Stagwell Marketing Cloud appoints Elspeth Rollert as first CEO

As Stagwell’s Marketing Cloud division continues to expand its offerings and revenue, the unit realized it needed a full-time leader. And this week it appointed its first chief executive, Elspeth Rollert, Digiday has learned.

This comes as the network of agencies has invested millions in innovation and technological developments, from augmented reality and generative AI to acquisitions. The investment may be starting to pay dividends: The unit for the first time reported its financial results in Stagwell’s Q3 earnings, showing that revenue increased 7% and net revenue increased 20%.

Rollert, who has a marketing background that includes being CMO of SMC since February 2022, previously served as the global head of partnership marketing at Uber and held other roles at Microsoft and IBM. Rollert told Digiday about how innovation is a driver of culture at Stagwell — and how the company is trying to establish itself in AI with domain expertise across its network.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Why is now the right time to install a CEO?

Years ago, Mark Penn, the chairman and CEO of Stagwell, was already [envisioning SMC] and championing through his words, actions and through funding Stagwell to build technology products throughout the different agencies. As we look to usher in the next evolution of SMC as we continue to grow, continue to lean into the explosion that is generative AI, this [seemed] a good time to bring in a CEO who is more focused on the day-to-day. But certainly by no means is Mark stepping off the gas on helping us and ushering in this new evolution of SMC as we continue to grow the products in the portfolio.

SMC runs a “Shark Tank”-style internal competition every year. Talk about how you build innovation from within the organization.

The annual competition is inspiring, and it’s constructive to how we ultimately build better products. We’re constantly having conversations with those folks [from across 70 agencies], understanding what they are hearing on the ground from clients, and it’s a two-way street. We also do a product champions program, so we have folks who raise their hand from across the network — who sit in media communications or research. Every six weeks we’re bringing those folks together, educating them on our offerings, asking them, “Does this resonate with what you’re hearing and seeing? What are the capabilities you wished were here that weren’t here?”

How will the agency differentiate its AI strategy?

If you look at our Harris Quest products or PRophet, those are led by folks who’ve been in the industry for decades. They’re not new to the craft and the technologies; they are building given what they know. One in 10 folks at Stagwell is technical. We have a wonderful CTO who has a very strong background in applied intelligence. We layer on the technical capabilities, coupled with that domain expertise, to really build workflows that resonate with our customers. Just because the technology is out there, doesn’t mean you [just] create great products — you need great minds behind that.

What is next for the agency in 2024?

Generative AI is not going away. There’s still a lot of conversations to have and test the software and technology. That will be a big focus for us — how do we infuse that into our products where it makes sense? We’ve been leaning a lot into PrivateGPTs. How do we start to, with clients, pull together information that’s relevant to them based on what they want to do, and apply various technologies over it? That can be creating copy in their tone of voice or thinking through creative ads and how we optimize those based on past performance through generative AI-type technologies. You will continue to see us lean into those types of things and really test [them] and have conversations with clients on how we continue to stay ahead of the curve.

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