Alexei Orlov is the Chief Executive Officer of RAPP: Core Dialog ™ Worldwide, part of the DAS Group of Companies, which in turn is a family member of Omnicom Group. Alexei joined the group in 2014. Formerly, he held the position of Chief Marketing Officer for Volkswagen Group China, where he was responsible for the overall marketing, brand strategy and positioning for Volkswagen brands across Greater China and ASEAN.
Alexei is a trusted advisor to a diverse set of industries – coaching and steering blue-chip leadership teams to work through their brand, communication and operational challenges, assisting them to think and deploy for distinctive advantage in fierce and cluttered trading environments With experience spanning 25 years across 40 countries and more than 50 brands, Alexei is a senior executive with extensive global and regional operational experience. He is a specialist in global brand strategy, regional and cross-cultural marketing deployment and operational change management.
How did you get into the Advertising industry?
I have actually been in and out of the communications service industry a couple of times in my life. I spent much of my early career as a client-side marketer, and in the early ‘90s I was in line to take the position of Group Marketing Director for a combined Volvo / Renault enterprise in the UK. When that merger didn’t go through, the position was obviously shelved. I was asked to go to France, but instead decided to set up my own brand consulting agency, which was later sold to WPP and became a cornerstone of RMG Connect.
I have David Abbott, of Abbott Mead Vickers fame, to thank for that. He used to tell me that I should join “the dark side.” He believed in my creative ability and was very inspiring. Peter Mead, one of his partners, and now amongst other things, Vice Chairman of Omnicom, was also a huge inspiration and support. I later spent some time as a global leader for WPP, and after serving as CMO for the Volkswagen Group of Greater China for several years, I joined Omnicom in the Fall of 2014 to run RAPP.
Tell us about RAPP today. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the company?
Although RAPP has been a global organization for the past 50 years, it needed some of its own love and attention. Over the last 18 months, RAPP has gone through a phenomenal change and a significant turn-around. Our organization has reset itself, both as a global brand and as an operationally astute, successful business within Omnicom’s DAS Group of Companies. I’m proud to say that we’ve been recognized by MediaPost as one of the fastest growing companies in the U.S. digital space and by Forrester, who has named RAPP “A Business Transformer.”
As I started to craft the purpose and value that RAPP could bring to clients, I drew from my experience on both the agency side and the client side, including the time I spent co-leading a $100 billion enterprise, as CMO for Volkswagen’s stable of automotive brands in the China/APAC Region.
Together with my talented team, I re-crafted the RAPP brand purpose through the lens of what brands and clients need, to truly gain a point of difference in a complex and difficult world – a world in which brands need people much more than people need brands.
At the heart of this is Core Dialog – high-precision brand engagement for a digital-smart world. It’s our way of helping brands truly connect with people through not just precision, but also empathy. Why is empathy important? We live in a programmatic world where data is everywhere, so being precise isn’t enough any more. You’ve got to be human as well. Core Dialog uses data and technology to get to what really matters – what is right for real people, with real needs, in real time.
What strategic partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have attributed to RAPP's success?
We’ve managed to purchase the very famous digital transformation company, TLGG, in Germany and are busy expanding that business in the U.S. We’re working even closer with Targetbase (a DAS Company) on innovative new technology platforms. Our start-up, sparks & honey – which uses cultural intelligence to understand consumer trends and fuel real-time conversations – has quadrupled in size. Code, a superb technology group renowned for its adZU marketing automation platform, is a five-time Gartner “Magic Quadrant” agency and just received the 2016 I-COM Data Creativity Gold Award. They are now a fully-integrated member of the RAPP family.
The most important element in support of brands and their marketing strategies is our way of working, which uses our own IP to help clients navigate a non-linear customer journey, where customers come and go at will. This way of thinking and discovery is a model called the Affinity LoopTM. It helps our clients to find the base point and the bliss point of how their brands can fully engage and enhance the needs (base) and desires (bliss) of multiple customer tribes.
We are also exceptionally proficient in helping our clients adopt and adapt new ways of planning their budgets, (Pivot Plans) which allow our clients higher degrees of fluidity and adaptiveness in a changing, moving dynamic – which is the social plasma of today’s digitally-driven, highly-intense ever-evolving world. And of course, there are some really amazing things we’re doing with technology platforms right now, some of which I’m not at liberty to talk about.
What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?
There are 6 major, progressive shifts:
1. The Internet of Things is already outdated.
No one wants to be a human “thing.” It’s about the “MEconomy.” People want to be noticed as individuals and their needs understood and serviced. The Internet of Things (IoT) is actually the Internet of Needs (IoN).
2. The world of opt-out is coming to an end.
There is a growing need for companies to understand how to more effectively use data so that it can sensibly engage when it matters and have degrees of sensibility that provide understanding of real consumer needs. And the laws are changing, too. The EU has just adopted sweeping legislation that requires brands to obtain consumer opt in, rather than just giving an option for opting out, among other things. Many other countries are modeling their laws on the EU policy.
3. From Marketing to Mattering.
People want evidence that brands can do more than just create “theater.” They want to know that brands are adding real value to their lives, and that brands understand the power of the sum of all things, not just some of the things.
