“Marketing is creating products worth selling with stories worth telling”

Laurent Bourelly is a relentlessly passionate marketing executive and C-Suite business leader. He is the CEO and Founder of Headqu4rters Consulting, an independent strategy and marketing consulting firm. With over 20 years of experience, Laurent has grown some of the world’s biggest brands across the African continent. Having also worked in France and India, he brings a global perspective to his work. He has led multiple corporations through marketing transformations, leveraging his expertise in strategy, branding, market research and consumer insights.

Laurent, your journey in marketing is extensive and varied, encompassing diverse industries and countries. Could you please provide some insights into how it all began?

My curiosity and drive for marketing can be traced back to my childhood, where I began experimenting with my own marketing mix in the family’s garage and it ignited a lifelong passion! I started reading the books of Philip Kotler, David Ogilvy and Seth Godin. The latter has my preferred definition of marketing to date.

The company you founded Headqu4rters, has a unique approach called “THINK+DO.” Could you explain how this approach empowers your clients and sets your agency apart in the market

Something I kept struggling to understand is the question: “Are you more strategy or more execution?”. I never really understood this question. For me, a marketing person of any seniority should be good at both, but we rarely see this in reality.

So our THINK+DO approach started with this in mind and is at the core of our identity. It signifies our commitment to going beyond traditional consulting and marketing services. Our approach empowers our clients through a combination of strategic thinking, creative execution, and a performance mindset.

This approach sets us apart in the market because it combines the best of both worlds: strategic thinking and hands-on execution. It’s not just about giving advice; it’s about being a dedicated partner in our clients’ journey to success and delivering results instead of just delivering reports.

You’ve worked with some of the world’s biggest brands across the African continent. Can you share how this experience stands out as particularly transformative?

One of the most transformative experiences in my career was my time with Nestlé where I spent almost 8 years as an expatriate on the African continent. During my tenure there, I had the opportunity to work on iconic brands like Nescafé, Milo, and Maggi across 21 African countries and learn from amazing colleagues coming from all around the world.

As I love consumer connection to uncover the real deep insights, it was amazing to immerse myself in people’s lives. Going to their house to share breakfast and understand their culture and beliefs. And the striking difference you can have between Kenya, Ethiopia, Zambia, Angola, or the DRC, for example.

“Africa has really stuck with me, and it’s natural now that at Headqu4rters, we offer the service of “going to Africa with confidence” to Mauritian and international companies…”

As a continent of immense opportunity, venturing into African markets can yield remarkable rewards. But navigating the unfamiliar terrain poses challenges, including market uncertainties and limited insights. That’s where we come in. With over a decade of experience operating in Africa, deep immersion, and profound cultural understanding, we are uniquely positioned to guide and support our client’s journey.

Having our team there also makes a big difference. Since the beginning of this year, we have had our Head of Africa sitting in Nairobi. We also have a formidable network of partners across most African cities, ready to be activated as needed. Our network includes researchers and moderators, creative minds, media houses and public relations teams, expert digital marketing specialists, and brand activators. This collective expertise allows us to assemble a tailored and diverse team to meet the unique needs of each project, ensuring comprehensive support and impactful results for a launch into relevant African markets.

Laurent, you are recognized as one of the prominent CMOs in Mauritius, and it was recently announced that you are a member of the International Jury at the Flame Festival, in collaboration with the esteemed Loeries in South Africa. Could you elaborate on the significance of this role and its potential impact on Mauritian brands and marketers?

Yes, I’m really humbled to be part of the jury panel for the ACA Flame Festival Awards!

As a juror for this year’s Flame Festival Awards in partnership with The Loeries. Their dedication to recognizing creative excellence in the advertising and brand communication industry in Africa and the Middle East for over four decades is truly inspiring.

This collaboration between the Association of Communication Agencies Mauritius and The Loeries brings a fresh perspective to the event, fostering innovation and celebrating creativity like never before. I’m totally thrilled to be part of this esteemed panel and to witness the outstanding work of our industry’s best. I’ll be flying to South Africa in early October to proceed with the onsite judging, and I’m really looking forward.

