Howard Klein’s career in shopper marketing began more than two decades ago when a college friend offered him a job at a small agency.
“He had a position available and needed somebody he could trust to do the job,” says Klein, who had previously worked in sports television production. “I didn’t find the agency business. The agency business found me.”
They both found it a good fit. Today, Klein manages all the Anheuser-Busch and Coca-Cola business at FCB/RED in his role as senior vice president and group management director.
As the shopper marketing business has changed over the years, so has the agency. It now takes on more project work for interesting companies in addition to serving its longtime marquee clients. FCB/RED also evolved in 2017 by acquiring the Columbus, Ohio-based environmental design firm Chute Gerdeman.
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“The Chute integration really opened up everybody’s eyes to another side of shopper marketing: how to engage with consumers through environmental design … and really how the physical space motivates and helps drive sales,” Klein says. “For me, the best thing it does is solidify that brick-and-mortar still matters.”
He has seen this attention to design theory pay off in better consumer-focused work and in helping clients see things in a different way. “They really are masters of architecture and 3D design and they’ve brought gaming principles to 3D design that are really on the cutting edge,” Klein says.
He believes that clients should value agencies that have good people, that are as invested in their business as they are themselves, and that produce work that excels from the creative, strategic and analytic perspectives.
The biggest challenge he sees is a shift from an environment in which long-term client relationships were the default to a world in which change for change’s sake is OK. “Our challenge is to constantly be attractive to people,” Klein says. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to convince somebody to come here and give you an opportunity to solve their problem.”
Day to day, he is inspired by helping clients solve problems and by seeing his team’s work out in public. “Whether we see it on a small shelf talker, a billboard or a TV ad, seeing the results of everybody’s hard work out there for millions of people to consume is pretty motivating,” Klein says.
In his client work for Coca-Cola and Anheuser-Busch, Klein also remains engaged by seeing how the two companies are reacting successfully to big shifts in the beverage landscape. “They’re not resting,” he says. “They are evolving and innovating every single day. And to be part of that innovation and evolution mentality is extremely motivating.”