Agent of Change

Rick Roth ’76 comes up with new solutions for a new marketing world.

By Robin Roger

The advertising business has undergone dramatic change over the last several years. Consumers are more in control over how and where they engage with a brand, and retail customers hold more and more power over which brands they will support. Advertisers need integrated marketing solutions to win, and that means their agencies need to work differently.

For many, the word “agency” signals a traditional way of working that advertisers and marketers have grown tired of. In traditional, large agencies, disciplines have typically been created in silos, with advertising, public relations, direct marketing, digital, and social media groups operating independently. For years big agencies promised a one-stop solution, with everything under one roof.

But marketers became increasingly disillusioned. Too often, those agencies, with all the right resources, were unable to provide the media-neutral, integrated solutions they were promising. Some marketers turned to specialty firms with particular channel expertise, but managing multiple agencies is proving just as challenging for them as it is for a big ad agency to manage its discipline silos.

That’s why Rick Roth ’76 created a new model. In 2009 he left Ogilvy & Mather, one of the largest and most successful agencies in the world. In 2010 he launched his own brand consulting and communications firm, Roth Partners.

“Many agencies have all the right talent under one roof, but they struggle to get them to engage in the right away,” Roth said. “The advertising and marketing world has been changing dramatically, and it will continue to change. The people who understand what it takes for a brand to succeed today, the folks who get what marketers are demanding, are in a very good position to benefit from that change.”

A New Kind of Agency

Having worked for a large agency for nearly 30 years, from account executive, to office president to worldwide managing director and finally global CEO of OgilvyAction, Roth built close relationships with clients who started at the bottom and now hold senior positions at large companies, such as Kraft, Miller, Mattel, Avon, and Unilever.

“There was such a demand from my clients, who literally asked me to give it a shot,” he said. “What many of them want is rather basic — senior attention from experts who can work across channels and who will be truly engaged — not people who promise involvement and hand things off to lower paid staff once they bring in a business.”

Roth has assembled a team of experts from different fields that will come together to tackle a brand challenge or opportunity.

“Our ingoing assumption is that every assignment is different and every assignment deserves a tailored team and a tailored solution. The right people attack the issue. And each one gets a seat at the table from the start,” Roth said. “Our ideas must come from deep understanding about the brand and its competition, the consumer, and the business customer, and what’s happening culturally.”

Today's Advertising

“Nowadays it’s critical to think more broadly, across channels, and to study how consumers travel through their days toward a purchase decision,” Roth said. “To build a brand today through earned media is as important, if not more important, than building a brand through paid media. Everything is becoming more digital and more socially driven.”

Earned media, including tweets, posts on Facebook, and online reviews and blogs, is more trusted by the consumer these days, because it comes directly from other consumers, not from the marketers.

Roth Partners won its first pitch, and it was a big assignment. Unilever chose Roth Partners because it saw an integrated approach and strong creative work that brought brand and shopper marketing together. It relied heavily on digital technology and social media, minimally on traditional advertising. The firm also won an important Reader’s Digest assignment.

Roth is unique in his industry. He was classically trained and spent the majority of his career in brand advertising, but he embraces the importance of all marketing disciplines, from those focused on the point of sale to those influencing attitudes with mass media, both “above-the-line” and “below-the-line” disciplines.

While the idea of creating a new agency model in this environment might sound daunting to some, Roth said he sees a lot of possibilities.

“There’s a new service model being launched every day to speak to the changing needs of brand marketing,” he said. “The people who get it right will be rewarded. It may just be exactly the right time to do things very differently.”