Advertising Interviews

Nick Waters

CEO - Asia Pacific | 07 May 2010

The industry is being oversupplied with too many agencies doing the same thing. So, we have to find a point of difference. There is no point of discount rates and failing to deliver. My ambition is to build a very prosperous company for long term growth. And we are not going to get that by just offering the same services with the existing competition at cheaper rates. Certainly, many of these new market entrants would do that as their short term strategies to buy some market share.

Nick Waters joined Aegis Media in March 2010 as Chief Executive Officer - Asia Pacific. He was previously with the WPP-owned media agency Mindshare, where he had worked since its inception in 1997. During his time with Mindshare, Waters had held several management roles in Europe and Asia, including CEO of Southeast Asia (2001-05), CEO of Asia Pacific (2005-06), and CEO of Europe, Middle East, and Africa (2006-10).

During his tenure with Mindshare, Waters also managed several international client relationships, including Ford in Europe, Unilever Asia Pacific, and HSBC globally.

Prior to joining Mindshare, he had worked in the media department of Ogilvy in London, where he had started as a graduate.

Waters has been part of the agency management team awarded European Media Agency of the Year (M&M Europe 2001), Asia Pacific Media Agency of the Year three years in succession (Media 2003, 2004, 2005), and Global Media Agency of the Year three times (Ad Age 2003, 2004, 2008).

He has been a member of numerous industry awards juries, including the 2009 Cannes Lions Media Jury, and the 2009 Eurobest Advertising Festival, where he was President of the Media Jury and a member of the Integrated Advertising Jury.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Tasneem Limbdiwala, Waters has several interesting observations to share about Aegis’ progress in India, Indian agencies launching new brands, and Ashish Bhasin’s role in India, among others.

Q. What made you accept the offer at Aegis?

(Laughs) A number of reasons! I have been with the WPP organisation for 18 years. Started off at Ogilvy and then joined Mindshare from the time of its creation. So, after 18 years, it is a good time for a change. So, the good question is what motivated me or what are the challenges I see. Back in Europe, Aegis is a huge beast and Carat is one of the powerful leading buying agencies in Europe. Isobar globally has a very interesting collection of digital assets and Posterscope represents a market leading outdoor specialist company that is looking at some development of Aegis with some degree of fascination. Our whole brand portfolio as such is a very attractive, well focused collection of assets. So, when I got a call from Aegis, it was a conversation that made me very keen to explore it and as I spoke with them, I got even more excited about it. Currently as well, having worked with an established brand for many years, I see Aegis as a challenging brand and I was quiet interested working in a different culture. And the deal was the fact that there was an opportunity to come back to the Asian region because it is the region where we should be as there is a business growth perspective in terms of optimism, more energy, more dynamism and entrepreneurship.

Q. It’s been around a month now, what are the things that you have identified in respect to APAC per se that you want going in the next six months?

There are a number of early priorities. Some of them are product-focused, while others are geographically focused. I think, on geographic-focused, more observations would be built on a multi-local level. That said, the next stage is development, as we need to become more multinational and get more connected with the network.

Q. So, when you say geographically what are your priorities?

Everybody focuses their attention on China, which is very much understandable and Carat is very competitive in China. So yes, it’s an incredibly important market. And if we go down south, we have a very strong operation in Australia with a robust business. However, the company has been late in developing business here in India, which is why we have made India our high priority to come and visit to try and understand how things are here. Therefore, India becomes my number one priority compared to China and Australia.

Q. India, as you mentioned, has been a challenge for Aegis. However, the single steadiest thing that happened for Aegis in India was Ashish Bhasin’s appointment. Besides, what according to you has worked for Aegis India in the last few years?

The good news is that we have passed the undergrowth and the good fortune is that I come in a role for the APAC and Ashish (Bhasin, Chairman India & CEO, South East Asia at Aegis Group Plc) here in India has a great personal brand reputation in the market. On top of that, there is a very strong management team. In the last couple of days, I have been immersing myself in the businesses that they manage and I am very impressed with the team here that has been built by Ashish for a purposeful future growth. All of our brands are really beginners here, but are doing quite well.

Q. What is the status on the Nokia business? It was expected that the movement would happen around March-April and we are now in May...

Well, I am not sure where the expectations come from. In the mid-level deal, Nokia highlighted the fact that India is one of the most important markets in the world and the difference in scale in between their current agency and Carat, which is perfectly valid. We are in the process of impressing the levels there and we are doing regular progress there. So, the question in our mind is when will the transition round up? Having said that, nothing has changed in us proving our capabilities.

Q. What is your internal target for Nokia to get it going completely for Aegis?

(Smiles) We hope we are working with them from the start of next year. But there is no committed date either from Nokia or from us.

Q. You mentioned that India is one of your priority markets and that you are happy with the team here. Besides that, what are some of the other areas that we would see you invest in India?

Well, each of these businesses in relatively young and we are in an investment mode here. All our businesses are making money, but we are not squeezing the businesses for profits. As I had explained, India is an important market and we are not in a hurry to try and take too much money out of it. Thus, as the business builds, we will keep reinvesting back. We are here for long term.

Q. In India, we are seeing many existing Indian agencies launching new brands. In your view, how is it increasing the competition and do you view them as challenge?

I think the fact that lots of agencies in the market are launching second brands reflects the fact that the world has woken up to the importance of India. Arguably, the major holding companies of WPP had really understood that nearly five to 10 years ago. However, my view is that WPP and GroupM have been allowed to accumulate too much market share, which is not good for the media side of the industry. The industry is being oversupplied with too many agencies doing the same thing. So, we have to find a point of difference. There is no point of discount rates and failing to deliver. My ambition is to build a very prosperous company for long term growth. And we are not going to get that by just offering the same services with the existing competition at cheaper rates. Certainly, many of these new market entrants would do that as their short term strategies to buy some market share.

Q. What are the things that you can do when it comes to the business structure? Right now most of the media agencies have the same business model, and also, the media service brands are facing a perception problem, wherein they have not grown in the last 10 years in terms of how they have been perceived. Being in the position that you are in, do you think you’ve had the opportunity to address some of these problems at a larger level?

Well, you have made some strong statements here and I think one of them is very interesting, where the media service brands have not been able to improve or grow the marker perception. Taking this point further, I think the market needs more competition, because then it will be in the client’s interest to have more choice. So, I think one of the things that differentiate us in many countries is the fact that the P&L is held at a holding group level. So, we have the opportunity to work as a team across the specialist brands rather some of our competitors who have to compete against each other for market share or client spend. Here, Ashish takes complete control of the group in India, which I think gives the group advantage on the same.

Q. According to you, how is this structure working out?

I am very impressed, and though Ashish joined Aegis less than two years ago, the progress is astonishing. The quality of product and the human resources result into exceptionally good production of work.

Q. So, you are happy with the new business wins in India and the growth percentage?

Yes, I am very much happy.

Q. What is the year-on-year percentage of growth?

In the last two years, we have grown about five times. So, it’s been spectacular with new businesses, which come from two areas. One is from our own existing clients, where earlier they were spending say Rs 100 with us, now they are spending Rs 200. The second area is from pitching for new businesses and winning them across each specialist brand under Aegis.

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