Alien life forms on the Red Planet have a reputation for being more
communicative than managers at the other Mars closer to home. So it's a
real result when Ann Francke, one of the multinational's brightest
rising stars, agrees to talk.
But it's only when she arrives at Campaign's photoshoot with Miss Kit,
her capricious silver tabby beautiful and imperious enough for any
Whiskas commercial, that you realise this is an altogether different
kind of Martian.
European vice-president of petcare marketing she may be, but Francke has
an instinct for apposite visuals that can help bring messages to
Perhaps it's something to do with the fact she's dabbled in journalism
in the past and doesn't rule out writing again in the future.
But this is also the woman whose eye for the grand gesture persuaded her
erstwhile employer, Procter & Gamble, to shell out an estimated £4.7 million to sign Madonna as the new face of Max Factor and signed
avant-garde artists to the service of Oil of Olay.
No wonder her agencies find her inspirational. "She's a client everyone
enjoys working with," declares Cilla Snowball, the managing director of
Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, whose Mars petfood portfolio includes Whiskas
and Sheeba. "Her joie de vivre extends into everything she does. She
illuminates the process with her lively and energetic mind. She has a
passionate commitment to her brands and consumers."
So how does Francke's openness, accessibility, love of laughter and
creative credentials - she's an art lover who once won a United Nations
poetry contest -square with a P&G culture that prefers keeping things to
itself and Mars, the notoriously secretive, family owned
confectionery-to-petfoods multinational where any comment is no
Francke sees no contradiction in any of this. "My role within Mars is to
be a change agent," she says of the job which is said to have a £600,000-plus salary package attached to it. "That doesn't mean I don't
respect the principles of the company and the vast amount of knowledge
But I want to encourage people to push it further. I'm always impressed
by how open and willing the people within Mars are to do that and how
much more innovative the company is than people give it credit for."
So where's the evidence? For a start there's the swiftness with which
Mars negotiated a licence with Warner Brothers to sell Harry Potter
This is no ordinary promotion. A new line of confectionery has been
produced based on the goodies featured in the books and movie.
Then there's the company's global pet portal, a key tool in the
understanding of the relationship between people and their animals and
the most robust of a litter of rival offerings which failed to survive
infancy. "The speed and commitment with which Mars made that happen is
very impressive," Francke asserts.
She is even moved to suggest that agencies are not recognising and
reacting to what's been going on with leviathans such as Mars and P&G.
"Too many agencies believe us to be conservative, so they don't come to
us with fresh, bold and radical ideas because they believe we won't go
for them. They are wrong."
Mars, so infamous for its formulaic advertising, wanting more bravery
from its agencies? Some mistake surely.
Not so, Francke declares. The fact is that relations between agency
networks and their multinational clients are in transition. Gone are the
days when the 30-second commercial was the universal panacea. "Across
the board, the multinationals are moving towards multimedia and
multi-faceted marketing mixes. That's a global reality."
The dilemma for giants such as Mars is how to achieve this kind of
flexibility from a rigid roster of networks - BBDO, Grey and D'Arcy.
Mars has remained immensely supportive of them, even though D'Arcy seems
to have stretched Mars' patience to snapping point in recent years.
"D'Arcy does some things for us very well," Francke says
But if the agency roster is immutable, Franke believes she can use it to
her advantage, harnessing its collective power to implement some of the
creative solutions she is happy for her senior local managers to seek
out from a multitude of sources.
Ambition and a restlessness to try new things have been her driving
forces for most of her 42 years. They ensured the doctor's daughter
would not reside long in her home town of Mountain Lakes, a leafy New
Jersey enclave a 45-minute drive away from New York but too homogeneous
to hold her there indefinitely.
She studied Russian literature and intellectual history at California's
Stanford University. Defying predictions that her chosen language
specialism would be of little use, she found a job around the corner at
a small East-West publishing company. The post provided an early
exercise in brand repositioning as well as an introduction to
advertising and ended up convincing her that an international career was
Among the titles produced by the company was an insider's guide to
Moscow and Francke became its editor-in-chief. This was long before
Moscow had its own version of Yellow Pages and the guide was the only
comprehensive list of hotels, restaurants and other essential visitor
As an aid for tourists prepared to put up with the cold comforts of
pre-glasnost Moscow, the guide was a loss-maker. By transforming it into
an indispensable companion for European businessmen trading in the
Soviet Union, Francke made it profitable. She even turned herself into a
one-woman ad agency, persuading Soviet trade organisations to take space
and crafting double-page colour spreads expounding the virtues of
Russian-built ships and helicopters.
A Fullbright grant allowed her to spend a year in Berlin, ostensibly to
study the trade relationship between East and West. At the time the city
was a heady mix of radical politics and culture. The anti-war movement
was at its zenith and Francke was beguiled by the new generation of
artists eager to express the social change in a visual form.
