Initiative Worldwide is gearing for an action packed 2012, which it hopes is the year that will redefine the agency’s proposition and perception of a localised media agency brand. The agency’s global CEO Richard Beaven has chalked out a three-legged strategy to achieve the vision that Initiative has articulated for itself.
In a conversation with exchange4media, Beaven pointed out, “There was a time when Initiative became a localised company. It was market-by-market and not global. My job is to rebuild the Initiative brand at the global level and be back at the table of global conversations.”
On road to be a Global brand
Initiative saw some success in 2011 in achieving this, when it was invited in the Novartis pitch. While the agency did not make it to the final three, it was after a long time that it was a part of a global pitch process. “Novartis was the first time, in a number of years, when Initiative was at the table of a high-profiled global shootout. It gave us great learning on how to develop our global proposition, which is what we are seeking to accelerate and establish at this point. The year 2011 brought a lot of great experience in that respect and this year we want to capitalise on that experience and start competing and winning in these global shootouts,” stated Beaven.
The agency is clear that the notion of what it stands for has to be “simple” and “well done”. Initiative has always attempted to be a company rooted in research and in understanding accountability of investments made for clients. Beaven pointed out that Initiative had a range of tools and systems that point to that. It is amongst the few media agencies globally to have its own software team, which is based in Paris. At the centre of its suite of tools is something called ‘Matrix’ that embraces all the digital channels and is fuelled by Connection Panels, an online group of people that allows Initiative to understand changing media behaviour. There are around 2,00,000 people across the world in the Connections Panels.
The idea of Performance
“While we continue our rich heritage in understanding consumers and the accountability of what we do, the way we talk about the agency is around the idea of performance,” Beaven informed.
The idea of performance is based on the thought process that for a long time in media, the role of media agencies has been about managing media cost. However, every marketer now has to not only manage the cost of media but also use every dollar or rupee to grow the business. Like other IPG Mediabrands companies, Initiative is keen on driving more business activities and relationships around this idea of performance, and in the process, be able to drive advertiser’s businesses.
One manifestation of that is in the fact that the agency is talking to advertisers about pay-for-performance compensation models, which is one the seven pillars that IPG Mediabrands is based on. Beaven explained, “It relates to not just managing media costs as it has been historically, but also how much we can grow the client’s business, which in most cases is about gaining more market share. We are very keen to step into the world, where we are not paid for how cheap the media is but how successful we are in growing our clients businesses. That is the vision of what this company should stand for.”
The Three-legged Approach
To achieve this vision, Initiative has laid out a three-legged approach that begins with performance led communication. “That is our mission if you like and we are busy pushing this around the world. What I am trying to do is create the right conditions for success for this,” he said.
According to Beaven, the second leg is about its people. At the core, Initiative needs people with hearts and minds of entrepreneurs, who are thinking like marketers. “It is not a mechanical job but about understanding opportunities and partners that we need to work with, to create successes for our clients. When we hire people now, we put that filter on it,” he informed.
The other aspect that occupies much of Beaven’s time is to work harder with its affiliates, including the likes of Initiative operations in markets like India and Russia, and invest in those relations so that Initiative is able to be an effective network of people, which forms the third leg of the agency’s approach. “An effective network of people could be five people from the New York office or someone from NY, someone from India, someone from London, someone from Russia and someone from Switzerland working together or when required, the whole network itself. It is about bringing together the requisite talent, from across the globe, to address a client problem,” explained Beaven.
Initiative is now looking at a “dramatic acceleration” of how its uses this structure and sells it to advertisers, and in the process be a global company. Beaven observed, “We have global resources working with me to achieve this. These people are talking about things like the Performance Pathway, which, to put it simply, has three steps - determine, design and deliver. That is our way of getting to performance led communication.”
A Positive 2011
In all, Initiative has had a good year. It has been a challenging year for the industry on many respects but for Beaven, even though the industry has seen its share of tough years before, 2011 has been a bit of a rollercoaster. He elaborated, “Client expenditures on the year have remained robust but the economic environment was a challenge. We continue to have strong people contribute to the agency. The middle of the year was great for us. We were happy with how the company fared at Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity because we have been working hard on improving the quality of the product and it was important for it to be recognised. With four Silver Lions and being able to present some research work, we had great presence at Cannes, and the whole company felt very good about being on the map.”
Contradictory to industry conversations of a slow fourth quarter in 2011, Beaven stated that Initiative had not seen anything dramatically worrying. He said, “It is obvious when things are bad because clients typically begin holding back but we have not seen that this year. We still see clients holding their expenditure up and many of them believe that if they can manage to hold their cost expenditure, that investing in marketing is still a good thing in this environment. I don’t see any indications of that changing.”
The India experience has been good for the company too. Speaking further on it, Beaven said, “Initiative in India, led by Lynn de Souza, is more of a partner/affiliate for us. We are growing that relation all the time but it is not a financial one at this point in time. Initiative in India works with IPG and Lowe. On the whole, India for IPG continues to be an extremely strong market. We have Draft there, we have Lodestar UM there. We have Lynn’s operation, which has recovered fantastically from losing the ITC business – the agency has really bounced back in 2011. Lowe continues to be strong with the Unilever business. In general terms hence, coupled with the continued growth of the Indian market which we don’t see any end to, it has been a very successful 2011.”