Andreas Ortner (VMLY&R): “It’s all about understanding the business challenges and coming up with solutions, but also about people and helping them”

As VMLY&R’s Chief Connections Officer EMEA, he is a marketing strategist, entrepreneur and growth driver with a passion for culture. Customer obsessed, he and his team apply data & analytics, a deep understanding of culture and the role of the brand to create highly relevant B2C and B2B propositions – and bring them to life via connected experiences across digital and physical channels. These connected experiences effectively address functional, emotional and social needs of customers across their end-to-end journey, maximizing the impact of every touch point throughout the connected customer experience ecosystem – including Paid, Owned and Earned Media, Social Media, Paid and Organic Search, Experiential Marketing, and PR.

I had a lovely and open discussion with Andreas Ortner about what his position really represents and how is working, the passion for marketing and advertising, strategy and the way him and his team approach the clients.

an interview by Romanita Oprea

Andreas OrtnerVMLY&R’s Chief Connections Officer EMEA

What drove your passion for marketing and advertising and what kept you going through all these years? Because I know it’s a challenging industry.

It is a challenging industry. But what I love mostly, I think, is the people that we have. So, I’ve been with the agency for more than six years now, and I just love the people that we have. And, you know, their passion gives me passion. And I think that especially now that I’m working across EMEA, I get the chance to work with different people from different countries, with different cultural backgrounds, that’s giving me a lot of energy. So that’s what’s keeping me.

How was it the beginning? What made you choose this industry and not something else?

I used to work in management consulting, for Accenture and then for Deloitte. It’s all about understanding the business challenges and coming up with solutions. Now, when I joined the advertising world, I learned that on top of that, it’s also about humans and it’s about people. And that’s what I love about advertising. It’s about finding that human insight, finding how can brands help people. And so, bringing together the business impact from consulting, but now also the human angle, that’s actually what made me really appreciate the industry. And I think that advertising can do also a lot of good things. It’s not only advertising, it can also change behaviours. There’s a lot of good stuff that happens with advertising and good.

You have a very interesting title. That’s how I see it. You are called Chief Connections Officer. What does actually involves this name and how do you connect people?

The title Chief Connections Officer is coming back to something that we see as an agency these days – that brands need to connect with people. Otherwise, they are, well, disconnected brands. Right? The way to connecting with people is by understand their lives. My team and I are using a lot of data driven insights to understand how do customer journeys look like and therefore how do people live, how do they use digital channels, what do they do in social media. What are their worries and their needs? And only when we understand all of these elements, then we can help the brands be connected brands.

And so, my role is not only to think about the humans out there, to think about the people, to think about customers, but also think about the brand and then bringing those two together. That’s the connection that we are trying to achieve. I know it’s a title that might sometimes raise questions, but that’s basically what I’m doing. From an agency perspective, I’m working with strategy and creatives to make sure that we create that connection.

Are there any other agencies that have this title? I don’t think so.

The title not necessarily, but I think it’s it all started off in 2018 when we as an agency made it our proposition to create connected brands. It started off in the US as something where we saw an opportunity for an agency to bring in that connection, expertise, etc. Since then, we’ve been developing a capability that allows us to connect the brand with the consumers. I think it’s unique in the way that we have done it. And I think it’s also unique when we go to clients because they are usually very excited when we get them to understand what is a connected brand. And there’s a number of big examples, I think, where we have shown how a brand can be turned around.

For example, in the US where we’ve been working with Wendy’s, which is a fast-food chain, where we have really created now a connected brand over the last five years by working together with them, understanding what’s the culture, what’s the role of culture, what’s important for consumers, and therefore how can we become a more relevant brand, how we can become a more connected brand. We’re doing the same work in the UK now, and I’m responsible to do this across the region. That’s also why I’m here in Bucharest, to work with our team on a couple of briefs to make this happen.

What are the main challenges that arrive with this, especially as you talked earlier about clients and how do you propose them? Because they are excited at the beginning, but how do you keep the excitement going? And also, what happens with the ones that are not excited?

How do you do it? I think that’s maybe the consultant in me speaking here. As soon as we can show tangible business impact, that’s the best way to convince every client. And with the way that we have established connections, planning, we can really show the impact that we can achieve on our clients’ business.

So, for example, for one of our biggest international clients, we have been running connections work for the last two years and we can show a tangible business impact of a significant increase of share of market. So, we can show how effective our work is and we can show that our campaign assets are have a working and we can also show that we are more efficient, meaning that any work that we create on a global or regional brand level also translates into impactful campaigns on the markets. So, in short, it’s about showing the business impact. Clients are always excited.

You talked earlier about strategy, and I know you’ve been working for many years prior on strategy. How has that background helped you in the work that you do today?

Very good question. I think it’s actually linked to the last question around how do we get clients excited? There’s one thing that I think excite them about creativity, which is obviously that’s what we’re all here for, right? But the other one is about making a tangible impact on our clients’ consumers. And about bringing in the strategy lens that you’ve mentioned, I think by understanding what we need to measure at which stages of a consumer journey, and therefore how can we show the impact of our work at each stage of the journey.

That’s probably where I bring in my experience from strategy. That’s also what I was doing at Accenture and Deloitte for so many years: to show what it’s in the end the outcome for our clients. Bringing creativity and then the tangible business impact together, I think that’s what hopefully gets everyone excited.

Have you observed so far, while you are in this new role, differences between the people in the countries you are working for in the EMEA? And if there are differences, how do you connect with those people?

I have been working together with the colleagues across the region for a couple of years now, since the official promotion it was more a formalization of what I’ve been doing. But working together with the teams across the region did show me that there are differences, but especially when it comes to culture. So, there’s these cultural differences between the European countries. That’s the stuff that gets me actually out of bed in the morning.

I love that when I come here to Romania, for example, it’s a very different culture and a very different way of working than in Spain, than in the UK. What does help us is coming back to data. We are using a broad set of data sources for our connections work. We’re using tools such as SEM, Brandwatch or Global Web Index, for example, that allow us to get to really hard data points for each of the markets that we are working in. But then we also have proprietary tools such as the brand asset evaluator. It’s the world oldest brand study which is proprietary to VMLYR.

By bringing these elements together, we can embrace the cultural differences in our markets, but we also have these hard data points that allow us really to work consistently between the markets.