Advertising Interviews

Mike Jackson

MD | 09 Apr 2010

We are still cautious from a regional perspective, but from the MEC perspective, both regionally and globally, we firmly believe in our proposition and our core positioning in the market place. It has not been a good 12-15 months, but I think we have come out of it stronger, we have got a good senior management in place across Asia and consistency is what people are looking for, so we are feeling positive about the whole thing.

Mike Jackson, Managing Director - Asia Pacific, MEC Access, is responsible for integrating MEC Access services (the creation and delivery of strategic partnerships and sponsorships across nine different platforms: arts, brand-to-brand, broadcast, cause, celebrity, film, gaming, music and sport) into regional and local clients’ communications plans.

Jackson joined MEC from the UK after four years as Managing Partner with Performance, MindShare’s specialist content and sponsorship division. While at Performance, he ran BP’s global sponsorship account and was responsible for Castrol’s entry into UEFA Euro 2008.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Robin Thomas, Jackson speaks at length about MEC’s plans for India and leveraging sports as a category for growth.

Q. First of all, what brings you to India?

The Access business is growing significantly over the last five years and India is one of the fastest growing markets, hence it’s very important for me to be here to make sure all our existing clients are very happy and that we are structured in a way that we are looking forward to capitalising on the momentum we have got globally in terms of the sports and entertainment business that we have at MEC. We are moving forward in terms of our integrated planning approach, so rather than just having Access division working with clients in the sports and entertainment space, we are really trying to move forward and make sure all of our work is really integrated with proper integrated communication solutions for our clients. There is a whole new planning process that we have launched globally and also making sure that we drive the next phase of agency development because we have a unique offer, we are doing some great work in this space, but we need to make sure that it is fully integrated with our digital community and with our traditional media teams.

Q. Can you please elaborate on your growth plans for MEC Access?

We are seeing good growth. We also need to get the right talent and investment in the right people. Finding people who understand the communication landscape, finding people who understand how brands and agencies work, finding people that understand the role of content and partnerships and understand the value of these rights and negotiate these rights so, we can create integrated communication solutions. So, it’s always a challenge to finding the right talent, who understand about brands, who understand about communications and also have that particular sector knowledge.

Q. While India is your fastest growing market, which are the other growing markets for MEC?

India has certainly grown significantly in the last two years, but we are also seeing significant momentum in China, we have Access in Beijing and Shanghai. China has significant potential along with India. Thailand is a another very interesting market for us and in Singapore, we have a number of regional accounts with quite a lot of momentum there as well, but India and China are the focus and these are the two huge markets for us in Asia.

Q. Between the sports and entertainment categories, which, according to you, is the fastest growing category for MEC Access?

Outside of India, the entertainment side is probably the fastest growing area, but it also depends on market by market. Cricket in India is not just an institution but a religion and, therefore, brands desire to be involved in cricket. However, I think there will be growth in other sports and we see that with the Commonwealth Games coming. We also see some very interesting trends in football, which we will see making inroads in the grassroots as India is a market that is under-exploited in terms of football. Interestingly, if you take a look at different parts of the world, for instance, in North Asia, while football has great positioning, you also have sports like basketball, baseball in Japan, basketball in Philippines is huge, boxing in Thailand is significant, and Australia loves rugby and cricket, and so on. So, you have got a diverse sports range, but I think entertainment and programming is still significant in Asia. So, sports certainly has higher profile in India, wherein I think we are doing perhaps slightly more tie-ups in the TV formats in other markets, plus music is another growth area.

Q. Speaking of sports, what are the lessons you think that the Indian Premier League (IPL) can learn from the English Premier League (EPL) or even the Superbowl?

