Martin Riley, new WFA president Q+A


Back to the overview
Q. Why did you agree to become WFA President?

A. I'm convinced that to be a successful marketer we have to look beyond our profession and at the broader trends impacting society. It is no longer possible to properly understand consumers without seeing them as a citizen in a fast-changing society. Globalization and technology mean people are exposed to a wider circle of viewpoints and empowered with more influence than ever before. And people question continuously what kind of society we want to live in and, by extension, what the role of businesses and brands should be in all this.

By engaging regulators, politicians, civil society, people and (perhaps most importantly) our critics, WFA helps its members to understand the forces at work in society and the views and concerns that people may have about our brands and businesses. On top of that, they help us as companies to internalise these issues into our business and marketing strategies. This kind of insight is invaluable if you want to build and protect your long-term brand equity in such a fast-changing environment. I hope that being WFA President will offer me a unique vantage point from which I can see and understand these issues. Of course, this also helps me in my day job building the Pernod Ricard portfolio of brands.

Q. What are your main priorities as WFA President?

A. I think there are three standout priorities for the organisation, all of which are linked. Today, WFA represents more than 90% global advertising spend through its national advertiser associations (55, representing 60 markets) and 70 plus corporate members. We are not going to significantly increase this representation from one day to the next. The organisation already has a truly global footprint. But I'm keen for WFA to increase direct corporate membership beyond the 70 existing corporate members. This has a dual impact; it brings more know-how and experience into the WFA membership as well as more revenue for the organisation to reinvest into delivering added value to its members and. A key part of the value we – as members – derive from the organisation is to be linked into a network of the most experienced and inspirational people in our profession. So the more the merrier!

Secondly, there are on-going efforts to regulate marketing all around the world. Many of these initiatives stem from very legitimate societal concerns – such as the rise in obesity, alcohol-related harm and binge drinking and data collection and privacy in the online world. As brand marketers we must step back, engage other stakeholders, try and understand people's concerns and try and be part of the solution. Pernod Ricard has joined up with other alcohol brands in Europe to sign the WFA-inspired Responsible Marketing Pact in order to ensure that our brand marketing doesn't appeal to under 18s. This kind of proactive, accountable self-regulation is – and will be – increasingly important in this fast-changing environment.

Thirdly, we need to champion and advocate what we are all about. Notwithstanding all I have mentioned above, marketing and advertising is a wonderful profession of which we should be proud. Advertising is an overwhelmingly positive force in society; it offers people choice, it constantly entertains and enthrals, it financially supports all kinds of sporting and cultural events%u2026 and, lest we forget, it's part of what makes the economy go round. If we don't champion advertising's role in society, no one else will. And I think WFA has a big role to play in doing that.

Q. What do you think will be the one big thing that marketers need to be aware of in the coming years?

A. These are exciting times to be in marketing. Of course everyone is talking about digital and how that impacts the brand marketing strategy. But flip the coin and see how it is changing people and the world. Connectivity allows movements to prosper. Movements not only for democracy and political parties, but on all kinds of issues that consumers care about, the environment and charities for example. Brands too have also taken this to heart and we've seen some fantastic examples of co-creation and crowdsourcing that build on this connectivity.

People are increasingly calling for brands to have a social conscience and stand for something more than just the functional delivery of a product or service. This is not something dramatically new but it is more important today than ever before given the changing environment we are operating in.

We need to acknowledge that businesses and brands have a key role to play in a fast-changing world. They represent reassurance and quality and act as anchor points for many. Some brands have been incredibly durable and have shown that they can act responsibly as part of the communities they serve and the society from which they come. Marketers are citizens too and share the same concerns as their fellow citizens alongside whom they work and live. They can be uniquely placed to enhance the lives of others.

By standing for something, people will be more willing to engage with brands on a deeper level, which will differentiate themselves from their competitors. In this era of heightened transparency and ultra-connectivity, in which people are talking about our brands all the time on social media, brands almost need to think of themselves as people and imbue themselves with all the characteristics that makes someone relevant and engaging. The most successful brands will be the best listeners as they will learn how to better respond to people's needs. Technology allows us to do this like never before.

Sign up to monthly WFA news