little bit more varied, more colourful and more fun, enabling them to escape or to brighten up their everyday life – and if they make companies more successful at the same time – then it is a deep and meaningful, life-fulfilling undertaking. 

Brands stay with us throughout our lives – from the day we are born, through childhood and adolescence, during our student years, our adult lives, our working lives and our private lives. Many brands are with us our entire lives because they bring back so many memories: grandmother's cake, your first car, pieces of furniture, and countless other wonderful brand-related recollections. So we should ask ourselves, ‘which brands appeal to people and which have a permanent place in their daily rituals?’ and ‘Why is this the case?’. If advertising offers not just entertainment, but remains unforgotten, often for decades – that is something which has always impressed and inspired me.

Especially in recent years, in this time of enormous change and uncertainty, people are looking for orientation. This, in turn, requires a response and new means to achieve a strong purpose that can be used to guide companies, employees and consumers alike. Accordingly, I believe that purpose is the key to success in effective companies and in any great communications agency.

Advertising and communication can be meaningful if they fulfil this role and thus make their mark on both the cultural heritage and the collective memory. This, in turn, is what makes the sector so interesting for creators, creative specialists, for people who want to think one step further and are not satisfied with the first thing that comes along. We can - and should - get this message across more strongly to our young people; it is a distinguishing feature of the industry.  

This year journalists have asked me what I find encouraging in the industry. I replied: “The innovative flair that I see particularly in the creative and communication sectors. And indeed, a high degree of openness and receptiveness to new ideas, inspiration and innovative thinking is a characteristic of the people I have met over the past 27 years, on all sides and across different countries, companies and functions.”  

I sincerely hope it stays that way. I will be applauding from the sidelines. It is with great gratitude that I look back on 27 years in one of the biggest advertising agencies and one of the most interesting industries of our times.

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BBDO Group Germany, Thu, 30 Mar 2023 14:55:00 GMT