The discord among the pacifists soured her taste for politics but her
Berlin experience clearly refined her future thinking about the marrying
of creativity to commercial activity. Indeed, in 1997, as a senior P&G
marketer, she brought the two together for one of the most innovative
campaigns in the company's history when works by leading-edge female
artists, including Tracy Emin, were "exhibited" during ITV peaktime to
launch Oil of Olay Colour Collection Cosmetics.
After a combined MBA course in journalism and business studies at
Columbia University, she was on a plane back to Germany with a $5,000 grant and vague thoughts of becoming a foreign correspondent with,
maybe, a Pulitzer Prize to climax a glittering career. The real purpose
of her return was to carry out a project on the privatisation of
But doing the rounds of the power brokers at the likes of Bertelsmann
and Der Spiegel set her mind on a different course. "I thought these
people were so interesting that I'd rather be doing what they're doing
than writing about them." A clincher was when a $1,500 commission
to write a cover story for a McGraw-Hill magazine ended with a $100 kill fee and the realisation that an impecunious freelance writing
career wasn't the way to pay off accumulated college debts.
Job applications to Bertelsmann and P&G in Frankfurt resulted in offers
from both. She chose P&G and was put to work as a brand manager on
Punica, an orange juice which was a precursor to Sunny Delight. P&G had
bought it as part of another deal but had little idea what to do with
it. Francke found the brand had untapped potential among mothers as a
vitamin-packed thirst quencher for children.
Sales doubled and her early success laid down her marker at P&G. She was
moved to help rescue Pampers by Michael Allen, then the P&G
vice-president for paper products and beverages in Europe and a key
figure in her rise through the ranks. Allen and his senior managers
encouraged her how to distil a wealth of complex information into
commonsense for which clear recommendations could be drawn.
Francke claims it was the important foundation that emboldened her to
take intelligent risks later on. It characterises her working methods
which are also marked by a down-to-earth and practical approach. She
once showed marketers working on Pampers how out of touch the brand had
become with changing consumer demands by bringing her baby daughter into
the office and having them take turns changing her nappy.
And she is unapologetic about launching Always across Europe with
much-maligned advertising through D'Arcy featuring women talking about
everyday period problems. "Extremely obnoxious but extremely effective,"
"Remember that until that time all the advertising was about women clad
in white jeans running along beaches. That wasn't what women wanted.
They wanted to know about something that worked."
Francke is candid about her failures. But while she may laugh at
previous errors, she's serious about not repeating them. Arriving in
Britain to take over the marketing of P&G's cosmetics business, Francke
made the mistake of relaunching all 11 brands simultaneously. It was
like throwing 11 balls in the air at the same time, she recalls. The
result? A total balls-up which caused her to focus on Max Factor and Oil
of Olay, the only two brands with real potential. It was Francke's
tenacity over a year-long period which succeeded in turning Madonna into
the new face of Max Factor despite an early rebuff from the
If swapping a diva for dogfood might seem a bit anti-climatic for most
people, Francke shows no sign of waning enthusiasm. On the contrary, her
two years at Mars seem only to have heightened her eagerness to
understand how consumers of all kinds think and act. "It's what keeps me
going and makes me enjoy what I do. Petfood is huge and has great growth
Francke's brief is to establish a more marketing-led and
consumer-focused petcare division across Europe. "The same brands
weren't always marketed in a co-ordinated fashion," she says. "There has
been an opportunity to bring that together in a way that allows for
regional differences but does permit you to create common positionings
for certain brands. Indulgent pet owners buying Sheba or Cesar have the
same fundamental beliefs about their relationships with their pets
whether they live in Paris or Warsaw."
She's built an eclectic team, multinational and culturally diverse, and
has tried to tap into the collective wealth of its experience. She uses
her agency networks in similar fashion and likes to play to their
She doesn't demand the same things from each but does expect all of them
to do more than just talk a good game when it comes to offering
integrated solutions. "All too often agencies string together up to ten
separate units and expect the client to deal with each one," she says.
"I won't work that way. I want a core team at the heart of the agency
responsible for the brand communications and advertising. I don't want
to talk to ten people who often don't talk to each other."
So what are the network trio's respective strengths? BBDO has great
creative strengths and has embraced the integrated credo. Grey is good
at managing big brands across large numbers of markets. As for D'Arcy,
well there's some great work on cat litters coming out of Germany, she
loyally points out.
Ask her if there's a case for overhauling the way her agencies are paid
and she turns the question round. You first have to ask if there's a
case for overhauling agencies, she says. "If agencies change their role
from ad makers to marketing partners and really contribute, what a
wonderful world it would be." Her laughter suggests there's a way to
Lives: St John's Wood
Car: None. "You need a car in London like a hole in the head."
Family: A daughter aged nine, a husband in retailing, a cat called Miss
Kit and a dog called Roscoe.
Relaxing: Collecting modern art, skiing, tennis, travel and shopping in
Recent read: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood.
Favourite TV: Frasier, Will and Grace, and - wait for it - Blind Date!
Favourite Ad: The "Those who can teach" commercial for the Department of
Education and Employment.
Dream job: "Doing what I do now but adding to my experience in a number
of different ways, either by writing or adding to my art collection."