VSA Partners & CME Group: A Partnership of Growth & Rewards

by Jeff Finkle , Adforum



VSA Partners & CME Group: A Partnership of Growth & Rewards

By Jeff Finkle.

AdForum loves bringing agencies and brands together, which is why we are spotlighting those special client-agency relationships that have stood the test of time in a series of interviews and thought pieces. We want to thank Jeff Walker, Senior Partner at VSA Partners and Anita Liskey, Managing Director, Corporate Marketing, from CME Group, for taking the time to talk about their working relationship.


AdForum:  Brand Finance recently named the CME Group the most valuable stock exchange group in the world. What have been some of the unique challenges in your relationship over the past decade that has enabled you to achieve the success you have achieved in positioning the CME Group as a thought leader that drives the global financial landscape and whose tools have become invaluable for businesses?

Jeff: Yes, CME Group is being recognized as the most valuable exchange brand was such an exciting moment. They’re truly deserving.

One of the most significant challenges CME Group and VSA faced together was imaganing a completely new company (CME Group). The company arose with the merger of Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade-everything from their branding and marketing, to company operations,had to be rethought. Seeing as CME Group is a global company, we were also faced to consider these facets on a global scale.

Ultimately, this industry has changed drastically since we began working together in 2006. The bulk of trading now taking place electronically, enabling CME Group to be a truly global marketplace. Their size and impact continues to expand, giving VSA more opportunities to craft relevant narratives around global thought leadership, education and product and services offerings.

Each year, we try to push the envelope a little bit further by expanding our brand and message around the world. The ultimate goal is for CME Group to remain globally significant and locally relevant.

AdForum: Can you tell our audience a bit about the Global Financial Leadership Conference that VSA Partners created and executes for CME Group and how that event has grown in its impact on the industry over the years?

Jeff: Our teams took a look at all the money and effort that was going into sponsoring events and conferences around the globe, and saw very little return on investment. Rather than spreading our efforts and funds over several events that CME Group could sponsor, we decided to truly own an event that could bring industry and political leaders as well as technology innovators on stage and in conversation. In 2007, the Global Financial Leadership Conference (GFLC) was born.

This year will mark its 10th anniversary, and the event continues to grow in impact and significance each year, which can be partially attributed to the smart branding, unparalleled thought leadership and memorable experience that is consistent from year to year. Each customer experience, from the invite and conference app, to the last day of the conference, is carefully designed to fit the brand experience that has been established. Collectively, our teams challenge each other to create an even better conference experience than that of the previous year. We like to joke at VSA that "there is always a better way.”


AdForum:  Out of all the speakers you have witnessed over the past few years at the Global Financial Leadership Conference, was there one that on a personal level, you responded to the most and thought was the perfect speaker for this conference? Also, was there a celebrity or athlete that has spoken at the conference that may have surprised you with their keen business or branding knowledge?

Anita: With the broad array of the world leaders, business icons and celebrities that have taken the stage at GFLC over the last 10 years, Sir Richard Branson immediately comes to mind as “the perfect fit” for our conference.  He embodies so many of the qualities that we at CME and our customers value – entrepreneurial spirit, pioneering, risk-taking, smart and successful. There are so many things about Branson that we all aspire to and want to emulate.  His appearance at GFLC was a smashing hit.  So much so, that we ultimately invited him to make a cameo appearance in our TV commercial, which continues to air globally. 


 From a “celebrity/athlete” perspective, the one who stands out as the biggest surprise was Earvin “Magic” Johnson.  His genuine interactions with our attendees and passion for communicating his lessons in leadership were beyond our expectations.  At one point during his session, he stood up and walked among the audience to turn the attention and focus for a few minutes on the moderator, Michael Strahan, whom he felt deserved recognition for his many career achievements, both on and off the field.  It was clear that he truly understands the power of communication-and that delivering unique and memorable experiences like that help an organization like CME Group to build and strengthen its brand.


AdForum: What has kept VSA and CME Group in this relationship so long? How has each of you become synced with the other, and how do you ensure this continues going forward?

Jeff: While I've seen the work develop over the years, I’m fairly new to the relationship. Jamie Koval, my former partner, and our long-standing CME Group team, including Jerry Stiedaman, Brock Conrad and others, have built an incredible foundation of trust and talent over the years. I seek to approach this relationship the same way.

Since the beginning, we have dedicated ourselves to developing a partnership for the long-term. Whenever you start a client-agency relationship, there is an understood learning curve. You make sure the chemistry is right and you understand the client’s business. One thing we pride ourselves on is hitting both of those challenges out of the park early on. We're really a natural extension of the CME Group's internal team, which comes from being open with each other, highly communicative and egoless-a true collaboration.

At this point, we understand not only how CME Group works, but how their industry works. Both parties try to bring opportunities to each other when they arise (whether it’s in scope or not), and the team works day-in, day-out to ensure the quality of our solutions remains premium. Our relationship today is completely symbiotic. We trust one another.


AdForum:   VSA Partners is a unique full service agency with a history steeped in design.  What would you say is the agency's strongest characteristic? How has it enabled them be such a great partner in building CME Group’s global brand and that has attracted you to them throughout your working relationship?

Anita: VSA has worked closely with us on our brand strategy for over a decade.  The primary factor that has led to our successful partnership has been collaboration.  From the beginning of our relationship, we both firmly believed that in order to build and grow our business, we must build and grow our brand.  Over the years, VSA has invested the time and energy to learn what makes CME Group unique- and together we have achieved many milestones. 

 In fact, as a result of our powerful collaboration, the CME Group brand was named the world’s most valuable and fastest growing exchange brand by London-based Brand Finance.  With an estimated brand value of $1.7 billion, our first place ranking put us above the NYSE, which came in at #2 at $1.3 billion, and all other competitors including NASDAQ, HKEX, LSE, SIX, Eurex, ICE, SGX, and Clearstream.