Advertising Educational Foundation

Linda Scott: Janet, I’m really excited to have the chance to interview you about the new women’s consultancy at Omnicom, G23. I think it would be great if you would tell our readers what the origins and objectives of G23 are, but let’s start with a few words about who you are.

Janet Riccio: I am an Executive Vice President with Omnicom Group. which is the largest marketing services and communications company in the world, with 1,200 companies. And I am also now, most proudly, CEO of G23.

I joined Omnicom in 2004 after spending the prior six years (of my 25 years in advertising) at DDB in Chicago. My career has taken me around the globe, and I had worldwide purview over accounts such as McDonald’s and Dell Computer. I’ve had the opportunity to travel and do business in 30-plus countries on every continent except Antarctica. That has been both a tremendous honor and a privilege, as well as life-changing for me. I have great friends everywhere in the world.

About 18 months ago, I was asked to attend a meeting of one of our companies under our Diversified Agency Services (DAS) division, which was presenting the case for redefining or reinventing their offering to their clients. This was an experiential company that had been working with our Unilever client for twenty years. Throughout the US, they had done experiential events that put their product directly in the hands of women. They thought that with all that experience, it would make sense for them to reinvent themselves as an experiential company specializing in women.

As I sat through the presentation, I thought to myself, “What a tiny slice of a woman’s journey in her relationship with a brand this is! Wouldn’t it make sense for Omnicom to have a client offering that delivered a total communications and marketing picture about women?”

Next, I called the women I knew that were running companies within Omnicom. I ran this idea up the flagpole with each of them and to a woman, they all said, “Yes, great idea—and can I be a part of it?” As time went on, I reached out to other women, both within Omnicom—from advertising, design, digital, and so on—as well as from other potential partner institutions—universities and retailers, for instance. My tent grew that much bigger.

The founding partners of G23, however, are mostly those women I contacted after that initial moment of insight. Everyone is an Executive Vice President or up. There’s Tracy Lovatt, from BBDO North America, and Sharon Love, chief executive at TPN. Then, of course, there’s Andrea Sullivan from Interbrand, and Julie Winski from Porter Novelli. Julie Bauer, president of Bauerworks, is also a founding member, as is Emma Gilding, the president of In:site, a cultural anthropology consultancy. No surprise it was Emma who came up with our brand name.

Linda Scott: And please tell our readers a bit about the name.

Janet Riccio: Emma’s concept was to use “G” as in “Group” and “23” to refer to the number of chromosomes that determine one’s sex and makes women what they are—women! We love the name because there is a story to it—and women like to tell stories.

We launched in July, but had been talking for over a year about who we are, how we would work together, what does this collaboration model look like, what point of view do we need, how do we separate ourselves from the rest of the pack. In other words, when we walk into a room, what makes us different? What does this group look like?

Through all of that discussion, we determined that our mission was to profitably and sustainably transform our client’s businesses through the activation of the female economy. Our goal is to be recognized as an absolutely essential strategic partner to major brands worldwide as they work to capitalize on the female economy. When someone wonders, “How am I going to activate the global female economy?” we want them to think of us.

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So that’s how we came together. I’ve now started talking to the Omnicom women of Europe, so I have the beginnings of the G23 footprint in Europe. China is up next. I’ve also started G23 Next, which is all the same disciplines, but the next generation of Omnicom women leaders.

And we fielded a global research study.

LS: Please tell us a little more about that.

JR: One of the things that we knew, of course, was that our point of view about doing business with women was going to have to be founded and grounded in empirical data. We looked everywhere for studies that would give us some insights into the global female economy. Although there had been some economic reports done here and there, and conventional wisdom existed, such as that 80% of purchase decisions are made by women, what we really wanted to know was, empirically, what exactly is the nature of the influence that women have over purchases? Is that influence entirely variable around the world or are there similarities between some cultures or across some subgroups?

