At nearly one-half century old, The Mars Agency has made an interstellar journey upward with the trajectory of the shopper marketing field. It has become a major player in North America and, for the last decade or so, around the globe.
As North American CEO and International CEO, respectively, Rob Rivenburgh and Darren Keen are among those guiding Mars’ flight path. Rivenburgh, an 18-year veteran of the agency, arrived from Diageo after spending years as a Mars client while at Nestle. Previously with Leo Burnett’s London office, Keen joined in 2010, when Global CEO Ken Barnett responded to the requests of clients in the United Kingdom to open up a London office.
While the majority of Mars’ business remains in North America, many of the growth opportunities are international, Rivenburgh says. The Detroit firm’s nine U.S. offices are strategically placed near major retailers in locales ranging from Minneapolis to Bentonville, Arkansas, he says. The North American operation is not broken down along functional silos. Overseas, Mars offers “expert generalists” in strategy, client leadership and creative services, with specialists in technology, media and other key areas, Keen says.
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Mars has spent the last 2½ years focused on future-proofing itself, which has led to the development of a technology platform called Marilyn, named after agency founder Marilyn Barnett. This platform is digitizing all of Mars’ data and processes, which the agency has institutionalized with existing clients and is offering upfront to newer ones, Rivenburgh explains. “It’s going to change the way we do business, our clients do business and the industry does business,” he says. “We think we have a product and a platform that’s going to be the industry standard.”
Keen believes the agency has been on an exciting trajectory over the past few years. “Mars has always been a large, independent business,” he says. “We have the kind of focus and experience [of a large agency], but the excitement and agility of a startup.”
The Mars Agency and the shopper marketing field in general face one continuous central challenge, Rivenburgh says. “Talent, talent, talent,” he says. “The industry is becoming the center point for this new retailer ecosystem among brands, media, shopper, consumer and retailers. As that grows, the talent is going to be harder and harder to find.”
Keen sees challenges in staying efficient to meet clients’ needs. “How do we prove we have the system and process to achieve that?” he says. “If we really want to be a commerce partner, we have to find ways to reset and invest in ourselves.”
Rivenburgh says he’s most motivated by being in the epicenter for what’s going on in e-commerce. “I love the dynamics associated with everything going on from the media standpoint,” he says. “More personally, what I love about The Mars Agency is the entrepreneurial nature and spirit.”
Keen takes the most joy in solving clients’ problems and changing the nature of their business. “Seeing that we’ve moved the needle and made a difference in their lives, both personally and commercially, that remains the biggest buzz,” he says. “It’s seeing our ideas and our strategic input come to fruition. It’s as exciting now as it was when I started out.”