Interview with Gabriella Liptay, Marketing & Communications Director of KPMG

Marketing is not a wrapping paper, it’s an engine

“If a company wants to be present in the market in the long term, it is beneficial not only to be seen in the exact and pragmatic business environment, but also to connect to the living tissue of thinking in some way,” says Gabriella Liptay, the Marketing & Communications Director of KPMG, who believes that culture and the business world can reinforce each other if they find a connection.

Is it a question of personal affinity or of general effectiveness to give culture a role in the image of a business?

For me, both. I have always had a cultural mission in the broadest sense, which I gently integrated into the fabric of the company I was working at. I believe that marketing can be really effectively integrated into the natural operation of a company if culture plays a major role in it. In many cases, for example, this is what gives the communication process a distinctive and exciting character. The actors of culture are generally at the forefront of intellectual thinking, experimentation and creativity, so there is a good chance they can channel ideas that classic marketing “environments” don’t evoke and their actors don’t think about. Such solutions also imply that the company is open, responsible and innovative. The above may have been driven, at first, by my personal interests, but after a while, because of its general and obvious usefulness, I used this skillset more consciously.

What do you think of the interactions of the business world and the cultural scene in Hungary?

These subtle changes are now more embedded in marketing strategy, but there is still room for improvement. My old obsession is, for example, that museums and other cultural venues could be used more times and for more purposes because they are very lively, experience-filled places. There are decades-old international examples of how museum visits shape thinking from a young age and how beneficial it is to fill museums with educational programs. This can only be felt more generally in Hungary in recent years. However, it is great to see how the MÜPA, the Ludwig or the Museum of Fine Arts is filled with kids during school hours or even on a Sunday. Fortunately, more and more rural venues and institutions are heading in this direction.

Is culture integrated into business thinking?

Sponsored appearances still tend to exist separately, though they could even be a part of daily operations. These partnerships or jointly established platforms could work together much better to shape various environments. This is how we will be able to think about such collaborations at the directorial level as a future investment rather than a cost element.

How does a company benefit from supporting culture?

Many companies will benefit from it in the current job market, which of course won’t last forever, as a crisis can always restructure things. It is no coincidence that employer branding is a common term today. This has been the leading thought of marketing strategy at Ericsson for twenty years, attracting the best researchers and software developers to the base in Budapest. To reach them, they had to get into the most fashionable innovation and cultural environments of that time. An excellent example of the ‘marriage’ of art and technology is the annual Ars Electronica in Linz, an exciting and integrative platform where the opportunities of culture and technological development have been forming fruitful connections for many years. Such methods made it possible to find the right staff and, on the other hand, made it much more realistic to know what technology was providing. The extremely open-minded executives of the company have also admitted more than a hundred contemporary art exhibitions to the company building and established awards for educators. This kind of activity was perhaps even more visible at Magyar Telekom, where every day we had to achieve measurable results in traditional marketing as well. It is important which venue a company chooses for its events, who they cooperate with, who the performers and the presenters are at such events, who directs their image films and advertisement videos. With the decline of the Connection concerts, summer festivals that reach other media, have a longer time horizon and, consequently, have a lower communication risk, have come to the forefront of Magyar Telekom’s strategy. As one of the curators of Highlights of Hungary, I nominate cultural projects (e. g. TÁP Theater, Margó Festival, Sztalker Group) each year to make these quality initiatives even more visible to the wider public. Let me give you a few examples of branding and mentality at my workplace, KPMG: we have held client events at the Museum of Fine Arts and previously at the Opera House; we invited the CEO of MÜPA to present at a customer experience conference; our employees received Yuval Noah Harari’s book and Autistic Art products for Christmas. It is no coincidence that the company raises awarness tp young people’s financial responsibility, participates in the promotion of TED conferences in Hungary, and has a definitive role in urban development and talent programs. If a company wants to be present in the market in the long term, it is beneficial not only to be seen in the exact and pragmatic business environment, but also to connect to the living tissue of thinking in some way. And it is quite obvious that cultural experiences have a long-term effect on people.

Branding is also important in culture, in which you have also been involved in many ways, for example at Libri. How widespread is this kind of thinking among Hungarian cultural actors?

Libri is now very professional in managing and building its brands. I would like to believe that we have contributed to today’s success and have taken important steps in the past. I am also delighted to have been in the background of the development of Art Market Budapest, as well as helping to shape the corporate environment and the circle of friends of the Hungarian State Opera House and the Ludwig Museum. It was an important step for these institutions to realize that they, too, should start with consistent branding. For example, when the Katona József Theater started to operate as a brand, it elevated the entire theater scene.

There are also conflicts in the background of brand building, let’s say when directors get angry that they don’t have a say in what the poster of their show looks like, because it’s decided centrally.

These are typical stories for such a shift. Because the product itself is about intellectual and creative freedom, it's much harder to incorporate it into any brand environment. A cultural institution does not necessarily have the kind of disciplinary power that a company usually does. However, some theaters and museums have succeeded, and the results are clear: their position and their mission became more noticeable and identifiable, and it is easier to relate to it. All of this is also useful from a marketing perspective.

What can a company gain by embracing culture in terms of HR? Every company wants innovative employees. Official figures do not justify it, but it is likely that anyone who has seen the world and is more open minded will be more capable in pragmatic everyday situations, too.

Is it more challenging to build a brand from scratch or to upgrade one?

Building up a brand from scratch is a huge challenge, but it’s good to start with a blank page. At the same time, I also find it an extraordinary challenge when the brand of a more traditionally established, but less widely known project or institution needs to be chiseled, modified, and (re)positioned. A highlight of my career in this category was the Ferenczy Museum Center in Szentendre, which, together with the newly established Art Capital Festival, became much more visible and understandable over the last five years as a result of various newly introduced components.

Can it happen that even though there is a trendy brand image, it is simply not compatible with the content?

Branding is usually about business, only it was positioned incorrectly on the agenda for a long time. I actually understood this theory when Westel/T-Mobile had its memorable rebranding. Brand owners have introduced a comprehensive program of more than ten subprojects, covering everything from IT development to customer relationships. Then it struck me: marketing is never the wrapping paper that covers the surface of the company, but the engine that defines its essence. Today, this is a starting point for any good communications manager, but we must always go back to the core of our craft. When we say simplicity is one of our brand values, we have to ask ourselves: are we actually simple, do we communicate clearly, and how can we simplify our customers’ shopping or communication process? After all, marketing actions are truly effective if they are authentic and everything forms a consistent unit.

Author: Márton Jankovics

Translation: Barbara Szij

Photo: Zoltán Vémi

Originally published in August 2019