Our working hypothesis was that geography was really not the primary factor in defining similarities between women around the world. Rather, how a particular group of women spent their money, the distribution of their wealth, and how much they had, would link them together and make them more similar to other women in faraway places than they were to other women closer to home. Hypothetically, Meg Whitman, who was chairman of eBay at that time, might have more in common with a woman in Kenya with 40 head of cattle, because of the relative place that puts them within their society, than Meg might have with someone sitting right next to her in the US.

Finding that there was almost nothing out there from a research standpoint, we fielded our own study so we could ask the questions that had never been asked before. We conducted a survey of 8,000 women in sixteen countries for the quantitative and on the qualitative side we conducted 80 in-depth interviews in 11 countries.

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First and foremost, our hypothesis held up. There was a tremendous amount of similarity between the things women have in common because of the influence they have through money. We looked across 30 products and services, lining them up with Omnicom client categories. We looked at everything from automobiles to computers to buying aspirin and shampoo. What we found was that women have a lot of influence in the decision-making of every one of these products and services. It is no longer purely a man’s area in the big durables, like cars and computers and technology.

In technology, for instance, the influence and power that some women in emerging markets have over the purchase of computers and mobile phones and all those devices is extraordinary. I believe that, from their perspective, control over such purchases impacts their independence and freedom. There are tremendous implications for marketers in such an insight.

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We also did some “tribal” work, grouping these 8000 women into eight tribes. One that really sticks out is a tribe comprised demographically of 50-plus women in the US and 30-plus women in China. They share so many of the same values, attitudes and influence. These two groups are less impulsive than others in their own culture, less emotional in their purchasing behavior. They’re not particularly interested in the newest thing and are less inclined to get excited about talking to their friends about possible purchases. When they decide they are going to spend, they research the market.

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What they seek is to get the highest quality in their purchase and a sense of how the purchase will benefit them personally. Yet there are also differences between them. In China, being a collectively-minded culture, confidence in a brand’s high quality is most readily mediated by its reputation, the word on the street. In the US, where the culture is more individualistic, this tribe of women is more likely to ascertain highest quality through personal experience. Beyond those points, while a brand’s ethical practices don’t override other considerations, it is more likely to make a favorable impression on these women.

So this kind of information is going to give us the opportunity to more thinly slice the female target, which has always been treated as a homogeneous category. That “marketing to women” concept is bankrupt. It’s very paternalistic. It’s far too passive for the women of the 21st century and seems to be code for “marketing to moms.” Women are other things besides moms. And I think women in general are starting to get a little tired of being pigeonholed as either gatekeeper or mom or nothing. I believe it’s time for brands to start “doing business with women.”

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In our qualitative research, we also found this extraordinarily robust group of women: we call them the “Costco Women,” who are a highly organized cooperative shopping group. They have a leader and it’s almost like they have an organizational chart. They come together to go shopping at Costco. The leader sends them all out with assigned products to buy, and they all come back, having gotten the very best buy they could find. They do it for fun and social networking and savings and empowerment. Think of the implications of having a retailer enable that behavior for women. Importantly, this isn’t unique to the US. We found this same type of organized group around the world. The implications are enormous.

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Interestingly, given the recent economic downturn, we also asked our women how they think their behavior would change in a recession. I think the responses are very interesting. If it’s not a necessity, expect women to trade down or delay purchase. However, lipstick and chocolate are necessities to the women of the world! Women do not anticipate trading off-brand; they are not going to trade down. They may buy a little less frequently, but they will still buy. In durables, like TVs, what do you think they would do? They would buy the brand they had already identified. They would not trade down and they would not delay their purchase. Why? Because where they really plan to save money is by not going on vacation or eating out less and seeing fewer movies. So if the family is staying home for the holiday—a “staycation”—they have to make the home more entertaining.

