Both Sotheby’s and Christie’s announced new Chief Marketing Officers this week. The men are very different in their careers and experiences. So it is worth taking a closer look at each to understand how his hiring helps further the strategies of the respective house. Rather than setting up a marketing death match, these appointments suggest Sotheby’s and Christie’s will continue on their separate paths in terms of audience engagement and sales strategies.
Since we’re talking about strategy, it is worth pointing out up front that although Sotheby’s and Christie’s are in the same business—the global sales and marketing of a broad range of art—their corporate goals are dissimilar. Christie’s is a division of a privately held global luxury goods business. Its owners are in the process of expanding that business into new markets. Christie’s is just one of many of their initiatives.
Sotheby’s is a public company that is managed for its shareholders. As such, it is constrained in what risks it can take to transform the business and drive the company into new markets. Sotheby’s is also the focus of several activist investors who are pushing for changes in the company. With that in mind, let’s look at who is now running marketing at each house. Sotheby’s just hired Alfredo Gangotena who left Mastercard earlier this year. Mastercard is a broad consumer service with 30x Sotheby’s market capitalization,10x its revenue and 5x the number of employees. The firm is best known for its “Priceless” marketing campaign but has been growing rapidly throughout the world. Presumably, Gangotena brings Fortune 500 heft to the smaller company. Six years ago, Sotheby’s lent its name to a Mastercard credit card issued by GE Capital.
It may be hard to divine what direction Gangotena will take Sotheby’s overall brand image and its marketing efforts but that isn’t the case with Marc Sands who was just appointed at Christie’s. Sands comes from the Tate where he was head of audiences and media, a title meant to suggest the need for greater engagement rather than straight-forward marketing. Here’s how the UK’s Marketing Magazine put it in a profile just less than year after Sands joined the firm:
Small wonder, then, that Sands insists his job is bigger than mere ‘marketing’, the ‘audiences and media’ moniker reflecting the goal set by Tate chief executive Sir Nicholas Serota and deputy director Alex Beard to bring the brand to a wider, more diverse market. Sands pooh-poohs the notion that he faces stiff competition from other galleries and museums. Yet, ultimately, he is measured on maintaining visitor numbers, likely to involve grabbing market share from rivals such as The National Gallery and the British Museum.
Two years later, Sands gave more insight into what he had done at the Tate and what he might continue to do at Christie’s:
Very much a digital leader within the arts world, Sands says that the brand builds a digital dimension into everything it does. “I see that digital is a place where you can add value both commercially and editorially,” he explains. “On our website, for example, we have followed Amazon’s lead with: ‘If you like this, you might like this’”. The inspiration for this approach comes almost entirely from the media and retail spheres – two places where brands are continuously experimenting and trialling new ideas on multiple channels.
Another crucial aspect of Sands’ marketing strategy is leveraging social media to talk to audiences with a different tone of voice and allow them to talk back. Very few galleries around the world would enable their audiences to make public comments on their websites, but Sands, drawing on his previous role as Marketing Director of The Guardian and Observer newspapers, believes interacting is really key. “If you follow us on Twitter it is quite clearly still Tate, but a different one to the more august one you experience within the gallery,” says Sands. “You have to let the audiences in.”
Christie’s has staked its future an a dual strategy of increased private sales and an expansion of online selling. There’s no way to tell if either move is dramatically changing the economics of the art auction business. But Sands’s appointment (along with the recent announcement of Jeremy Langmead, who worked at web retailer Mr. Porter, as Chief Content Officer) suggest a deepening commitment to the web and turning Christie’s into the online art emporium that so many others are trying to create.
Marc Sands on marketing Tate (Manager Magazine)