Marc Mathieu, SVP, marketing at Unilever and the company's second most senior marketer after CMO Keith Weed, was speaking at the 'Fixing Advertising's Talent Crisis' debate at the Cannes Lions advertising festival this morning.
Mathieu, who previously held senior marketing roles at Coca-Cola where he helped launched Coke Zero into 50 markets, was hired by Unilever earlier this year, partly to boost the brand owner's sustainability profile.
After leaving Coke and before joining Unilever in April, Mathieu ran sustainability consultancy BeDo in Atlanta, working for Coke, Danone, Levi’s and Johnson & Johnson.
A key to motivating agency staff was for clients to "empower them to fail". He said: "I respect an agency that tells me, 'if you don’t empower me to do great work, I will deliver average work."
Agencies and brands "cannot do consistently great work without failure [along the way],"he believes, and while "failure is an option, fear is not".
Bob O'Leary, head of global marketing at banking and insurance giant Citi, said clients must treat agency talent "not just as creators of banners and TV ads, but as integrationalists" as "ideas can come from anywhere".
In the same debate, Alexis Nasard, chief commercial officer at Heineken, described advertising talent as "contagious".
Nasard said: "It's a virtuous circle. When you have the best talent [within agencies], you attract great work [from clients]. It's a virtuous circle."
The issue for agencies is that once they lose a pitch, "proper nuanced HR policies go out the window and you end up falling back on a discretionary bonus here, and patronage there," according to Grant Duncan, head of media at Spencer Stuart.
Paul Polman, Unilever's chief executive, has pledged to reduce Unilever's overall environmental impact through what it calls its "sustainable living plan" while promising to double Unilever's sales by 2020.