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Experian’s TV spot, “Soaring”, starring Travis Kelce

Experian has been riding high with its recent consumer marketing campaign, starring celebrity hot ticket, Travis Kelce. Having released a wave of revolutionary new products in recent years, Experian has evolved its position from a credit bureau to a consumer services company with heart. Impressively, the creative force behind this public transformation was not a top-tier agency but in-house creative team, The Cooler, conceived by Chief Growth Officer, Kevin Everhart together with Senior Director of Brand, Daren Levis and led by Chief Creative Director, Todd Miller.

Travis Kelce for Experian

Expanding the funnel

Prior to the Cooler’s inception in 2016, Experian had a traditional agency relationship with “arguably one of the best agencies on the planet” according to Miller. An ambition to take creative ownership of consumer touchpoints led Experian to take the bold leap of bringing their creative in-house.

Miller found himself thrown in at the deep end when first shaping the team’s structure and ethos, but his vision was clear. “For me it was a bit of an in-house education, because I came from some of the marquee agencies of the globe, and I loved it. Our plan from the beginning was to create an A-list team. We have people who’ve been at 72andSunny, or Chiat\Day, all the great agencies.”

“When the whole team understands what people are looking for, we have a more holistic approach as to how we can contribute to the business.”

Drawing on his agency-side experience, Miller knew from the get-go that he wanted to foster a culture that championed access and communication. “Historically at an agency, the Account head and the ECD have the relationship with the CMO and the clients. There can be a very small funnel through which information flows. The ACDs and the general team is really limited to a brief”, he shares. Miller soon learned that open collaboration becomes second nature when interaction with the broader business is core to daily operations, and everyone benefits. “When the whole team understands what people are looking for, we have a more holistic approach as to how we can contribute to the business.”

Remit and Exposure

The role of an in-house creative agency can vary wildly, depending on the parent brand’s needs and organizational structure. With its $6.62bn revenue and 21,000 employees, Experian’s marketing and comms output is substantial, and Miller is quick to point out that The Cooler is focused only on direct-to-consumer communication. “We don’t handle B2B, nor do we do the Taco Tuesday posters over the kitchen sink, which is what many people believe in-house agencies do”, he says.

While there might be areas that fall outside of Miller’s remit, the scope of B2C remains vast and varied; “I mean, we’re doing some pretty heavy-duty stuff. I don’t feel my team is missing out. We do everything from National TV to the smallest tweet.”

"We're doing some pretty heavy-duty stuff... we do everything from National TV to the smallest tweet."

Living and breathing the brand leads to a deep understanding of the audience and its needs. But, according to Miller, what really moves the needle is the unique access afforded to him and his team. “The amount of information shared with us, the transparency, the learnings we get just from being in the room… we have meetings that we would never have at an agency.” 

Stakeholder relationships are still rooted in professionalism and agency-style process, but Miller alludes to an additional dimension at play; “The brief is sacrosanct, the brief is crucial, but we also have exposure to other things. We’re in the elevator, we’re in the bathroom, we’re essentially having lunch with our clients, every day.” This level of interaction acts as a catalyst for better ideas, and provides a barometer for the creatives’ understanding of the brand as a whole, “It gives us a lot more knowledge, insight, and ability to see what’s important, and to take all of that information and make sure that what we’re doing is right.”

John Cena & the infamous Experian Boost Cow

Brand Evolution

With its expansive sustainability initiatives and active community engagement, Experian has matured as a brand over recent years. From a consumer products perspective, the organization has repositioned itself as more than a standard credit bureau. “Part of my job has been to evolve the brand from a credit bureau like all the other credit bureaus, to a place where people can seek financial control in loads of ways. And Experian is all-in on creating tools that truly help.” explains Miller. 

A big moment for Experian creatively was the launch of credit score tool Boost, which was accompanied by a standout marketing campaign featuring unlikely duo, John Cena and… a purple cow

“The cow says “Booooooost” instead of “moo”, explains Miller. “It really was an absurd idea. But it was so big and on strategy. I think the transition to the brand that the Boost Cow and John Cena campaign created was successful; it was loved. I think it was transformative in evolving the consumer brand, and I owe a lot to Experian for seeing that and letting us pursue it. It was a big gamble for a revolutionary product.”

"I owe a lot to Experian for seeing that and letting us pursue it. It was a big gamble for a revolutionary product.”

Freedom to Fail

Working in-house grants the freedom to explore more of a test-and-learn ideology than a traditional client/agency relationship could afford. Miller sees this privilege as core to creative success; “If we don’t have the freedom to fail, if we don’t have the freedom to be silly, if we don’t have the freedom to be absurd, I think, creatively, we’re doomed to mediocrity, because we’re never going to push it.”

Fostering an environment where the team feels safe to take risks sits at the heart of this style of approach, “You’ve got to create a culture where people can do that and feel they’ll be protected.” 

John Cena in Experian’s “Happy Guy”

Partnership and alignment

So, what’s the secret to success when operating as an internal agency within a larger organization? For Miller it’s all about partnership. “The relationships I have with the broader Experian team, the marketing team, my leadership team, as well as the broader consumer division, are great.“

Alongside nurturing internal relations, The Cooler has built a small circle of trusted external partners. MikeTeevee, specialists in providing strategic production execution expertise for in-house agencies, has supported The Cooler for several years. “They know us almost as well as we know ourselves” Miller confides. “Working with them means we can manage campaigns of any scale or complexity. They’re essentially a seamless extension of our team, taking care of so much while we focus on the creative.”

"We have skin in the game. We succeed when the company succeeds. We aren’t the hip agency kids who just fly in, act cool and leave - we are a part of the client."

Although Miller is clearly motivated by creative excellence, he is driven by strategic business goals. In this regard, stakeholder alignment and shared objectives are crucial when determining priorities and achieving successful outcomes. “It’s not like we’re creating a portfolio for our agency to split for a new client; we have skin in the game. We succeed when the company succeeds. We aren’t the hip agency kids who just fly in, act cool and leave – we are a part of the client, so there’s no ulterior motive. We all lift up together. But let’s be clear, my team is still pretty darn cool.”

Rewarding Work

Miller’s tenure stands at eight years and counting. He confides that it’s the longest post he’s ever held, “It’s been great. I am constantly stunned by how much I enjoy [this role] and how fulfilled I am.” 

The opportunity to impact the performance and perception of such a major brand is clearly rewarding, and Miller speaks with heart as he reflects on The Cooler’s achievements. “I’m really proud, because the work we do really does have a large effect on changing how the consumer sees Experian. It’s a completely different organization now than it was when I first started. Today, Experian is known as a place for people to come to get help financially, to be empowered financially, to learn and to grow. We’ve become so much bigger, and my team has played a part in that, which I’m wildly proud of.”