The year 2011 brought mixed challenges for the media agency business globally. While the year began with healthy growth numbers, caution surfaced in the marketplace within the first six months itself. But according to GroupM’s CEO Irwin Gotlieb, at a global level the year is ending on a much more positive note than what was expected in August and September 2011.
Sitting in his New York office, Gotlieb looks almost relieved when he speaks about the changing sentiments on the consumer side. He observed, “There is again loosening of the purse in markets like the US and several others. We are in a much better place today than we were three months ago. Prudence requires that we continue to be cautious, but I don’t think any of us expect 2012 to be like 2009.”
Slowdown sense in India & China
Gotlieb’s optimism is driven by the increased spending in the marketplace, which has also contributed towards arresting the downgrade that GroupM was observing in its forecast numbers for 2012. He said, “We just completed a whole new ‘This Year, Next Year’, which is our annual forecast. We had done our forecast in early July and there has been a lot of bad news since. I remember I was sitting in a WPP meeting and the market fell by 500 points. But instances like that are not happening now, and we reduced the numbers of next year anywhere between three times of a point to four times of a point. If we had done the forecast in the second week of September, it would have been much more severe. The downgrades are very small in comparison to the scenario three months back.”
He pointed out that while markets such as India were never really “clobbered” in 2009 the way the rest of the world was, companies such as GroupM were troubled by the slowdown in the growth in India and China, which have been the biggest growth drivers for GroupM. “At the same time, the rest of the world, that are slow growers, are in better condition,” said Gotlieb.
A Leader’s Responsibility
Even though sentiment in the India marketplace had its share of caution, GroupM India continues to be delivering strong numbers. The company that owns media agency brands such as Mindshare, Maxus, MEC, Motivator and MediaCom has grown by increasing share and recording organic growth by escalating scope of work. Gotlieb remarked that in a market like India, given its sheer size and leadership position, GroupM could not be seen as a measure for the market.
Gotlieb is the first to accept that along with leadership, comes the responsibility to lead a market, and he stated that GroupM was aware of its role in that context. He said, “We continue to act as catalysts in advancing the media landscape. I have always said to our people that we have not built scale for bragging. We built it to influence the development of the marketplace and we need to proactively shape it, so that it helps in serving the best interest of our clients and stakeholders.”
Two keywords of GroupM’s future plans are data and technology. More of what the company is going to do will be formed by data and enabled by technology. “At the global level, this is what we are driving at,” said Gotlieb, and added, “At a market adoption level, this will vary depending on the technology and infrastructure development of individual markets. Nobody questions the value of big ideas but over the course of the next few years, the value of big ideas, relative to highly tactical practice development, is going to shift. The challenge of big ideas is that you cannot manufacture them just because you decided you want one. What GroupM does is much more scalable in that sense.”
Reinvention & India’s role in leading it
In its course ahead, GroupM is looking at a highly refined practice development, where the company deals with top, middle and the bottom of the funnel, and looks for refined targeting, segmentation and message optimisation. Simply put, GroupM is looking at reinventing its practice over the next few years. “There would be some markets that would be ready for it the moment that the practice is redeveloped. But over the course of the next several years, media’s role and the practice of media itself will change very significantly,” Gotlieb observed.
He acknowledged the role India will play in shaping this vision for GroupM. According to him, India is in a very interesting position at present. There is less data available in comparison to other markets but India has been the hub of analytics competence. “We built a data management system in India years ago. There is more talent there in the analytics space than anywhere else in the world. India will have a significant role in helping us progress the vision for the rest of the world. The skills required for a reinvented media practice will be there in India even before the market is ready for it because it would already be servicing the needs of businesses outside of India,” explained Gotlieb.
Competition in India in 2012 will be multifold given the increased activities of other media holding companies in the market. Gotlieb had a simple view of this though. He said, “Anyone who is not focussing on India is just being responsible. It is a fast growth market and everyone would invest in it. Growth is not going to come from Western Europe and North America anymore. But we have a significant advantage because we got there early. We put focus in the market and we were able to build scale. And now we are working towards growing this in every way possible.”