Gary Booker, CMO Europe, Telefónica Digital

Gary leads on all aspects of the marketing strategy for new digital propositions, products and services for Telefonica Digital across Europe

Tom Holmes

Founder & Chairman



Tom Holmes talks to Gary Booker, CMO Europe of Telefónica Digital. 

Gary leads on all aspects of the marketing strategy for new digital propositions, products and services for Telefonica Digital across Europe. Backed by Telefonica, one of the world's largest telecoms companies with annual revenue of over €60Bn and 320 million customers worldwide, this division is focused on developing new digital services through innovation, R&D, venture capital investment, and global partnerships.

Gary joined Telefonica in 2010 as General Manager for all of O2's Consumer business in the UK heading up the mobile phone, fixed line, and broadband businesses with P&L responsibility for £4Bn annual revenue, and then sat on the main O2 UK board as Marketing & Consumer Director before taking up his current role. Over the last 20 years, Gary has worked in a wide range of different sectors; from Digital Entertainment, Sports, Toys and Licensed Merchandise, through to the Automotive industry and several years in Consultancy.


Creativebrief: As lead on all aspects of the marketing strategy for new digital propositions, products and services for Telefónica Digital across Europe, what is your primary focus?

Gary Booker: Telefonica is a very strong global business with established brands like O2 in the UK and huge strength as a communications provider, but we’re looking to grow in many new areas, with new digital products and services that delight our customers. That’s the primary responsibility of my area – to ensure we are developing truly innovative propositions for large enterprises, SMBs, and Consumers across Europe that best meet their needs.

Creativebrief: What are your marketing goals for 2014?

Gary Booker: The current focus is on making sure we are investing in the right new products and propositions. The challenge isn’t to create new ideas – as we have a huge number of great product opportunities – it’s much more about assessing which offer the best potential return, where our competitive advantage is strongest, and how best we then launch and take these products to market across Europe.

Creativebrief: Your career has spanned O2, Electronic Arts, Pitch, Dunlop Slazenger, Corinthian and Unipart, what have been the high points?

Gary Booker: I’ve been incredibly blessed and fortunate with both the roles and the organisations that I have worked for. I’ve worked in some fiercely competitive and very challenging markets that have required great focus, clear strategy and a fabulous team working very hard in order to succeed. But I’ve also had some exceptionally high times during the course of this – from hiring The Who to play for us at a private launch event in Los Angeles, to meeting, making and testing tennis rackets for Roger Federer (unsuccessfully – he stayed with Wilson and the rest is history), and once accepting a Bafta on stage as an unworthy stand-in on behalf of someone who “unfortunately can’t be here with us tonight”.

I’ve also been able to work with some unbelievable charities over the years. The Quicken Trust is one of those amazing tiny organisations with just 5 staff, but all of whom work every minute and take every penny donated out to a whole range of incredible projects in Uganda that are really making a difference to peoples’ lives there.

All in all, there have been far, far more highs than lows.

Creativebrief: Along the way, have there been individual marketers who particularly impressed and inspired you?

Gary Booker: It’s interesting that as you look back on roles, organisations and line managers, your view does change with time and hindsight. You definitely see things much more clearly as you have worked through a company, move on to a new challenge and then look back.

I was fortunate to start my career as a Graduate at Unipart which might not seem all that glamorous from the outside as it was a very B2B focused team, but under the CEO, John Neill, this company gave me the best possible start in terms of significant investment in training and my own personal development, real empowerment and trusted ownership of a business area – even straight out of University – and taught me above all to have an unwavering commitment to personally deliver against a customer’s needs.

Others who stand out as having made a significant impact on me would include Philip Jansen at Dunlop Slazenger and Ronan Dunne at O2. On the other hand, I can definitely think of many more individuals over the last 20 years who have taught me precisely how I don’t want to treat people and how not to inspire!

Creativebrief: What key attributes must a CMO have to run a world leading brand successfully in this day and age?

