Alan Hart, managing partner of brand consultancy ATOMCK, loves combining brand science and creative fire to help grow brands. His other passion is going behind the scenes, speaking with the world’s top marketers in his weekly podcast, “Marketing Today.” He tried something new this week: bringing the podcast to life with a town hall held at McKinney.

His first guest was Peter Horst, most recently the CMO of The Hershey Company, where he was instrumental in driving that company’s digital transformation. Peter also led the world to ask, “What’s in your wallet?” while working in brand marketing at Capital One. When Alan began the conversation by asking Peter for his favorite word, he replied, “DUUUUDE,” without skipping a beat. Yes, he is.

Here’s an excerpt from their conversation:

ALAN: How has marketing changed in the last five to 10 years?

PETER: I can tell you the changes in marketing in the past two to three years are greater than in the past 27. It’s so varied, so multifunctional with data analytics, artificial intelligence…and at the other end of the spectrum it’s the highest order of art and science. What’s called marketing today is such a huge array that it’s almost too much. But I love that it’s totally central to business, it’s so fundamental to the soul of a company.

I will say it produces anxiety. How to keep pace? It reflects a need to be more seamless and collaborative because no one knows it all. It’s all about developing hand-in-glove, seamless partnerships.

ALAN: So what are you looking for in hiring and outside talent?

PETER: I look for an individual to be able to understand a wide variety of issues, how people relate and are vigorous about culture. Don’t go for the portfolio, but go for the person who has a low ego and high confidence…a fertile mind that is always asking and looking.

ALAN: So describe the agency of the future?

PETER: I’ve been around organizations that believe you get the agency you deserve. If you have a supply chain mindset — you don’t want planning, you don’t want insights, just be a TV script factory — you’re going to wake up one day with a dilemma: “I don’t have a thought partner.” I need an agency that’s a true partner to help solve problems. Talk to me, bring me in, tell me what’s going on that might not be a TV commercial. Have a point of view. I want an agency that’s going to push me.

ALAN: What does innovation mean to you? To brands?

PETER: It can be hard to define. An innovative person has a certain boldness, they go out on a limb to explore new territory, a kind of confidence to embrace risk. 

Innovation calls for a sense of groundedness blended with flights of imagination. If an idea doesn’t have a ground wire to real insight and real understanding it isn’t innovative. It’s things that make you go, “Oh, wow.” It makes your palms sweat.

ALAN: There’s always the pendulum between analytics and creativity? Do you see where data can actually inspire creativity?

PETER: Marketing is always a balance. As technology becomes more powerful, it’s possible to abdicate creative thinking. But ideas take you where a spreadsheet can never go. The power is how to put them together. 

ALAN: Was being a CMO your main career goal?

PETER: Well, I wanted to be a French horn player or a talent agent or a newscaster. But marketing was always an organic part of me. I like working with people I respect and find interesting.