The business models are different. In fact, the way IPL has come from scratch since the last three years is a greater phenomenon. EPL is a very interesting concept, it has been incredibly successful and a global financial phenomenon. The opportunity for IPL is that it has got a huge domestic audience, it obviously has been successful and we have seen ratings rising year on year. What we are seeing is higher level of viewing from India, great level of involvement, fantastic cricket, different teams, different players performing and the kind of investments made in the two new IPL teams is fantastic. So, what is going to be interesting is how this tournament will grow more at the international level. We know that domestically IPL is hugely popular and is here to stay. However, the further growth I believe will come internationally. The learning perhaps might be able to come from perhaps how you start marketing the IPL brand internationally and bring the international audience to IPL.

This is what EPL has done very well because they have created that level of engagement, for instance, if you go to South East Asia, they are not interested in SE Asian football, but they are interested in the EPL. The challenge that IPL has got is that cricket is cricket and football is football, because cricket has only got a passionate following in six or seven key test countries – of course India, England, South Africa, Australia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan and so on... but, despite this cricket may still not have that global appeal.

Q. How significant do you think is digital media in spreading the awareness of IPL?

Initially, I was concerned whether the technology would allow for IPL to be streamed in an appropriate manner to watching it. Secondly, I wonder whether people would be watching just highlight packaging or would they be watching it live on their computers. However, I have been surprised that it has worked out well, nevertheless it would be interesting to see once the tournament has concluded as to what the data has to say, that is, how long have people been watching IPL – whether it was the entire innings or the entire match or just the clips. There is still a long way to go for the digital medium in terms of increase in broadband penetration, or whether it is 3G launch in India, etc.

Q. How can brands and marketers be more effective in targeting their customers through a property like the IPL?

First of all, you need to understand your business objective and your audience. At times, the brand strategy may not be about awareness, since they already know about the brand, but it may be about trying to drive consideration or purchase. We may want to be using talent or ticket or merchandising that will help drive sales rather than focusing on branding, which is fundamentally an awareness driver. So, there isn’t one answer to this, but we have to think what brands are trying to achieve and then we can think about the assets that are in the right side of portfolio. There are a lot of different ways to help brands meet their targets, but if the client is not clear about what their objectives are, then invariably their strategy will lack focus.

Q. What according to you are the emerging trends in the Indian media industry for 2010-12? And the role the digital media will play vis-à-vis traditional media?

Broadband penetration in India is still very low, and whether we are going straight to mobile communications. There are different trends going in different markets in Asia. What we have got to recognise as a communications agency is that no matter what device is used – whether it is laptop or mobile or even iPhones – the consumer has a lot of information and they are busy, and from the moment they get up, they are hit by a lot of communication. But there is only so much that the consumer can take. Yes, it is going to be about digital communication, but it’s going to be about making sure that it is relevant to the consumer, so, you will find that a lot of brands are going great in content that the consumer wants. Digital media will grow significantly in India and that’s why we as an agency are already focussing on the digital content space.

Q. What is your vision for the company for the next three years?

We are going out there winning great businesses locally and attracting the right talent for the agency, we are creating compelling integrated communications and trying to drive the debate in the communication space. MEC has got a unique culture and personality, and we are seeing clients understanding more about the active engagement proposition. We need to actively engage our consumers and clients and our staff. The business position is not going to change, but there will be a greater focus on digital and content space because that’s where we believe that brands need to be and that’s where we believe that the agency needs to go, driven by insights as well. So, yes, we need to be driving digital and content conversation, but we constantly need to be aware of what our foundations are. Besides this, also making sure that we are getting the right talent and even retain the right talent that we have already got.

Last year was a tough year from a global perspective. I think we are seeing greater confidence in the market place but we need to see how that transfers back into budget. I think India is probably a slightly different market because obviously there is still huge GDP growth that we are seeing, in some other markets, on the other hand, the recovery is still slow. We are still cautious from a regional perspective, but from the MEC perspective, both regionally and globally, we firmly believe in our proposition and our core positioning in the market place. We have got good talent, we’ve got new planning process, we have got good integrated communications and, therefore, we are quite excited about the future. It has not been a good 12-15 months, but I think we have come out of it stronger, we have got a good senior management in place across Asia and consistency is what people are looking for, so we are feeling positive about the whole thing.

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