MacLaren MRM grows business and reputation with highly integrated strategy

'We're mavericks.' That's how MacLaren MRM president Mark Wright describes his staff, his agency.

‘We’re mavericks.’ That’s how MacLaren MRM president Mark Wright describes his staff, his agency.

‘Three years ago, no one knew who we were, what this place was. The only client we had was GM,’ he says. ‘We’re a young company. We’ve been around about 10 years, but for the first seven, it didn’t win an RSVP, for example. I had to convince myself to come here.’

Since Wright joined in 1999, the Toronto-based agency has grown revenues 28.6%, and increased staff members from 22 to 80. And last year the agency took home nine RSVP Awards.

‘We’ve had to do things a bit differently to get here,’ Wright adds. ‘We’re one of the few agencies to have full [12-month] retainers on all of our business, for example. We want to partner with clients, not just do projects.’

That partnership attitude is evident in the work MMRM has done over the past year for clients including McNeil, General Motors, Rogers Comunications, UPS, H&R Block and Camp Oochigeas. The combination of attitude and quality of work is also what has earned the agency this year’s Direct Agency of the Year runner-up position.

Wright credits the agency’s growth, its new business wins and its growing reputation with one word: integration. MacLaren’s integration model is unparalleled, he says.

‘We’re winning business because we pitch together. There used to be the ad group – and the direct group, which did direct mail, and was a service centre for the agency. Now we’re pitching as two strengths – we’re strong at both,’ he adds. Of the agency’s four new business wins this year, three of the accounts were integrated pitches: Loyalty Group (Air Miles), McNeil and Microsoft. The direct arm is handling the new Royal Canadian Mint business exclusively.

‘Integration is hard work, though – it takes about 20% of your time to ‘do’ it. But you have to be committed,’ says Wright. ‘Integration is not a matter of making everything look ‘blue’ – it’s not about making the direct marketing stuff look like the advertising. It should be called optimization, because what you’re doing is optimizing the way you spend your clients’ money to maximize the results.’

Common work teams are created to build common strategies – across all disciplines, he says. And part of the success comes from having two senior leaders – one on the advertising side and one on the direct – who both have respect for one another and the respective disciplines. If you can remove ‘quibbling over dollars’ from the process, you can reach the right answers for clients, he adds.

MMRM’s mainstay is still traditional direct marketing and direct mail at about 60%, with 40% of the business in CRM. Over the last year, Wright says, his favourite piece of business has been the 12-month re-build of GM’s CRM and loyalty program, Interchange. And he makes no bones about why.

‘I’ve spent the better part of my career justifying my existence in direct, and with GM I don’t have to do that – they believe in it and it starts with the president down. Here’s a client who wants to do CRM for their customer base – they have the budgets to execute it and the commitment – and it is coming together,’ he says. ‘GM is MacLaren because the learning that we extract from that program drives everything else we do. They are so far out in front.’

Wright says clients, in general, now realize CRM may be right for their business, but they’re more concerned with trying to find the optimum spend: ‘How much of my advertising money do I need to devote to doing customer marketing?’

It doesn’t have to start big, he says. Rogers, for example, has been allocating more money each year, and they are starting to see big gains, with little amounts of money. It’s not always about some elaborate CRM program, says Wright. There are countless ways to reach the customer today: targeted marketing, FSI’s and unaddressed householders, among others.

Differentiated spending (spending differently against different segments of people), he says, is also what clients want to migrate to, but most haven’t figured out how to do it. ‘The airlines have set great precedents by treating people very differently based on how often they fly, but most other clients have not delivered on that,’ he says. ‘And they are going to have to because as their direct marketing programs start costing more money and they start marketing to more people, they’ve got to figure out a way to allocate their money in a more effective manner. It means you can’t treat everyone the same – but right now, a lot of people out there are still doing mass marketing.’

In the meantime, for MMRM, Wright says he hopes the agency will have a moment or two in the coming year to catch its breath, catch up with its growth and prepare for upcoming growth.

‘If I were a betting man, I think our industry will continue to grow. More and more clients are realizing the real value in customer marketing – the potential in marketing directly to customers and differentiating your spend.’