4. The rise of tribes.
No one person is one-dimensional. We all have so many parts to us, at many moments of everyday. Socializing a brand can no longer be done through the lens of one single view, as it relates to people, their needs and desires. Brands can mean many different things to people, depending on the context in which the message is delivered.
5. The rise of the addressable audience
The addressable audience has always been there, but it wasn’t understood. Most brands seemed to focus on available audiences, whilst the smart clients are focusing on highly-targeted, addressable audiences – with very specific needs at very specific times. They understand that the media touchpoints can be better managed, allowing for higher content values and less spending that falls on hard, infertile ground.
6. CRM is dying
CRM is fast becoming an antiquated philosophy that does not follow the trend of self-actualization. Brands must ask permission to engage – and people should not have to opt out of brand experiences. All brands now struggle from the tyranny of choice because of digital capability and a 2,000% increase in the number of small businesses over the last 10 years. People do not want to be “CRM’d” – they want to choose how and when they will engage, and they want it on their terms.
Hello, CMR – Customer-Managed Relationships. Astute platforms that allow people to manage the relationships they want – when they want them and how they want them. CRM is proactive, but not intuitive. One of the greatest threats to any brand is blind assumption. CMR – customer-managed relationships – solves that problem for brands.
And how are we capitalizing on CMR? Through Core Dialog and the Affinity LoopTM. Both are essential to asking the right questions at the right time. We’re helping brands to take a highly flexible, precise, yet engaging, approach that allows mass marketing to still feel personal and personable.
What is your advice to an aspiring entrepreneur/industry executive?
The communications/advertising industry is one of the most vibrant and rewarding. But don’t, for one moment, think that it is in any way like the ‘Mad Men’ series — not, at least, if you’re working in a bonafide, serious place that wants to do great work for rewarding clients.
Here are three things I can absolutely say that anyone who wishes to advance their career, and become a well-respected, profitable leader, should pay attention to: Pick the subject you really love: creative, analytics, brand strategy, social media, whatever it is — and become a true expert in your field. Just being ‘very good’ is now simply being only mediocre, given the talent that there is out there. You have to be known for progressing new thinking — and that comes from practice, learning and constant curiosity.
This industry is very fluid and people do like to move around. It is very important to build a strong network of people who are achievers. In this game, what you know is as important as who you know.
Finally, without a doubt, those who hold significant client relationships invariably, equally hold the power. Make sure clients get to know you, get to respect you and want you. And, to be clear, never try to ingratiate yourself to those who need your help and expertise. Earn their respect because of your craft, because you are absolutely honest and because what you say you will do — you do.
In closing, a quick anecdote: Years ago, when I was a young buck learning my art, I focused attention particularly on one client who really had some epic brand strategy problems and never seemed to be happy. The truth was he was right not to be. It was at those weeks of peril, that I discovered the importance of looking beyond obvious truths — the importance of seeking the raindrop in the rain. About six months later, he paid me the ultimate compliment. He looked at me and said, “When it is with you, I know we can breathe. I feel safe.” It was far better than just being thanked for hard work and effort. Become an expert — a North Star. Become your client, your team, your organization’s “safe.”
What is your life motto?
Wisdom means sometimes having to throw our knowledge away.
What is your greatest success as CEO of RAPP?
Seeing some of the finest talent in the industry embracing RAPP’s philosophy, strategy and purpose, and attracting from across the globe many new exceptional practitioners who want to help RAPP support brands in finding that 5% of magic that can make a whole world of difference.
What is your most difficult moment? How did you overcome and what did you learn?
I know from experience that change is never welcomed by all. The RAPP change in terms of brand and operational excellence was immense, and unfortunately there were a few “killers” whose sole purpose was to destroy the mission and get back to the “good old days.”
I overcame it through three important aspects:
1. The Power of Positioning. So many people, some of my leaders and countless staff who gathered, held hands and said, No way! Not on our watch! Let’s get this right.
2. The Importance of Introspection. Sometimes I did not make it easy for myself and others. I had to learn not to be “short on impatience” and long on patience.
3. To earn trust. You must have the courage to trust in return.
Describe the ideal experience using RAPP.
The experience of true, honest, proactive, intuitive partnership – surrounded by people who are true practitioners, focused on being measured on success as any client would be.
How do you motivate your employees?
No one is ever too new or too junior to have an opinion and a voice. Great thinking can and does come from everywhere. I read and respond to every email, and I thoughtfully consider every conversation. I pride myself in knowing that not one single employee could ever say they were not listened to. I am absolutely always available and I expect everyone, from leaders to all the way through the organization, to act in the same way.
We will always first try to promote from within. Total and absolute commitment to equality right across the board of all forms and levels. No compromise. No quotas. No falsehood. It’s just not our way.
Our sign-off is “Together. As One.” And it is there for a reason.
What's next for RAPP?
A number of significant acquisitions and integrations will allow us to gather even more pace as one of the foremost leaders and practitioners in CMR and Core Dialog.
We will become the destination of world-class talent and for those clients who truly want to make a difference themselves. We will absolutely be the first port of call.