Advertising Interviews

Les Margulis

President | 30 Apr 2010

We want Media Direction to be among the top five players within three years. India is a very competitive market, therefore, to accomplish our goals we have to be better than the competition. Being as good won’t be good enough. We will get the right people and the right structure to move forward. Growing in this market is account by account and day by day.

Les Margulis has had a long career in media agency management. He has spent most of his career within the Omnicom Network as the International Media Director of the BBDO Media Department (the predecessor of OMD). In that capacity, he was responsible for the international media operation for numerous multinational such as GE, Gillette, Pepsi and others. He was also involved in international training and business development. In these rolls, Margulis traveled and worked in over three dozen countries.

Subsequent to BBDO, Margulis was a Senior Director of a B2B Internet company in New York and San Francisco, and then Director for Media/ marketing at the hottest Hispanic agency in the US. He had always had a desire to work in Australia and the opportunity presented itself to help run the leading ethnic advertising agency there. However, adventure soon called again and he left Australia to move to Kiev to help run Media Direction there as well as later in Moscow. He then moved over to MindShare Moscow as Client Services Director.

Since the beginning of 2008, Margulis has been training both media and creative agencies across the world. During 2008, he was The Freedom Forum Visiting Professor of Advertising in the School of Journalism, University of Florida in Gainesville and will be a Professor of Advertising at Baruch College in New York City. He also is the instructor for Branding and Strategy for the Association of National Advertisers’ (ANA) training for member clients.

Margulis is currently President of Media Direction India, part of RK Swamy/BBDO, with offices in all of the capital cities in India. Finally, he is a Contributing Editor to The Internationalist Magazine, where he writes a monthly column. He also guest writes a column for the American Business Media’s (ABM) online magazine. His website address is He maintains residences in New York, Sydney and Mumbai.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Pallavi Goorha Kashyup, Margulis speaks at length about Media Direction’s growth in India, the challenges and opportunities for digital media and tapping the mobile medium to increase reach.

Q. How has your journey been in Media Direction?

I love the challenges that I am faced with here – making a good business great, helping to build a digital unit, working with a full service, award winning team, and living in clearly the No. 2 growth economy in the world. I can’t imagine living anyplace else right now. And on a personal note, I am a crazed archeologist and collector of ancient artifacts, and I spent a wonderful weekend recently in Aurangabad and I can truthfully say that it ranks up there with the Parthenon and the Pyramids in terms of historical significance and beauty.

Q. How would you compare the Indian arm of Media Direction with international media agencies?

My bond with the company started many years back when I was involved with the founding of Media Direction 13 years ago. At that time, Media Direction was the start of the whole concept of media independents. Some 13 years ago, I was the International Media Director of BBDO based in New York with the responsibility of managing the international global accounts and opening new offices. This was the beginning of media independents and RK Swamy was certainly at the forefront in India with one of the first. I flew out from New York to meet the press and helped the local staff with the structure and systems.

Media Direction in India compares favourably with other media agencies that I have worked with in other geographies. I have managed other agencies in Australia, Russia, Ukraine, the UK and the US, and consulted to those in Israel, Romania, and South Africa, so I have the broadest perspective and I would put our work up against any of them. Our approach is both strategically based and cost driven; we have sophisticated proprietary evaluation tools, and a high level dedicated staff.

Q. Could you elaborate on your growth plans for RK Swamy Media Direction and Digital Direction?

Digital media is commonly included currently as a major component of the overall media plan. Although volumes continue to be small, the value attached to this medium is huge – database generation, audience analytics and behavioural targeting. While last year, we grew at breakneck speed, this year again we look to have double digit growth, mainly through clients like Siemens, LIC, SBI, and many more.

Q. Where do you see digital media placed in India today?

Today, we have 30 million WAP (wireless application protocol) users in India, 25 million unique users of Facebook and Orkut alone, zillions of Indian bloggers (well, not zillions really!), MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing game) gamers and many more individuals and groups making their mark on the web space in their own unique way. Thus, the paradigm shift in 2010 will be using the power of browsing in a bigger, more diverse way to connect with an evolved audience on a dynamic platform. The key expectation for digital media in 2010-11 will be the increase in brand awareness campaigns through rich media, contextual advertising and WAP.

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

This is a difficult question as I know only what I read in your magazine, plus the financial papers. Experts still talk about the BRIC (Brazil, India, Russia and China) as the leading markets in the world. I worked in Moscow for two years during the great oil boom and market expansion was phenomenal. However, Russia is totally commodities driven and personally, I would not purchase any goods manufactured there.

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

We want Media Direction to be among the top five players within that time frame. India is a very competitive market, therefore, to accomplish our goals we have to be better than the competition. Being as good won’t be good enough. We will get the right people and the right structure to move forward. Growing in this market is account by account and day by day.

Q. Do you think that there is a lot of talk about digital media, but when it comes to application these just remain talks?

No, not at all. There is always resistance to any new media, but the times are changing, Moreover, with social media paving the way, the Indian digital revolution is here to stay.

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

The very noticeable trend is adding Internet and mobile to the traditional print/ TV plans to give the activity a ‘surround’ effect. Research has proven that our HNWI audience traverses through the various media terrains throughout the day and catching him on the low cost media options like digital and mobile creates added recall.

Q. Are you happy with the kind of budgets being allocated to digital right now, and compare this to the scene internationally?

In India, the split for digital in an overall plan budget today is 5-10 per cent. Of course, that is up substantially from even a year ago – we have one client, who will be spending in excess of Rs 3.5 crore. That said, budgets in America have shifted dramatically towards digital. Some of my friends in America run businesses where more than 50 per cent of the spending is on various digital platforms. So, digital in India has not yet hit the ball out of the boundary.

Q. Is there a different way to reach people on mobile?

Yes, definitely. SMS-based campaigns are passé. The need of the hour is to target audiences that browse on their GPRS phones, that is, WAP-based campaigns. Also, Bluetooth Marketing and Augmented Reality are coming up in a big way, and truthfully speaking, mobile and Internet are combining seamlessly today to create the targeted digital universe.

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