August 01, 2018
GSK digital leader brings tech flair
Marc Speichert is quick to identify the common thread that runs through his 20-year history as a marketer and technologist. “I like to build stuff,” he says.
At Colgate-Palmolive, he built brands across a range of CPG categories and geographies. At L'Oréal, he built a chief marketing officer function into a company that had never had one. At Google, he built relationships with a who's-who of organizations seeking to improve their ad-tech processes.
And now, as GlaxoSmithKline's global chief digital officer, he's building one of big pharma's most ambitious innovation hubs.
Among other things, he's thinking about what he calls “digital-ceuticals,” which he believes could eventually replace traditional therapies. In Speichert's mind, it's as important for pharma to tend to its innovation pipelines as to its product ones.
“For pain, some [digital-ceuticals] are more effective than putting people through a pill treatment,” he explains. “We have to figure out what that means for us as the biggest OTC pain player.”
Speichert comes at the role from a different perspective than do most pharma lifers — because he's not a pharma lifer. Starting as a trainee in 1997, he worked for Colgate for 13 years. He left in 2010 to join L'Oréal USA in the newly created position of CMO. “It was a lean job description, just a few bullet points,” he recalls.
That leap-of-faith move proved defining for Speichert. “It was the first time I was tasked with reinventing an organization and being a champion for change. Those roles are never easy when you join a company from the outside,” he says. By the time he departed, L'Oréal had earned a reputation as one of the CPG space's savviest digital marketers — and Speichert had become a mainstay on lists of the most influential CMOs.
His move to Google was spurred in part by what had become his professional philosophy. “I'm obsessed with making the complex simple. My role is to curate complexity out of the picture,” he explains.
Working with other organizations as a kind of do-it-all guru, Speichert says his Google tenure was devoted to “helping people tell stories that are complicated, such as ad-tech and programmatic, by boiling them down to simple narratives grounded in use cases that everybody can understand.” One of his clients happened to be GSK, which wanted to navigate its way around existing and imminent disruption in healthcare.
“I got a call from them. ‘We don't think we're one of the top 30 clients who gets your attention, but we want to be,'” Speichert recalls. After he learned more about the company — and healthcare in general, which he describes as “one of the few spaces left that's super-ripe for disruption” — Speichert accepted in February 2017.
He hasn't wasted any time driving his agenda. This spring, Speichert's group completed the creation of a digital innovation hub in partnership with its peers in R&D and IT.
Speichert has also reorganized GSK's marketing operation to better align its personnel. “We had hundreds of talented people, but they were siloed,” he continues. The changes, it seems, were welcome: “For my meeting with our leaders, I put together this long presentation with my arguments about why we needed to do this.
Two minutes in, they were like, ‘Great! Has everybody been moved over yet?'”
In Speichert's mind, that's yet another sign that pharma's supposed aversion to change and inability to keep up with other verticals are vastly overstated. “When I was at Google, I realized that regardless of who you were talking to, everybody thought they were incredibly behind,” he says. “Where we're going to go as an industry in the next 10 years might be a little scary, but it's also incredibly exciting.”