The Insights Blog

5 Questions About CMOs & Agencies with FIG’s Mark Figliulo

5 Questions About CMOs & Agencies with FIG’s Mark Figliulo

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Mark Figliulo is not only one of the world’s most decorated and accomplished creatives, but he is also as thoughtful and strategic as any creative leader I’ve ever known. With the pace of CMO changes having accelerated this past year, Mark graciously answered several questions from the Mercer Island Group team.

What is going on with CMO tenure?

CMO turnover rate is a problem, but how the C-suite values marketing and communications is a bigger problem. Agencies have not given their CMO partners the proper tools to prove the value they create. I think media agencies are doing a better job at this and it’s time for the creative agencies to get going.

What’s the role of data in strategy and creativity?

I think a new approach to data could unlock a new era of creativity. The reason is simple when clients understand and can track what kind of stories work, they will be begging for very simple messages and very surprising executions because that’s what the data shows.

Most data systems only use consumer behavior, social engagement, or surveys to find insights or measure results. Our new Storydata ™ tool adds an additional layer of critical data to those systems. It uses computer vision and machine learning to deconstruct, analyze and measure brand stories. In other words, we measure hundreds of attributes from every frame of every video, image, and text for a given brand in a given category over time. With this information, we can show our clients what kind of stories have worked in the past and what might work in the future.

How Strategic are Creatives these days?

There’s not a creative director that is famous that isn’t a great strategist. They might not talk strategy, they might arrive at it in a very different way, they might do it very intuitively, but there’s still a strategic process in their mind. By the way, it works the other way too, the best strategists are very creative. Advertising is a functional art, like architecture. It has a job to do, so your ideas have to have some level of rigor behind it.

What does your agency do to get past the occasional, inevitable bottleneck?

Whenever we get lost in the woods, we call a framing meeting. Usually, bottlenecks happen because people disagree about the path forward, so we get all the critical thinkers to sit down and define the problem and work through it together, across disciplines. We don’t approach it like what’s the strategy then what’s the creative. Those things… and media and data now… all those things happen at the same time. And it’s just a couple of people talking. It’s not this big, complicated thing, but it’s amazing how that doesn’t happen in a typical agency. Everyone learns to trust each other and follow the best idea.

What’s the biggest challenge with pitching today?

The biggest challenge is convincing a client to do something very different when competing agencies are playing it safe. There is a strong bias to do what is comfortable even when most clients know that it doesn’t work in the long run. The challenge is to prove that being brave and doing something unique is the best bet. That’s why we’ve invested in Storydata TM. It proves, among other things, that being different works, and playing it safe is the riskiest thing a brand can do.


Mark Figliulo has advised some of the world’s most successful brands for over 25 years. His vision for a new type of agency coupled with experience gained from leading agencies like TBWA has led to the resounding success that is FIG, The Brand Agency for the Information Age. Mark has been named in Ad Age’s Top Ten and has been nominated for an Emmy four times. He has won over 30 Lions and every other award, in every color and in every category. Mark focuses on the vision behind FIG, striving every day to reinvent what an agency can be.

Robin Boehler is a co-founder of Mercer Island Group. Robin has managed hundreds of agency searches and relationships for businesses of all sizes and types, like Ahold Delhaize, Starbucks, American Century Investments, PEMCO Insurance, PetSmart, Seabourn, Avis Budget Group, Sargento, Ulta Beauty, and dozens of other blue-chip firms. She also has consulted to a wide array of agencies including Digitas, Periscope, DaviesMoore, W&K, GS&P, Havas, Cactus, DNA, and many others. Robin’s unique ability to work with teams and help improve organizational productivity is the direct result of an eclectic background including her degree in Human Development and Family Studies from Cornell University. Robin is a frequent speaker, having presented and keynoted at events sponsored by the BMA, the 4As, AMI, and others.