Clarke's Theory of (Digital Rich and Poor) Relativity
Edited by Matt Dickman
With all the sizzle, adrenaline and $$ back on Silicon Alley today, it's rare that we chat with an industry leader that talks about the information rich and poor. Someone with an original viewpoint.
Founder of the "Pure Creative Asia-Pacific network" which he later sold to D'Arcy, we caught up with Chris Clarke, Founder and Chairman of Nitro Group to chat about his own personal views of technology.
Clarke's non-traditional, off-Madison background gives him a unique lens through which he filters ideas and creates value for an impressive roster of clients from Unilever to Coca-Cola. Technology has allowed Nitro to capitalize on the firm's nimble, quick thinking approach. He recently sat down with Tim McHale to talk about the impact technology has on marketing and the world we market in. Let's get to it!
Tim: Chris, before we discuss your views on technology, it appears you've had an amazing career path. First tell us about how you started out in advertising.
Chris: Honestly when I got out of business school, I didn't know what I wanted to do. I was directing some crappy amateur theater, because I didn't want to go and work for a bank. I stumbled into shooting music videos, and directed a feature film at 23. Then I found myself at one time directing ads as well, and didn't like the scripts, so I would just rewrite the scripts directly with the client.
Tim: Just like that!
Chris: And then luckily one of those clients asked me to start doing their advertising directly. I built a company called Pure Creative, firstly in Australia, and then, you know, we had clients like P&G, Mars, Coca-Cola, and Australian Tourist Commission. And those clients became regional clients throughout Asia, where we launched them in China, in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong in offices there, and Melbourne, Sydney, etc. So, we had eight offices in Asia.
Tim: Then what.
Chris: I sold that to BCom3/Leo Burnett and created Virtual Communities, which is still going today. I'm just on the board. And then I set up Nitro about just under five years ago in Shanghai, where I wanted to create a more holistic offering in the business. And yeah, it worked. It's worked out pretty well so far.
Tim: Tell me a little about Nitro so I can get a better idea of what you've done.
Chris: Nitro's a global ad boutique. It looks after clients like Mars, Unilever, ConAgra, Nike, etc. When I say we're a global ad boutique, we don't consider ourselves an advertising agency, even though we do television ads, print, and radio. We're building more and more additional capabilities. But, we lead through innovation so we're sort of like a creative business partner. People see us as a creative McKinsey with very strong intellectual property, but also the ability to execute the most simplistic tasks.
Tim: Where do you have offices?
Chris: In Melbourne, Shanghai, London, New York, and we just rolled out in Dubai. By the end of the year we'll have offices in Germany and Russia set up and after that we've just got Sao Paulo and India. That will complete us globally.
Tim: Tell me about the name. I love the word Nitro.
Chris: Well, I came up with the name because it's the smallest particle of an explosion put together or accompanying something to give the most powerful impact. So, it was all about the essence of us being small, and nimble, and fast, and creating such powerful impact without having to bring the heavy arsenal.
Tim: Let's talk about new technology. How do you see it improving the lives of your customers, and of you personally.
Chris: Well, it depends on the person, doesn't it? I mean, on a business side it does allow you to be more efficient, there's no question about it. It allows you to have the flexibility to put family first a little bit more, and yet still not miss out on work by having the flexibility of that mobile office. We all know the obvious things. It's a great educational tool for kids, but I still think the sadness is this massive bridge between information rich and information poor, which is incredibly alarming all around the world. And we will have a society that will be the haves and the have-nots just driven off technology.
Tim: I think you're hitting it on the head right there. I mean, that whole personal side. I've talked to a bunch of people and no one has actually shared that insight, which is a very, very important one.
Chris: Well, between Pure Creative and Nitro I set up Virtual Communities in Australia. It was really about trying to bridge the gap between information rich and poor, and it was creating a bundled offer for blue-collar workers. Eight years ago PC prices were incredibly expensive, and a blue-collar worker would walk into a store and feel incredibly insecure not knowing anything about a computer.
Tim: That's interesting.
Chris: So we, with the union groups, would go in there and do a salary sacrifice, get the employers to match it, and so they would get a computer delivered in the home and get a certain amount of education in there. We actually built an ISP business around it and still there was tremendous benefit of doing that. It's great that technology is becoming more and more cost-effective, but I would love it if the children of the world were definitely wired and definitely had access. When you hit 55 in your life, your direction's set, isn't it? You're probably not going to pick up technology or other skills as quickly as a child.
