Antonio Lucio, the CMO of HP, is an industry champion for women and minorities. In this conversation, personal and professional narratives converge as he shares the business imperative driving HP's diversity push, his own missteps and struggle with depression, and the challenge of getting millennials (and their kids) to print. This interview originally ran as an Ad Age "Ad Lib" podcast and has been edited for space and flow.
You have a tendency to last longer than the average CMO.
I like to build things and stay in places. I was 13 years at PepsiCo, eight years at Visa as the CMO. [CMO recruiter] Greg Welsh from Spencer Stuart told me that I was breaking all sorts of records.
You've made it a mandate at HP to push for diversity at the agencies you work with. Talk about the results.
We made sure that our team was diverse first. We had pretty good representation of females at the manager level, 52 percent. But at the top senior leadership level, which is the 10 most senior jobs that report directly into me, we only had two. Today, we have 50 percent.
Some hard decisions?
Some hard decisions. But when you're rebuilding a team and identifying how to compete in a digital world experienced through mobile, you have the opportunity to change things around. Next was inviting the agencies. We said we're going to have a scorecard and you're going to set your own targets. I'm not in the quota business. We just want to see progress.
Would you have pulled business away if they didn't match that target?
I did not use the hammer. I used the glove first. After a year, we went from 40 percent women working on our account to 60 percent. And on the leadership roles, most of our agencies went from zero to 52 percent. That's the good news. On the people-of-color side, we did not make as much progress as the agencies had agreed to.
Why do you think that is?
I think we are with people of color where we were with women several years ago. We need to build the pipeline. We need to get those interns and we need to get them into marketing jobs and we need to get them into advertising jobs. We need to ensure that those interns are actually progressing within the company.
You were very vocal in the run-up to CES last month over the dearth of female keynote speakers.
The issue of the poor representation of women on center stages transcends CES. I would be very surprised if we don't see a change next year.
Who nails it?
I don't think any of the big forums. At the same time, someone like Leslie Berland at Twitter had her own tech panel and it included Kara Swisher, [executive editor] of Recode; Padmasree Warrior, who now is the CEO of [an electric car] company, previously a chief technology officer; Kimberly Bryant, the CEO of Black Girls Code; Linda Boff, the CMO of General Electric; and more. The format was amazing. She asked: Who you are and where do you come from? What are the key lessons you learned? And what advice would you give your younger self? This was not about women. This was lessons on leadership.
OK, so who are you and where do you come from?
[Laughs] My name is Antonio Lucio, I was born in Calle, a city in the southernmost part of Spain. My father was Spaniard, my mother is Puerto Rican. When I was 7, I moved to Puerto Rico, and by the time I was 12, I crossed the ocean twice.
Advice you'd give your younger self?
Don't judge yourself too hard. Mistakes are going to be part of life.
Can you cite a mistake that was critical to your evolution?
I've made every single mistake in the book, on the personal and the professional side. I lost a marriage because I was not balanced enough in terms of the amount of time I was dedicating to my work versus the relative amount of time I was dedicating to my family. I learned from that. There was a point when I was diagnosed with chronic depression and I had to fundamentally change every aspect of my life: what I ate, exercise routines, the need for meditation and balance. All those things are key lessons that help you define who you are, make you a more interesting human being and a more compassionate human being.
Is mental health something that you discuss as part of your leadership?
I do. At the time, I was lucky enough to meet Philip Gould. He passed about [seven] years ago. He was Tony Blair's pollster. He was consumed by questions of leadership. He said, "You guys—global business leaders—live a very intense life. That situation creates a divide: a separation between the spiritual self and the material self. It is only by living a life with purpose—and finding purpose in your life—that you bring those two selves together. They become one and you find meaning in work and family."
That's the classic Cartesian split.
It is. And that means you sometimes have to make tough choices.
You've said, in HP's case, "the brand is something that's built outside the business." What does that mean?
Consumers don't know what they have never seen. We're here in the world of invention. Product is led by engineers, because they're the ones doing discovery. The pricing is held by the product function. The distribution is led by sales. And then marketing is only building the brand to overlay on top of the product.
Is that easier than the CPG model, which starts with the brands?
It's much, much harder. Those conversations are very different in the consumer goods world. No one asks if you need to advertise. It's inherent in the business. Here, that's the first question. You need to create the econometric model to prove that the function is a revenue-generating function, and that it is constantly adding value and that you can quantify that value.
Did you prove HP needs to advertise?
We've been able to prove that when we do it right, there's an impact in the revenue.
We did a story recently that mentioned HP product placement in the Facebook-only "Club Mickey Mouse." That's a tactic. What's the strategy?
We're talking about PCs and we're talking about printers. Those are challenged categories. From a marketing standpoint, we were not talking to millennials. Millennials are 60 percent of our commercial revenue.
Millennials are printing?
We want them to print.
I'm sure you do.
[Laughs] I'll tell you where Mickey Mouse fits in. Mickey Mouse is teaching the millennials' kids—because the older millennials are our bull's-eye targets—what is the magic of printing.
This is an ephemeral generation. They're sending each other Snaps. How do you change behavior?
We're trying to bring the magic of printing back to life. Two and a half years ago, you would have described HP as a brand with great brains, no heart. A lot of the work we've been doing is about bringing more emotions to those rational benefits of the brand.
Was that a tough sell internally?
Initially, but we were able to build the model to show that brand messages that have stronger emotional connection translate into higher revenue impact. How you become relevant to this group is finding them where they are. In terms of placement or sponsorship or partnerships, you need to do three things: It has to be relevant to your target; have a reinvention component; and our products have to be the platform that empowers the experience.
That's a broader trend in marketing anyway, the emphasis on experience.
We're moving from the information age, which was everything about devices, to the experience age, where everyone is expecting seamless, curated, hyper-relevant, personalized experiences. If you talk to your kids about how they buy, they're going to be searching for some information in their phone. They're going to go to the store. They may try it. Your wife may say, "Yeah, glad that it fits you. Now we're going to buy it on Amazon."
Which drives marketers crazy, because they don't know when or how that decision got made.
The only brands that survive are the ones top of mind in your head, or top of algorithm. There's an opportunity for brands to lead cultural change. More and more in this divided world, you have politicians using fear and division to win elections. When you're managing a big brand, you cannot afford that. Politicians run every four to six years—we earn trust and preference every day. We need to play in those cultural values that unite us.
There's a lot of risk when brands play in the cultural space these days.
We researched and found that some things still unite us: We all want a better world for our kids. We want them to have the right levels of education and opportunity. We want them to live in communities that are clean, safe, where people help each other. And we all continue to believe, regardless of how you define family, that family is the bond that holds community, country and world together. That is all fertile territory that brands can tap into. That is the American dream, still to this day.