It’s not very common for marketing executives to make significant forays into what is traditionally considered the domain of agencies.

“I’ve always been a firm believer in the power of collaboration between agencies and clients, emphasizing that magic happens when everyone works together as a cohesive unit…”

Talking about bold moves, I’ve made a few: I’ve introduced the industry’s only Marketing Excellence Awards to date and was also the first local CMO to attend the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity together with my agency partners while sitting at the CMO Accelerator Program in Cannes.

But I think the boldest move, and the most impactful one, is the creation of our Agency-Client Evaluation tool, which we branded as ACE.

Tell us more about ACE, this innovative solution you have just launched.

ACE is a methodology and practical tool that we developed to evaluate the state of relationships between Agencies and Clients. Because in a true partnership, staff are prepared to go the extra mile for one another. Maintaining a healthy working relationship (or working together to repair one showing signs of stress) is less disruptive and cheaper than the cost of replacement. I see too many clients giving up on their agencies for no clear reasons or too soon and thinking that pitching for another one will sort out their issues.

As ACE is a 4-Way process, agencies evaluate themselves and their clients. And vice versa, the clients also evaluate themselves and their agency. With ACE, we at Headqu4rters act as an independent party. We help assess the quality of relationships, we normalize feedback, and we set up and follow up the course of corrective action where necessary. Both clients and agencies who have subscribed to our service will testify to how effective this process is!

We can confidently say that after running the program, we saw better working agency-client relationships, leading to improved business results, awards and recognitions, promotions and raises, less stress, and more fun too!

You appear to prioritize the development of people’s capabilities, and your commitment to team building and sharing over two decades of experience is commendable. Could you provide further insights into the significance of mentorship and professional development within the field of marketing?

Mentorship and professional development are pillars of success in the field of marketing. In my view, marketing is a discipline that continually evolves, driven by changing consumer behaviors, emerging technologies, and shifting market dynamics. As such, it’s essential for professionals in the field to invest in their growth and help nurture the next generation of marketers.

Mentorship plays a crucial role in this process. Experienced marketers can guide younger professionals by sharing insights, providing guidance, and offering constructive feedback. It’s about passing down knowledge and wisdom to help individuals navigate the complexities of the marketing landscape. In my own career, I’ve been fortunate to have mentors who guided me and provided valuable advice.

“I’m passionate about giving back by mentoring and sharing my experiences with aspiring marketing leaders. It’s a cycle of learning and growth that benefits everyone involved…”

Moreover, professional development is an ongoing journey. Marketing professionals must stay abreast of the latest trends, tools, and best practices. This could involve pursuing certifications, attending industry conferences, or participating in workshops. Continuous learning not only enhances individual skills but also benefits the organizations we work for.

In this regard, we have developed a series of Signature Workshops, Tailored Training Solutions and Excellence Programs to empower marketers in their professional development.

You speak a lot about collaboration. How does this principle contribute to the success of your clients, and what can businesses learn from this approach?

Collaboration is essential because it brings diverse perspectives to the table. When our team collaborates with our clients, we collectively harness our knowledge, experience, and creativity. This collaborative approach often leads to more innovative solutions and ensures that our strategies align with our clients’ objectives. We also collaborate with third parties and totally embrace coopetition.

Speaking about collaboration with clients I am also a firm believer of radical candor, which is about telling our clients what they need to hear, not just what they want to hear. This level of transparency helps in making informed decisions and course corrections when necessary. It’s about having the strength to challenge ideas and strategies when it’s in the best interest of our clients.

This article was first published in the October-November 2023 Edition of Investor’s Mag

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Build stronger Agency-Client relationships. Discover improved business results!

ACE™ is designed to evaluate and nurture Agency-Client relationships, promoting a true partnership ethos. Through a reciprocal 4-Way evaluation process, agencies and clients assess each other – then themselves – with Headqu4rters mediating as an unbiased entity. We assess relationship quality, normalise feedback, and guide corrective action, ensuring smoother, cost-effective collaborations over disruptive replacements.

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