Advertising Interviews

John Zeigler

President & CEO | 16 Oct 2009

Let’s put it this way, we won’t create any confusion; we would clarify the brand offering that is relevant to local as well as to international clients and would help clients to make the right decision on which area they want to be the most serviced in. From the Mudra point of view, that gives Mudra the opportunity to clearly be the competitive brand and it gives DDB the opportunity to clearly be the international corporate. As a creative organisation, we don’t want to change local cultures or re-orientate them to western minds and that is where our local and international talent comes in.

A staunch advocate of marketing effectiveness, John Zeigler launched the world’s first integrated agency in 1986, making him the most experienced integrated marketer at a time when everyone was taking the single-minded approach to communications. Having lived and worked in three continents, Zeigler is a great believer in reinvention and what that implies for brands in this global-think local market. He is adamant that the development of creative work and its evolution and management should be most highly valued, all of which clients need to be involved in.

A painter, photographer and restorer of cars in his spare time, Zeigler considers himself a creative marketer who believes in harnessing the potential of others. As the leading voice, President and CEO of DDB Group, Asia Pacific, Japan & India, Zeigler’s responsibilities span 21 agencies in 16 countries, and more than 2,500 employees.

In this interview with Noor Fathima Warsia, Zeigler speaks on DDB’s India plans and the global approach that the agency has taken to be the creative force that it is seen as today.

Q. Your presence in India is largely through your relation with Mudra. Please explain more on how you view this partnership, and how it benefits you in India?

To us, the essence of DDB is the partnership, because unlike many of the big networks that went into the market and basically started on the back of Kraft Cheese or Ford Motor Company, we really are about creating an essence of creativity that changed the way communication was built with Bill Bernbach, and we went on to build on that as an international network. We went out looking for the strongest local partners whom we could partner with and leverage. Most of the big agencies – McCann, Ogilvy or Leo Burnett – had a client that they took around the world; we did not. So, the DNA of DDB is very different from all of the other international networks. And that DNA even went through a period where it was not the strongest opportunity because we were not seen with strength in cohesion across all markets. However, today the world has changed – we know that it is no longer a US-centric vision. Today, we know that local understanding, that is as strong as international tools, and talent is important to clients. We find ourselves in a very interesting scenario. We find that from a network that was bludgeoning and trying to hobble together, we have become a network that delivers best insightful creative, or at least has the potential to do that.

Our relationship with Mudra goes a long time back – Mudra itself has been through a rollercoaster of creative excellence. It is on a resurgence of creative vision in India, and I would like to think that its association with DDB Worldwide is helping to fuel that creative excellence. Our vision for the business partnership is to continue the journey, to evolve the relationship, to pursue best in class creativity, but never to lose the local as well as international insight that exists between the two companies.

Q. Am I right in assuming that India is an important market of growth for you?

Absolutely.

Q. But apart from DDB Mudra, where you are a minor partner, there isn’t any other DDB entity in India. What are some of the plans for this market?

We have been working with our partners Mudra to create a stronger DDB-led identity and brand in India. They are very excited about that possibility, as are we. We have not fully completed the discussions on how we would bring that to life, but in the near future you would definitely see a much stronger DDB India brand as well as a continued strengthened partnership with Mudra.

Q. So, Mudra DDB continues as is, and there would be a second DDB agency launched, again in partnership with Mudra but with a stronger DDB branding?

Yes, and both the companies would work in unison. We like to be creative in our thinking, and one of things that we have been able to do successfully, particularly in this part of the world as opposed to the DDB US or DDB in Europe, is that we have been able to take the world best in class advertising brand – DDB; world best in class direct marketing brand – Rapp Collins; world best in class digital agency – Tribal; world best in class branding company – Interbrand, and we have melded those businesses within a group DDB structure. In Asia, we have been able to bring all those businesses and combine their essence under a group delivery. So, for us, in a market such as India, where we have access to the huge resources of Mudra that has capabilities in many other areas as well, we see that as an extra tool that we can bring to leverage value from. We see that as an evolution and as an advantage to the model that we have in many different countries; not a disadvantage.

Q. When you say another DDB structure, would there be a change in the ratio of the partnership, like a 50:50?

We’ve had a number of discussions, but nothing has been finalised on that yet.

Q. Are you gunning for a majority, is that important from your viewpoint?

No, John Wren (CEO, Omnicom) had said something very interesting to me once when we were talking about how we could better connect DDB and Rapp Collins, and we were pushing to gain control of Rapp Collins. We were saying we can do better when we control it. And he said, ‘Yes, may be, but I am in the business of minimising risks and maximising value, so if there is such great opportunity and value, then obviously you would be doing it together, and when you are doing it, you won’t need to ask me whether I would allow it to happen’.

So, our belief is that relationship comes first, not the equity, not the ownership or the value of a company. If we can deliver for our clients, superior services quality in all of our markets, we become a much stronger network. It doesn’t matter what equity we have, it doesn’t impact our creativity or our drive to deliver for our clients. Our brand visibility is very important and that comes before any issues relevant to equity or money. And really leave that part of it to the accountant – they can fiddle around with that. What we care about is being the best network agency, deliver the best for our clients and grow their brands.

Q. Is there a deadline by when you want to establish the second agency?

We are hoping to do more in the brand visibility area before the end of this year.

Q. That is just three months away...

Well, when I am talking now, I am talking in terms of our discussion. You may not hear on this till the end of this year or the actual form may be introduced to the market early next year as well.

Q. Would it make sense to the DDB agencies to compete with each other or would you not want to do that?

Let me explain that with a similar example. We had a business in Malaysia with the local partners there called Naga DDB, which like Mudra, is a very good and successful agency for many years. We had a second brand called DDB International as well. But we recently changed that to Milk because there was confusion in the market regarding the two brands by our clients. What we were saying was that Milk was about motherhood and protection and developing smaller brands that needed a different focus; but Naga DDB was for the bigger clients that needed that service structure.

To explain that broadly, the way we work is that we would lead with the area of business that is most relevant to the client, and not that is most relevant to us. That is where all our different capabilities come into play.

Q. So, you are clear that in India you would want to have the two DDB brands to be different. You would probably have to rename Mudra DDB if you are planning on a DDB India for the stronger brand agency...

You are half a step ahead of me! Let’s put it this way, we won’t create any confusion; we would clarify the brand offering that is relevant to local as well as to international clients and would help clients to make the right decision on which area they want to be the most serviced in. From the Mudra point of view, that gives Mudra the opportunity to clearly be the competitive brand and it gives DDB the opportunity to clearly be the international corporate. Mudra is the biggest and strongest local agency. As a creative organisation, we don’t want to change local cultures or re-orientate them to western minds and that is where our local and international talent comes in. We can access and leverage Mudra’s local knowledge and together bring the competitive advantage in the market.

In some ways, we don’t have the absolute control of Sir Martin, and he would say that they are not a ‘network’, they are a ‘notwork’ with a 30 per cent stake. Our stand is that that is not an issue to us because we work better as a network of people than anyone else ever can. We do not just merge creative entities and thrust that on our clients, we mobilise the best people.

Q. Which is fair... Why is it that we still don’t hear about a lot of wins in India, especially when you have said that India is one of the top three delivering markets for DDB APAC?

We are seeing an increase in client budgets, so there is organic growth from existing clients. Also, we have pitched and won clients that we cannot announce for various reasons. But yes, India, along with China and Australia, is amongst the top three countries for us. The only reason Australia would be third is because the size of the clients is much smaller. And as I said, there is a lot that we are in the process of doing for India, so you would be hearing from us a lot more soon.

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