Tim: To the point you're making about information rich and poor, so much of what we do in this industry is driven by the desire. How much of what we do is driven by the desire to improve lives versus a desire to make money? Are they the same?
Chris: You can be lucky enough as a company to achieve both. But, I guess you can't be successful or sustainable if you're not offering value to a consumer. Now, value to a consumer could be in a consumer's mind. It could be whether you like it or not, eating McDonald's food, buying a can of Coke, you know, buying an Apple computer, whatever it may be, but there's that value equation for the consumer.
Chris: Some products naturally do, so the value equation for a consumer is always reached. But the reality is do certain products offer more value in people's lives? Absolutely. And, you know, there are a couple of great companies out there, but there are not a lot of products out there from companies that fulfill a need.
Tim: You think so?
Chris: Yes, but there aren't many brands and companies out there that inspire and enhance dramatically, in a real deep-down way, a consumer's life.
Tim: Would you say that by and large the way you see the Madison Avenue community, if we would label it that way, do you see Madison Avenue driven by a desire to improve people's lives, or just their own?
Chris: Oh goodness, no. Madison Avenue is driven by shareholder value return, which, when you're a public listed company, you do have the reality of increasing your growth rates and returns for your shareholders. And when that doesn't happen, clearly you're under pressure. Madison Avenue right now is just trying to survive itself. I just don't think there is any thought process on the whole for the holding companies to enhance and make the world a better place.
Tim: How can the technology industry change/improve/affect people's lives?
Chris: Well, like I said, I think it has to affect a certain socioeconomic change. It's done an extraordinary job in just allowing you to be more efficient, updated, educated and reachable, all the way through. And then I think there's this other part of society, this other 50 plus percent, that is totally left behind, that is not getting the appropriate education or global knowledge, because they haven't got access to technology. I think that's a real shame.
Tim: almost no one talks about that in this business.
Chris: And I think it's going to deeply affect a number of generations to come, because we haven't acted quickly. I mean, there's no doubt that there are so many critical issues in the world, but this is a critical issue. The information gap, the information rich and poor, technology does enhance people's lives, but not everyone's got access to it.
Tim: Wouldn't it be to a marketer's benefit to have the general population be more computer-savvy? And if so, what is the marketer going to do to educate their population to sell more?
Chris: I think it's that price barrier to entry about where the people feel they can afford it, and then as we all want to start interacting with the technology around us, it's a predictive thing. It's pretty hard to go back in your life and operate the same way without it. I think we have to as a global community, try and work out a way of how we give cheaper entry into technology and into enabling devices?
Tim: On a personal level, how does technology help you?
Chris: Well, firstly, I'm not the most techno-savvy guy, but I have learned a lot over the years. I am truly grateful for technology because I'm a single parent with a two- and four-year-old kid. It allows me to run my whole company spending a lot of time from home, which, ten years ago could not have been the case. You know, I spent today working from home, and I did more than a full day.
Tim: How did you do that?
Chris: I was linked into Europe and Asia, but at the same time I got to see my kids the whole day and they'd sit on my lap and draw while I was doing work. And having videoconferencing and the basics it's just fantastic. I would have to choose, without it, between my kids and work, and I wouldn't want to make that choice.
Tim: Going back the ROI-focus on new technology as a driver, how can we change that? How can we illuminate the personal side of the new media business to the new media business? I mean, does the new media business really care about the personal side of technology, or is it always going to be about numbers?
Chris: Unfortunately it's always going to be about numbers. I think that it's a difficult thing, but if you take the high ground, companies have all got to be sustainable.
Tim: What do you mean by that?
Chris: I think what companies are going to do is have a manifesto about what they are and what they tender to the community. I mean we give, at minimum, ten to twenty percent away to children's charities in any office. At least people know that they're just not working for a faceless shareholder, you know? They're getting bonuses themselves, but also we're allowing them to be in the decision-making process for charity. I'd love if all companies could do something small like that. It's not a big thing to do.
Tim: That's for sure. Chris, I really appreciate you're taking the time out to chat with us.
Chris: Take care buddy.
Matt Dickman is an interactive marketing strategist, speaker and technology evangelist working at DigiKnow, Inc. in Cleveland, Ohio. Check out his blog, Techno//Marketer (http://technomarketer.typepad.com). It explores the convergence of marketing and technology. He can be reached at email@example.com.