Q&A with Marcus Peterzell: Brainstormer, music geek, philanthropist

Photo of Marcus PeterzellThe Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is a magnet for the world’s most inspiring people—professionals who took big creative risks to rise to the top of their fields. We were honored to chat with several of these individuals during a packed week at Cannes Lions. Join us as we learn what inspires them, who they work with, and how they create.

Marcus Peterzell is part idea man, part philanthropist. He’s a partner and executive vice president at PR firm Ketchum, but he’s also helped a nonprofit raise millions for cancer research. We had a chance to chat with Peterzell about the importance of big ideas, what it takes to motivate a team, and his single proudest creative accomplishment.

You’ve been coming to Cannes for several years now. How is this one different?

This year, I’m pretty busy. I’m one of the 10 jurors picking the music grand prizes, so that’s been an amazing experience. And I moderated the celebrity panel in the big room this year. We graduated to the Main Hall and talked about classic Hollywood versus the YouTube generation, with Laura Dern—from Star Wars, Big Little Lies, Jurassic Park, and 60 other movies—and Grace Helbig, who’s a big YouTube star. And then my favorite day was today, teaching a class of students at the Roger Hatchuel Academy (part of the Cannes Lions School) on the art of entertainment marketing.

I’m always thinking of ideas. Everyone’s creative and everyone comes up with ideas, but it’s been quite a challenge to get a lot of your team to come up with these big ideas.

When do you feel most creative?

It really happens 24 hours a day. I’m always thinking of ideas. Everyone’s creative and everyone comes up with ideas, but it’s been quite a challenge to get a lot of your team to come up with these big ideas. I’ve been doing this a long time, so I naturally tend to just think of things and how to make 1+1=5 [chuckle]. But it’s pretty much 24/7. There’s no specific time that an idea strikes me. I always say, “I thought of something at 3:00 in the morning.” Usually not, but it always sounds good, so [really] it can happen at any time.

How do you think about working with your team and bringing that big idea to life?

What’s great is my team is very interdisciplinary, so they each have certain aspects. Not that they have to stick to them, there’s no rules. I’ve got a team that just does influencers. I’ve got a person that just runs events. I have a person that just runs music. I have a person that just runs our Ketchum Films division. So they each bring an expertise to the table, so we try to collaborate and create this big 360 idea. And sometimes they’ll say, “Oh, we’ll bring in the event person, here’s a great event idea.” But other times they’ll just come up with better ideas and build upon the core idea, totally based on just their own imaginations regardless of what their specific vertical is. So we try to just really brainstorm.

We have a platform where we tap into college students—a network of 100 college students we can send briefs out to, so we’re able to get ideas outside of our group and see what comes back.

What’s great is my team is very interdisciplinary, so they each have certain aspects. Not that they have to stick to them, there’s no rules.

And are you also involved with TJ Martell?

In my spare time I am the president of the TJ Martell Foundation: a North America foundation based in the music industry that raises money for cancer research. We’ve raised $350 million for cancer research over the last 40 years. I became President about four months ago, and it’s been very rewarding. It’s an amazing foundation, and it’s giving back from the heart. I’m blessed to have a great job and be able to make a living, and so you have to give back and that is a great way to do it.

Actually, we had Joe Jonas as a surprise appearance in my class [here at Cannes Lions School]. Recently the Jonas Brothers agreed to play for my event, and needless to say we raised a lot of money, so it was great.

What’s your proudest creative accomplishment?

Our client Transit Wireless built technology where you can stream from the internet on the subway. New York City subways have never had wireless, so they installed wireless. It was kind of a big deal for New York City. And we were trying to figure out how to amplify that, so I looked for an artist that was going to release an album. When they wanted to announce the wireless in the subway, we found Michael Bublé, who just sold out two nights at Barclays, was releasing an album the same day. So I convinced Michael to go down into the subway and world premier his album from the subway, streaming it live, and surprising people passing by as they’re getting off the subway. There’s Michael Bublé on the platform singing. And it was such a huge success. We edited the video in 13 minutes, sent it out in YouTube—5 million views later it’s on page 2 of the New York Times.

For more insights from top creatives, see our Q&As with podcaster David Rheinstrom, DJ Hesta Prynn, and designer Chris Rowson.