Gary Booker: The danger in answering this is that it can sound like words just plucked from a textbook, but I definitely believe you need to be a truly inspiring leader who is open, approachable and cares greatly about everyone in their team, have a clear vision and be able to tell the story of where you are leading the business and why, and be the very loud and clear voice of the customer for your business. I also think that the attributes of great CMOs have changed over recent years, and that a CMO needs to appreciate that the whole organisation must live and breathe the brand and ensure that the company has a clear purpose – it’s therefore critical that a CMO spends time with all departments and functions of the business. CMOs have to understand how best to weave together messaging and balance of resource focus between the extraordinary number of channels available, and they need to be far more financially and commercially aware than ever. This means being less focused just on the key responsibilities of brand, communications, and marketing strategy, and acutely aware of their role in delivering exceptional ROI from every pound spent and their role as the key value driver and creator for their business.

Creativebrief: What does the Telefónica brand stand for?

Gary Booker: One of the challenges we have is that we operate through multiple different brands across our global customer base – O2, GiffGaff, Telefonica, Movistar, and Vivo in Latin America amongst others. We have recently worked to summarise the amazing possibilities that all the new, connected technology opens up for our customers around the world with a very simple Telefonica brand statement: “Be More”. This is much more about an attitude than it is a campaign message; how can we help our 320 million customers worldwide – from large enterprises, small businesses, start-ups, and consumers – as well as all our employees to Be More in everything they do, enabled through the latest technology and connectivity. This gives our company a very clear purpose which guides everything we do.

Creativebrief: What are the main challenges for your sector/category over the next 12 months?

Gary Booker: We have two very different market situations in our geographic split of business: a saturated, heavily-regulated, fiercely competitive European market over-served by hundreds of brands; and a much newer, growing, more open (but still competitive) Latin American market. It’s extremely difficult to find growth opportunities for our core business in Europe, but there are many new growth areas beyond this core and the particular challenge on our team is to capitalise on the opportunities for new products and services opened up by the latest devices and digital technology.

Creativebrief: Can you give me some examples of recent campaigns you are particularly proud of?

Gary Booker: The biggest and most transformational work we’ve done over the last year is to completely refresh our brand under the headline of “Be More”, and with O2 in the UK in particular with the fabulous VCCP campaign “Be More Dog” 

This whole campaign has been a call-to-arms for everyone in the UK to stop being so bored and lethargic, and instead to get out there and grab life in all its fullness, fully utilising all the amazing possibilities that the latest technology provides. It’s meant we’ve been able to do some amazing ads playing on a cat who really wants to be a dog, and also do some more off-the-wall things to show off some new technology – like this game which links your mobile to a tablet or laptop and means you can flick a Frisbee off your phone which the cat on the laptop screen then jumps and catches:

Possibly less attention-grabbing, but equally significant over the last year was all the work that went into launching a new proposition – O2 Refresh – onto the UK market. This is a proposition launched directly in response to customer feedback – allowing customers to upgrade their phone at any time in their contract, and finally breaking through one of the unpopular and restrictive pillars of the mobile market for so long. “Stop waiting, start getting”:

O2 Refresh is a huge deal for customers as it gives them what they want: freedom and choice. This launch also continues O2’s long history of pioneering in the market with innovations that are truly customer-centred.

Creativebrief: How do you see the media landscape unfolding in the next 5 years?

Gary Booker:  I think the opportunities to communicate, interact and engage with customers will just get better and better. With the full national roll-out of 4G and the increasing proliferation of WiFi throughout the UK, mobile devices will become even more essential to customers’ lives than they are now – with a significant increase in personalised and context-sensitive opportunities as a result. In fact personalisation and context relevancy will be the key growth areas I think across all channels.

In addition, opportunities for 2-way interaction direct with customers across all channels will also continue to increase, as will the importance of groups and multi-way conversations with and between customers. Linked to this I think will be a further increased importance on “independent experts” or real user reviews as a critical source of buyer decision-making, with customers increasingly trusting their network or ‘people who are like me’ for guidance and advice.

Creativebrief: Do you prefer to use an ‘integrated’ agency approach or specialist agencies by individual discipline?

Gary Booker: My experience is that working with the very best in each particular discipline is the best approach. In this though, other factors are key for success. Firstly, you can’t split this too minutely – so ending up with 20 agencies is not the answer. Secondly, who is ‘best’ depends entirely on your business and the way your organisation and your team need to work. Thirdly, and critical in determining really who is ‘best’ for you, it is absolutely essential that all your agencies work together completely collaboratively. This is key above everything else – ensure there is no constraining hierarchy between agency partners, and that the personalities you have involved are positively challenging, but always receptive and open. The best creative ideas can come from any source and can be worked on, developed and improved by anyone around the table so having a culture and way of working that is open to this always leads to significantly better end output and results.