And I do think instant gratification is going to be going away. Given that women carry a disproportionate amount of their debt on credit cards I think this, “I can get it whenever I want,” is probably going to be something of the past. Women are going to look at each other, and the smarter ones are going to be the ones that put it on layaway or delay it, or don’t have nineteen credit cards, or will have a smaller car when they buy. I think those are the kinds of behaviors that are going to start earning those badges of honor amongst your friends.

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LS: And what about your first client—what are you doing for Chrysler?

JR: I can’t really go into much detail about what it is exactly that we are doing for Chrysler. What I will say is that this is my first exposure to the automotive industry and it’s absolutely fascinating. The people that we are working with at Chrysler are extraordinarily dedicated to and passionate about their brand. It’s very contagious. It comes as no surprise to anyone that “women” in general have never been a segment that has been paid much attention to by this industry. We are an under-spoken-to, underserved, under-communicated-with, under-marketed-to group. G23 has formulated some hypotheses about specific life stages of women and their car choices that we believe, if supported through our research, will deliver to Chrysler an opportunity for a new revenue source.

LS: How long do your engagements with clients last and how are they structured?

JR: Our engagements are usually short, about 14 weeks.

LS: So how do you envision this going forward in terms of the kinds of categories that would be most likely to adopt this approach?

JR: The categories I’m really interested in are those that don’t traditionally focus on doing business with women: technology, financial services, obviously automobiles, pharma. Pharma still has a daddy’s voice, doesn’t it? It’s so paternal, and you hardly ever see a female doctor in US advertising. It’s fascinating considering women make 90% of the pharma decisions in the household.

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As for the service industry, well, forty percent of new businesses in the United States are being opened by women. We are a huge force in entrepreneurialism. You would think FedEx would just target women, right? So I think there are those types of categories. Retail for sure—I think we could do a great job with retail.

LS: And so how are you approaching potential clients, and what is their response?

JR: We are talking with dozens of clients. There seems to be a genuine understanding of the power of the global female economy and our data has been received with real interest. Our G23 consultancy is not going to claim overnight success. Our model is unique and our output is high-level strategic business propositions—game-inventing propositions as we like to say. Perhaps I am overly optimistic, but I think marketers have a tremendous opportunity in this downturn to start doing business with women by demonstrating a deep understanding of who we are in all of our life stages. It would be an efficient expenditure of their dollars with a high return on investment.

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LS: Let me ask you how the men in the company, in Omnicom, are responding. That’s the more obvious question. But I also want to ask you the less obvious question of how the women around in Omnicom are responding to this.

JR: I’ll start with John Wren, Omnicom’s CEO and my boss. John has supported the G23 business from the beginning. He is invested and stays true in hard times. I am dedicated to delivering shareholder value.

When we launched, I got a couple of “hurt feelings” calls from men whose companies weren’t represented in the original group. But I’ve told everyone that my tent is very big. I need all the women I can get because we can’t all always be on the team. I need bench.

The women of Omnicom have been very supportive. On July 2nd, when the article came out in the New York Times,1 I had hundreds of phone calls and emails from women in Omnicom saying, “Can I be a part? How can I join?” It’s been fantastic meeting and speaking with all of these magnificent women—so successful, so different from one to the next.

I’ve learned, through the speeches and presentations I’ve been making, that I have to be very clear about what we are. I was in London a couple of weeks ago making a speech in a conference, and I got an email from someone the next day asking if it truly was a club, and was it a membership, and what were the benefits of membership.

So I know I’ve got to be really clear about what we are, what our offering is, that we are a for-profit consultancy. We are all about women and activating the female economy on behalf of our clients. It’s all strategy, not execution.

This is a model that benefits our clients. It is a pure integration model. And it’s not easy. It’s a lot of work. But I think it is an absolute poster child of the best of the best of what a holding company like Omnicom brings to their clients. Think about it. Wouldn’t it be extraordinary to brief a gathering of female experts (all best in class in the world of marketing and communications), on your brand in order for us to unlock the key to activating the female economy (in a country, a region, or globally) on your behalf?

