Starcom MediaVest Group (SMG) in India has been in the news in the last few months, and not entirely for the right reasons. The agency has been ridden with rumours of its India CEO Mallikarjun Das leaving and joining one of the biggest media agencies in India. The fact that SMG has also lost a few significant accounts during this period has not helped things either.
Matt Blackborn, President of Emerging Markets, SMG and Mallikarjun Das, CEO, SMG India speak exclusively to exchange4media on all the news surrounding the agency, what led to the rumours, the India business and the agency’s focus on strengthening its presence in India.
There have been very strong rumours of Mallikarjun Das leaving SMG. What is your take on this?
Matt Blackborn: I can’t say how rumours like this get started, but I have every confidence in Malli and look forward to continuing our close working relationship.
Mallikarjun Das: It is a baseless rumour and I can say that with 110 per cent confidence. Have I ever given an indication to anyone, either overtly/ covertly, that I am moving out? The answer is ‘No’, which is why I can say with confidence I am committed to SMG.
What do you think led to those rumours?
Matt Blackborn: Again, I have no idea how rumours like this get started, but they are just that – rumours.
Mallikarjun Das: It is a small industry; one needs to realise that it is fairly easy to spread a rumour. I am not going anywhere.
SMG has a lost a few important accounts this quarter in India, such as Samsung and Heinz. How is the agency making up for these losses?
Matt Blackborn: We have new business prospects in the pipeline for 2014 and hope to announce some wins for SMG India and SMG Convonix soon. We are focussed on continuing to build our business in India as we believe it is a market of the future.
Mallikarjun Das: It has been a difficult year, but having said that, we have also won some clients this year, such as Ranbaxy and Thomas Cook. This business is cyclical, there will be phases where it will come and go out, and we are caught at that end of the cycle now. If I look at 2012, it was fantastic in terms of new businesses – we won around 25 new businesses in 2012. We have made some big strides in 2013 in terms of revenues in other streams such as digital; the contribution of digital to SMG India is over 40 per cent. We have invested in digital in terms of search, both organic and paid. Some of these investments are beginning to pay off. We are the only agency to have a webplus TV optimiser. We have also made giant strides in the area of analytics and hit our targets on the analytics revenues.
What are SMG’s plans to strengthen its focus in India?
Matt Blackborn: With the acquisition of SMG Convonix earlier this year, we added strength in search, discoverability and digital marketing to our capabilities in India. The transaction brought together two complementary organisations – Convonix’s strength in Search, Social and Analytics, combined with SMG’s strength in media strategy, which creates a unique offering for the burgeoning digital marketing space in India and expands Convonix’s geographical presence in India to Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai, besides Mumbai.
We continue to build a robust insights division in India, with six Human Experience studies encompassing subjects such as Moms & Money, Parenting Grand Designs and India’s Digital VIPs. We are also beefing up our Analytics and Specialist Teams. Finally, in order to make all employees digital savvy, SMG India has launched a full-fledged Digital Training Programme.
Mallikarjun Das: Our focus areas involve learning from the challenges of 2013 and harnessing the positives, also driving the product and revenues further in 2014.