Social Influencer Series | CMO Stephen Larkin, David & Goliath
A better title for this post would have been - "Two Irish Guys Walk Into A Bar". I first met Stephen Larkin at an AdClub event in Boston many, many moons ago. It was last call. We were both young ad execs and that is what you did back then to advance your career. At the time, Stephen worked at a small Boston shop called Cuneo Sullivan Dolabany, which also happened to be my biggest agency client.
Today he is the Chief Marketing Officer of one of the hottest creative agencies in Los Angeles - David & Goliath, teaming up with Founder and CEO David Angelo to challenge brands to adopt "bravery", in this brave new world that we are trying to market in today.
I had the chance to catch-up with Stephen about the Boston ad scene, our adopted hometown of Marblehead and his latest bold adventures on the Left Coast. Here's what he had to say:
You were a legend in the Boston Advertising community for so many years and you made the jump to LA - how's that transition been?
I was hardly an ad legend in Boston, that would be Jack Connors and Joe Grimaldi. These two individuals helped put Boston advertising on the map, and move Boston from a regional advertising hub to the national advertising scene. We've been in California for four years and we’ve made the adjustment. As I tell people, Boston and Los Angeles are two different worlds. Culturally they could not be more different. I’m not saying one is better than the other, they are just different. In my humble opinion, Los Angeles is the hottest ad market in the country. In addition to having world-class agencies, Los Angeles is home to Silicon Beach, production studios, entertainment, great clients, amazing talent, and they are all intersecting. In addition, trends begin here. If you want to see what’s trending, hang out in Venice Beach.
Big news - Big change - you made the move from 180LA to David&Goliath. What was the precipice for that?
I honestly was not looking to make a move. I was introduced to Founder and Chairman, David Angelo a few months ago and I was inspired by his “Brave” philosophy. David has a real POV on the world, and how agencies should act and behave. There’s also an amazing story behind David&Goliath. This is an agency that has been creating world class work for many years. In addition to Kia Motors, they are doing incredible work for Jack in the Box, California Lottery, popchips and Universal Studios. The agency has a ton of great talent from every discipline. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that.
It is a brave new world. With the rise of social media - customers are connected and empowered like never before. We saw that in the election. How has that changed the role of the modern day ad agency?
Here is what I tell people. I’m extremely lucky, as my wife and I have three teenagers. We have a living and breathing focus group - day-in and day-out. I see how they interact and behave in this brave new marketing world. The advertising world has changed. We can either embrace this, or reject it. I’d rather embrace the change. Media is changing, new platforms have emerged, consumer needs are changing, client needs are changing, etc..We all know this. Frankly, there’s never been a better time to be in our business. The innovation coming out of our business is profound and inspiring.
How does a brand get heard these days, in your opinion - how does their message cut through?
Very simple, authenticity. I also think advertising and brand messaging has to make you feel something. If you feel something after seeing a piece a work, you’ve cut through.
From the perspective of a CMO how important is social to the vision of a brand's road map? Is it a part of the strategy or is it a tactic?
This is a great question. In my opinion, every brand should have a social strategy. Each platform will be play a different role with a brands communications strategy. With the emergence of mobile, brands need to think about their mobile strategy. My question to everyone reading this, look around you. Get on a train, watch what people are doing, 90% of them have their heads buried in their phone. Go to school, mall or restaurant, how many people are on their phone? What does this tell you? Mobile has become the “first screen”. Ok, we all know this.. But, as a CMO and brand manager, what is your mobile strategy? Look at what Facebook did a few years back. It was only three years ago Facebook decided to go all-in on mobile. They pivoted their whole business model. Today mobile is 80% of their total revenue. They noticed trends and watched consumer behaviors and made a bold move to pivot and go where the market was going. What they’ve done is impressive in this short amount of time.
Stephen's all time favorite commercial was "Parisian Love" from Google. (link attached) SL - "It was unexpected when it ran on the Super Bowl a few years back. It gave me the chills." The defining rock band of his youth - Aerosmith. The ultimate Boston rock band and the official soundtrack of a true, native Masshole. His most storied accomplishment is that he and his wife have been married for over twenty years and they have three great kids. He lives for his family! His social channel of choice is Instagram and his favorite celebratory cocktail is anything from Maddie's in Marblehead.
If you've every been there, you'll know what he's talking about. 16-ounce cocktails served heavy in a frosted pint glass. Perhaps a toast from Maddie's posted to Instagram when you are back in town?
Stephen Larkin is the CMO of David&Goliath. He was a figure in the Boston advertising community for many years before seeking his manifest destiny on the West Coast. Here is recent article about him and his new agency featured in AdWeek.
About the interviewer:
Mark Keaney is a Husband, Dad, Coach, Mentor and Leader. With over 20 years of experience in the media industry and a wild ride in the world of tech start-up & social - Mark is helping brands deliver world class CX at Lithium Technologies, where he is the Regional Vice President of Sales for the East. His mantra is - Brand Globally. Market Locally.
e: firstname.lastname@example.org or m: (617) 513-2668 or t: @markkeaney2pt0