In a column for Adweek, Paul Gunning noted how many companies rush into the world of social media without a clear strategy or measurable goal. “They suffer from what we call ‘techno-ecstasy,’” he wrote, “a constant obsession with the newest, shiniest online toys combined with the fear of being left behind.”
A Facebook fan page and a Twitter account, however, do not a social media strategy make. But for companies like McDonald’s, Microsoft, Volkswagen, and T-Mobile that are serious about developing effective online strategies to strengthen customer engagement and build their brands, Tribal DDB, which calls itself “a digitally centric global advertising agency,” has become a go-to partner.
When Hasbro wanted to build excitement around the launch of a new version of Monopoly — Monopoly City Streets — the agency’s London office proposed developing a live, online version of the game that would use Google Maps’ functionality to turn the earth into a giant Monopoly board, where players could purchase and construct virtual buildings.
Tribal’s creative team built the online game, and rolled out a teaser campaign that included creation of branded Facebook and Twitter accounts, and outreach to Monopoly fan blogs. The results were stunning. In the first 24 hours after monopolycitystreets.com launched, 1.7 million people logged on and started buying virtual properties.
Gunning, who cut his teeth in sales at ADP, a global payroll and HR services company, before moving to the ad agency world in 1996, joined Tribal DDB as a start-up in 2000, the beginning of a rollercoaster ride from dotcom boom to bust to a roaring comeback. In 2006, he became president of Tribal East, one of the company’s five regions, responsible for 40 percent of its global revenue. In 2008, he was named CEO and president of Tribal DDB Worldwide.
Leading such a diverse, global enterprise, Gunning says, with more than 1,200 employees in 38 countries, from the U.K. and Japan to India, Brazil, China, and South Africa, calls for constant communication through multiple channels, listening carefully to the insights of local managers, and lots of face time with clients. He logs about 250,000 miles on the road each year.
Though he grew up just 50 miles away in Cleveland, Gunning didn’t know much about The College of Wooster when a family friend suggested he consider applying. “Now I can’t imagine having made a different choice,” he says.
An introductory black studies course filled with passionate intellectual discussion set him on the path to his major.
“When I look back, the thing that was most important was that open environment for debate. To have to stand up in front of your peers, state an opinion, and back it up despite criticism, that was really the foundation for a good sales career. Alphine Jefferson and Josephine Wright were two professors who really stand out in my memory. Their classrooms were like an hour and a half of public speaking twice a week.”
Those experiences, as well as the oral defense of his I.S. project on radical black literature, continue to pay dividends. “On the night before a big client presentation, I can’t wait to do it.”
Asked what he would say to a prospective student or parent concerned about the practicality of a liberal arts education, Gunning says without hesitation, “I’d be dumbfounded. I was probably like most kids coming out of high school, with no clear direction, and what a liberal arts education allows you to do is find your voice. Who knows what it will be? It could be black studies short term, and sales and management in the long term. But liberal arts helps you discover that.”
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