Creativebrief: Do you prefer to use local agencies by market or international/global agencies?

Gary Booker: I think usually a mixed approach is best. Where there are multiple territories with one brand, this needs a centralised creative approach to ensure there is absolute consistency in what your brand stands for. However, there are very, very few examples of great, single creative executions that can run globally – and most attempts are absolutely terrible. I think you need global brand and strategy leadership, but this needs to be managed locally by agency partners who truly understand the local quirks, culture, media and tone of voice. This could mean working with a lead global creative agency and with their respective local office, and then perhaps having different agency support for PR, social media, experiential, etc.

Creativebrief: When choosing agencies were you ever influenced by awards?

Gary Booker: Not really. Most agencies I know either through personal contact over the years, or through admiration for work they have done. Good work stands out and great agencies get talked about. Also, the most award-winning agency just might not be right for your business or how you need to work, or have the right people connection / fit. Answering this another way – when have you ever been at an awards ceremony when all of the most-deserving shortlisted candidates have actually won the awards?

Creativebrief: What challenges do you face, managing day-to-day agency relationships?

Gary Booker: Thankfully, I very seldom have any problems with agency relationships. This all stems from having the right team of agency partners in the first place, who are a great fit for your business and work collaboratively together. This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be positively challenging of the team, the ambition, or to be bolder in the work you are doing – this is critical. However, if you really have trouble or are spending a lot of time managing day-to-day agency relationships then you’re almost certainly working with the wrong agencies.

Creativebrief: How often do you look at new agencies or review your roster?

Gary Booker:  I’ll do it whenever it’s needed. But in reality this is very, very infrequent, and certainly not something that is done for instance on an annual basis. I much prefer working with agencies for the very long term so that they become a complete part of the business and marketing team. Only if work quality really falls off irreparably or if a very specific new need arises that requires new skills will I then look at a new agency.

Creativebrief: How do you monitor and stay-in-touch with the agency market to ensure you work with the best?

Gary Booker: I experience the joys of a minimum of one (often terribly targeted or obviously cut-and-paste) cold-call email a day – often more, so I always have agencies approaching me. However I think only once in the last 20 years has an approach like this actually led to me following up and this leading to some work – and this was a very specific set of circumstances. Generally, good agency work is self-evident – through trade media, one’s own observations of great campaigns or activity, and through word-of-mouth and reputation. On the very rare occasion that I have needed to seek out new agency resource for a specific need, then I would most likely turn to some trusted peers for their own experiences and recommendations.

Creativebrief: What’s your attitude to the ‘traditional’ pitch? Do you think there is a better/more modern way?

Gary Booker: I’ve actually not instigated or felt the need to conduct a formal pitch on too many occasions. I think this approach is most appropriate and still has great value when you are looking to fundamentally change the direction your business is heading in at the highest level with a new creative drive and a significant need to change perceptions about your brand. One quite often sees pitches called as someone is starting in a new role, but even then I personally would always prefer to assess existing agency relationships and support to see how this could be built from rather than automatically assume a new agency will be the answer.

Having said that, when the need does arise, a ‘traditional’ pitch can be a hugely valuable process if conducted properly – with a strong and detailed brief, a clear, robust and open process, and if you are making sure your team is accessible and available to potential agencies to help answer questions and work with them as needed. If all of this is in place then I think it can still have a very useful role in assessing how well potential partners truly understand your business, how their team interacts with yours, and ultimately of course, how strong and value-enhancing their creative is.

Creativebrief: Would you ever consider awarding an agency business without a pitch? What would they have to do / demonstrate?

Gary Booker: I would have no hesitation in doing this if it was an agency I knew well or had worked with in the past. To get in this position they would have to have had a history of proven success – in the way they work, their collaborative approach, and the strength of their creative ideas and quality of execution. Hand-in-hand with this though, I would always want to ensure our Procurement team were fully involved in this process as it’s more important than ever to ensure you are getting both great innovation and creativity from your agencies, and also great value and cost-effective returns from every pound that is spent.