Powerful Ideas

I have just delivered the commencement address to the graduates of the College of Communication and College of Computing and Digital Media at DePaul. I used the opportunity to deliver an important message. Graduates will need to deliver powerful ideas that change the course of business and brands. It is now what you will DO, not what you SAY, that matters.

I am proposing an entirely new role for the communications executive. Instead of being an agent of the client (hence the term ad agency), you become a partner of the client in being a catalyst for evolution. Your measuring stick will now be delivery of commercial AND societal benefit, not awareness or preference. You will initiate movements that are sustained, not come up with creative campaigns that last for a few months of spending. You aim to build long-term relationships with stakeholders, not simply to generate sales in the short term. You will need to customize content for users based on their interests, not to create ads that can be broadcast to mass audiences.

This is far beyond what has been demanded by prior generations of clients. We were tasked with attracting consumers through icons such as Charlie the Star-Kist Tuna. We found celebrity spokespeople such as baseball great Nolan Ryan for Advil. Not anymore! We need instead to find a cause, a bigger purpose that provides emotional as well as rational connections, such as the Dove* Campaign for Real Beauty.

The category of marketing communications, which includes advertising, digital, media buying, PR and research, should morph into communications marketing. The two functions are moving together at major corporations, with chief marketing officer and chief communications officer roles increasingly overlapping or merging. The functions need to be given equal importance. And the powerful ideas will also involve the general counsel, supply chain director, chief financial officer and head of strategy, because these ideas do not respect boundaries. That is how CVS* made the bold decision to stop selling cigarettes, taking $2 billion in sales out of annual revenue but raising its preference to the top of the drug store category.

Please read my address and send along any comments.

Richard Edelman is president and CEO.

*Edelman client