LS: I know you are also on the board of the Women’s Funding Network. I know that you have to put your head in a whole different place to do that, but it’s got to have impact in terms of how you think about the female economy.

JR: Absolutely. I’m very proud of my affiliation with WFN. The Women’s Funding Network is 135 organizations that fund women’s solutions across the globe. We give women the money and tools to transform their ideas into lasting change—in every critical area from combating poverty to achieving advances in healthcare, education and human rights. I think that what the association with the Women’s Funding Network has done for me is made me realize that women-led solutions are extraordinarily powerful. There cannot be a solution, or should not be a business solution, that does not include an investment strategy in the women and girls of that country, in some way, shape, or form. It is just smart business.

When I was talking before about the dynamic emerging market woman who is spending everything she has to have the most recent technology and the latest things, it’s because of what it represents—independence and freedom for her. It is not a victim mentality. We have to stop treating women as victims and start treating them as part of a company’s investment strategy. Goldman Sachs is doing it with the 10,000 business degrees.2

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It just makes so much sense to me that there is power to be had in the intersection of a product, a brand, and the needs or values of women and girls in your target customer group. Women around the world told us that a majority of them purchase products that share their values. I don’t think we can ignore this anymore. This is very close to the hearts of the women of G23. One of our core tenets is that no company today can have a sustainable brand strategy without the inclusion of a philanthropic investment strategy. We also practice what we preach at G23. An early engagement was creating a uniquely female “voice” and story for an organization called Women Moving Millions, a movement, started by Helen LaKelly Hunt in partnership with the Women’s Funding Network, among women of means to shift their large philanthropic investments to women’s and girl’s funds around the world, first and foremost. Our goal was to raise $150 million by April of 2009. We launched in November, 2007 and today we are at an amazing $120 million. We’re very proud to be a factor in that success.

Janet Riccio

Janet Riccio is an Execute Vice President at Omnicom Group, Inc. and CEO of G23. The actualization of G23 is the result of Janet’s determination of a gap in the marketplace’s understanding of the female economy. In addition to leading G23, Janet is responsible for the global oversight of one of Omnicom’s largest clients: McDonald’s Restaurants. In this role, Janet fosters and facilitates multiple agency collaboration, intercedes on behalf of both agencies and clients to develop solutions to any ongoing partnership issues and taps into Omnicom specialist agencies to bring ideas unique to their discipline to the clients. Over the course of Janet’s 25 years in advertising, her collaborative business style has taken her to more than 30 countries on behalf of her clients and forged a deep appreciation of how relationships with consumers build brands all over the world. In addition to her work on behalf of her client’s brands, Janet is also passionate about philanthropy. She serves on the boards of the Women’s Funding Network, a global champion for the investment in women, and the Make-AWish Foundation of Metro New York.

Linda Scott

Linda M. Scott is a Reader in Marketing at the Said School of Business, and a Fellow at Templeton College, both at the University of Oxford. She has Bachelor's and Master's degrees in English (University of Texas 1974, University of Texas 1976), an MBA (SMU 1978), and a Ph.D. in Communications (University of Texas 1991). Scott has published extensively on the formal properties of advertising, including music, images, and drama. She has edited a book on commercial imagery, called Persuasive Imagery: A Consumer Response Perspective, and has authored a book on fashion, imagery, and feminism, called Fresh Lipstick: Redressing Fashion and Feminism. She is the editor of Advertising & Society Review and is a member of the board of the Advertising Educational Foundation.


1. Elliot, Stuart. “Speaking to Women, with Firsthand Experience.” New York Times, July 2, 2008.

2. Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women is a global initiative that will provide 10,000 women, predominantly in developing and emerging markets, with a business and marketing education. Partners include the American University in Cairo, Columbia Business School, Harvard Business School, and United States International University in Kenya, among others. For more information, see .