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Patrick Stahle

CEO | 01 Oct 2009

We can see some very strong signs when you see the macro indicators of what was happening, Asia was not really that damaged… Some of the markets had a very dramatic slowdown and some markets just had slowdown, but still there was a growth, and then there were a couple of markets like Japan that had their own markets; Korea is very export-dependent, so they are now also picking up. The overall advertising market should grow – it is an overall positive picture. We are having another decent year.

Earlier this month, there was a significant change in the Aegis Media APAC structure, when the agency announced that Patrick Stahle, who has held numerous roles within Aegis Media since 1995 – the latest being the CEO, Aegis Media APAC – has decided to retire from the industry to pursue a non-executive career. The development would be effective from the second quarter of 2010. Stahle was appointed CEO of Aegis Media Asia-Pacific in 2006. Since then, he has almost doubled regional revenue and increased operating profit more than three-fold.

He was previously CEO of Aegis Media Sweden and of Aegis Media Nordics. From an India viewpoint, Stahle has been popular for taking some of the key decisions that brought Aegis Media’s presence back on track in India. A regular visitor to the market, Stahle’s leadership has seen the appointment of Ashish Bhasin here, and hence leading to a more stable leadership structure in India.

In this interview with exchange4media’s Noor Fathima Warsia, Stahle speaks on what will keep him busy post his exit from the industry, and what will keep him busy in the next six months. He also speaks on some of the key developments that have taken place in Aegis Media in India, and APAC.

Q. We understand you are retiring from your services at Aegis Media. What can we expect from you after this?

Well, I am here till March of next year. And after that, I would be operating more as an independent person…

Q. Like a consultant?

Yes, like a consultant, like an executive on the boards of companies, that kind of a role.

Q. So, until next year, your role in the development of APAC and involvement in it doesn’t, really change?

Yes, that is correct.

Q. Taking off from various previous conversations then, are you happy with the way Aegis Media has performed in India in the last couple of years, since the appointment of Ashish Bhasin in 2008?

I am very happy with the progress in India. From where we were standing was a couple of years ago, to where we are standing today – today we have a good solid product and good people, and we have a broad set of services. Posterscope is doing brilliantly and Isobar will also do well in India. We took the chance to launch Vizeum, because there was an opportunity for it.

Q. I agree with Posterscope, but Isobar is still not ticking it yet…

The infrastructure in India for digital, and the penetration of broadband and Internet is still growing, it is a very simple mobile driven market, but most of the devices in India are not made for other than maybe text. In that sense, what we are doing is that we are making sure we can build a good well integrated business. Also, Posterscope will be becoming digital. Isobar kind of merges the online and offline, but that is not happening in that pace in India. Apart from India and many other markets, there is a huge difference. I am not too worried about the pace, what I am concerned is that when we are established, it can grow well together.

Q. While announcing Isobar, the first deal you had announced was that of Communicate2. What is happening on that?

That is still under discussion…

Q. The impression when the announcement was made was that it was a done deal, however, it is almost two years now since it was first spoken about…

I can’t talk about and it is taking time – you know how it is in India – for that matter, anywhere in the world where we do different kinds of acquisitions. A lot of things need to be clarified and you must also understand that these discussions had begun in a completely different economic environment, and even though India has managed quite well, it is still a completely different economic environment now. When you strike a hard time, you have to become all the more careful in the kind of business discussions that you get into.

Q. You got Nokia worldwide, in India the business did not move…

Not yet…

Q. When you say ‘not yet’, when are you expecting it to move?

That is a discussion we are having with Nokia.

Q. But why did India not see the change?

That is again a discussion that we are having with Nokia and it would not be fair for me to comment on it in any form. It is a big move for Nokia to consolidate with any one agency, so there is really a lot that is going on there. It was a very brave and good decision for Nokia, because they have decided to go for one agency, but in the end, even we also respect that in some markets we have to wait where they have to have local discussions.

Q. You would have heard it too, that the popular word was that one reason was because Carat was not so big in India…

That again is a discussion that we are having with Nokia, and I am sure that we can prove that we can handle Nokia as well, if not better, than the others.

Q. Would I be right in assuming that you are preparing for handling Nokia in India?

Yes, of course – that is the part of the deal. We have to make sure that Nokia in markets like India is also comfortable. I must reiterate here though that when we speak about Nokia, we make sure that we keep the discussions between us and Nokia – that is very important.

Q. Fair enough, let’s talk about Vizeum now. What was the reason to have launched Vizeum in India now, considering Carat is still working on establishing its footprint better?

It was not so much of a local decision than it was a global decision. For some agencies, we need to have a global footprint, and India is an important market, but what we decided was to wait until we have Carat on track. Vizeum as a brand has its own global clients and India is very important in that.

Q. But who are the global clients that Vizeum India would be working on?

We started Vizeum here only three months ago, so they would begin working on clients soon. The important thing is that we needed a global presence for Vizeum, which is very important for global pitches. We had delayed it so far, but we thought that the opportunity was there now. Launching Vizeum in India is not related to Carat’s presence here. It is now a question of how we manage our resources to grow both the brands. We need to build all the brands here now.

Q. Over the past, many conversations that we’ve had with you, we have discussed that Aegis Media in India, and its various brands, has faced various setbacks – the relationship with Percept and then that ending, then the maintaining of stability in leadership. It has appeared now that things are getting stable, but would you say that the recession has presented another set of roadblocks to Aegis in India?

To be fair, the roadblocks we had earlier were more internal in nature. We sorted them out and I am very proud of the organisation that we have in India, and the ambition of people in India. So, the roadblocks that we are now looking at tearing down are external roadblocks, which are more connected to the economy. But you cannot do that without sorting out your own house. I feel that now we have a structure in India that can support global businesses and can win their own local businesses as well.

Q. Any changes in the investments in India from your side?

Any company across the world is very careful about the areas that it is investing in, but we have been very careful in a short period of time to create some good businesses in India. My general point of view is that the only constrain we would have is the country’s ability to take on the services.

Q. How is the region delivering right now – are you seeing any recovery from the recession?

We can see some very strong signs when you see the macro indicators of what was happening, Asia was not really that damaged… Some of the markets had a very dramatic slowdown and some markets just had slowdown, but still there was a growth, and then there were a couple of markets like Japan that had their own markets; Korea is very export-dependent, so they are now also picking up. The overall advertising market should grow – it is an overall positive picture. We are having another decent year.

Q. While you have been benefitted by the spree of global pitches, but what do you think about them – we have 6-7 pitches that followed Nokia…

When you end up in a recession, you tend to forget that what is also happening at a parallel level is a fundamental change in advertising. In that perspective, we see that clients are looking for different solutions. They are not using the opportunity, it is the desire to find different solutions on how they should approach communication, there are always quite a few global pitches going on. Unfortunately, they have come in a cluster this time and it has put pressure on the industry as well, because we all try and see how we make the best use of that. But what it has done is bring some fundamental changes in advertising on top of the recession, the online and offline becoming diffused, media houses are facing a lot of problem in adapting to the recession, so there is a lot of digitisation happening – there is a dramatic change, which we find encouraging.

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