Advertising Interviews

R Gowthaman, Chief Client Officer, Mindshare APAC


Ravi Rao, Leader | 28 Oct 2011

G’Man: At a market level, I see it as four different buckets – China, South East Asia, Australia and India. Of these, three are completely new to me and they will come with different kinds of challenges.

Ravi Rao: The way I see it, there are three clear challenges ahead. The first is to bring the best of Mindshare as a trusted advisor to our clients within the framework of marketing... The second is to attract, nurture and grow talent. The third very clear challenge ahead of Mindshare in India is to take digital to a broader territory.

Even though it has been on the cards for a while, when Mindshare finally announced the changes in its senior management, the industry was abuzz with what the new roles would mean for R Gowthaman aka G’Man, who is slated to be Chief Client Officer, Mindshare APAC, and for Client Leader for Team Unilever, Ravi Rao, who replaces G’Man to be Leader, Mindshare South Asia. For Mindshare India, and hence for the Indian media agency business, the implications are immense as this means a change of guard for India’s single largest media agency.

In conversation with Noor Fathima Warsia, G’Man and Rao speak on how they see the challenges and the opportunities ahead...

Q. Chief Client Officer is a newly created role and hence, does not have a precedence of what can be expected from it. How are you viewing this role? What would it encompass?

G’Man: This is recognition at a global level that Mindshare will invest on client-focussed talent. Mindshare no longer is an age-old cut and dry media planning and buying set-up; it has today become more about marketing planning. The Chief Client Officer’s role was planned with this in mind, and it is meant to stay. To me, this is an exciting challenge and a journey central to Mindshare’s agenda. If we get this right, it will help Mindshare head in the right direction. Also, Asia at present is the centre of attraction. One can expect good GDP growth here and a steady inflow of clients. Global clients are focussing in this region – so it is happening at the right time.

Q. From leading an agency, and that too in one of Mindshare’s most important markets, you are now going to be in a client leading role for the region – how are you viewing this?

G’Man: The agenda for a role like this is to manage multiple stakeholders. In today’s market scenario, the client’s side alone has specialised functions such as research, digital, marketing, ROI, distribution, procurement, sales and such and it is important to be able to engage with each of them. For an agency like Mindshare, which is category blocked in most cases, growth can come largely by growing with existing clients and not new wins alone. This role can open a new revenue stream for Mindshare. I am not looking at this role as an agency leading versus client leading.

Q. Since you have been in the position that Ravi Rao now assumes, please give your views on why Ravi Rao, especially when you have a host of very senior people that would have been vying for this role?

G’Man: We are very fortunate and I am personally happy to have a battery of this kind of talent. Most of them were moved to this market three years back, and we have very senior people who are focussing on analytics and invention. Amongst the senior talent we have, everyone has their own plans, ambition and journey. Quite honestly, the decision to choose the right person for this role was simple – a client relationship leader was rightly suited to head the agency. Domain experts continue to lead domains and there is a lot to do there as well.

Q. The conversations of G’Man’s move to the region have been around for a while. Were you expecting that the South Asia hat would fall on you?

Ravi Rao: While it has been on the anvil and Mindshare is very clean in its succession planning, at best, I had expected to be in the consideration set for the role. But that was all that I had expected. I am delighted that the agency has considered me for this role, and I am excited to take it forward. I realise it is not going to be easy to fill in the G’Man’s shoes, but I want to take up this challenge.

Q. Your role, in a sense, is reverse of what happens with G’Man – in a manner, from leading a client team you would now be leading an agency. What are the challenges that you foresee in your new role?

Ravi Rao: The way I see it, there are three clear challenges ahead. The first is to bring the best of Mindshare as a trusted advisor to our clients within the framework of marketing, which is what the agency’s proposition has been in the last three years. This is perhaps the single biggest challenge that lies ahead. The second is to attract, nurture and grow talent. In the current market scenario, clients require people who bring with them a multi-disciplinary approach and in the process assist in growing the client’s business.

The third very clear challenge ahead of Mindshare in India is to take digital to a broader territory. We can do a lot more in terms of mobile, owned and earned media and make it much more meaningful for advertisers. Right now, there are few and rare examples of how this medium can be used to grow the clients’ business, and there are ways to look at digital in a bigger way. In fact, digital happens to be one aspect but we have to see how we can bring more original thinking to new technology based offerings.

Q. How much do clients in India continue to benefit from your expertise and experience in your new role? How often are we likely to see you in India?

G’Man: As often as Ravi (Rao) wants me here! Our objective is to build Mindshare’s ability to service clients across the value chain, and this involves recruiting good talent, growing new age media responsibilities across existing resources and so on. Also, India is the biggest market for some of the biggest clients we have, so you will see me here very often.

Q. Will the next two months see you visiting client offices to settle in this role, considering so far you have only worked on Unilever?

Ravi Rao: For sure. While I have met quite a few clients socially and on professional platforms, in the next few months I would be immersing myself in understand more on what clients need and how we at Mindshare can continue delivering better for them. I would be spending time in on-going conversations, client requirements and work in putting stronger value systems in place.

Q. While you have led South Asia in the past, this is a first APAC experience for you – what are some of the markets (apart from India) that you may be keenly looking to understand and work on?

G’Man: At a market level, I see it as four different buckets – China, South East Asia, Australia and India. Of these, three are completely new to me and they will come with different kinds of challenges. I look forward to working with the country client leaders and understand these markets better. On a broader level, I think the focus would be on the four Ps – People, Process, Product, Profit. While I have to still plan my life and how I would approach work, but these four Ps would be the guiding principle in a manner of speaking.

Q. We understand that the conversations in Mindshare’s senior management has been on for a while in context to what your progress plan would be – would you like to share with our readers what led to the formation of this new role that you would be undertaking?

G’Man: Everybody has a career plan, and the organisation helps them to achieve it. I am part of this same list and like everyone else, the objective was to work out what I could do from here. This responsibility excited me. And as I keep telling you, all the so-called industry rumours that I have been hearing in the last few months, I am convinced that our boardrooms have to debugged!

Q. We have seen Mindshare also look at growing geographically by investing more in the very local markets in India. This continues?

Ravi Rao: This will definitely continue as it is a clear revenue stream for the company. Very recently, you had seen us expand operations in the south, which is a very important market and has been growing phenomenally. There are host of smaller companies there that are coming together in a large way. Industries such as retails, services and manufacturing have been growing and we are able to utilise this growth. Local geographical growth is very important for Mindshare right now.

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