Advertising Interviews

Michael I. Roth

Chairman & Chief Executive Officer | 25 Nov 2011

The digital and media agency businesses are the shining spots, but you cannot do that without the big creative idea, which is why everyone has to work together. It really is an integrated offering and if you can get them to work together, it is amazing. Just seeing all of them together, collaborating and executing an idea, is fantastic.

Michael I. Roth, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Interpublic Group, is very clear on what is driving the global communication business and what the growth opportunities are for the likes of IPG, one of the world's largest organisations of advertising and marketing services companies. Prior to serving in his current role, Roth was a member of the company’s Board of Directors.

Prior to his current role, Roth was Chairman and CEO of The MONY Group Inc, a financial services holding company that provides a wide range of protection, asset accumulation and retail brokerage products and services through its member companies. Under Roth's leadership, The MONY Group diversified its business mix, broadened its distribution channels and enhanced its ability to compete in today's financial services marketplace.

Roth is a member of the Board of Directors for Pitney Bowes Inc, the Ad Council and the Gaylord Entertainment Company. He sits on the Leadership Committee of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts; the Board of Directors of the Committee to Encourage Corporate Philanthropy and The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA). In addition, he is a Director of The Baruch College Fund, The Partnership for New York City and The Enterprise Foundation. He is also a member of the Business Roundtable.

As competition intensifies in India, Roth has a game plan in place to ensure IPG’s growth. In conversation with Noor Fathima Warsia, Roth speaks on issues that when addressed, make all the difference to a company in particular, and to the industry at large.

Q. The growth of the communication business has seen the rise of the specialists. But somewhere in the process, coordination between different units ceased. What is your advice to your agency units on collaborating for the client’s needs?

We owe it to our clients that they get the best that IPG has to offer. If our agencies need something and if it is there within their networks, that is great. But if they don’t have it within their own network, then they should be reaching out to IPG. Our clients are demanding the best that we have to offer, and that is what we have to focus on. Shame on us if we have an expertise and we have not brought it to our clients and our competitor is offering something that frankly is not as good as what our services would be. At the end of our operating meetings, I have our business unit heads take our top 10 or 20 clients, depending on the network, and show which are the disciplines that are serviced to our top 10 or 20 clients. And if we are not seeing a cross-section of all the disciplines, I want to know why.

Q. Amongst all the disciplines – creative, media, digital - which do you think would lead the communication exercise in the future?

The digital and media agency businesses are the shining spots, but you cannot do that without the big creative idea, which is why everyone has to work together. It really is an integrated offering and if you can get them to work together, it is amazing. Just seeing all of them together, collaborating and executing an idea, is fantastic.

Q. In India, IPG’s new media offering is not yet as strong as some of the other holding companies. What is your overall approach towards digital?

All of our networks -- McCann, Lowe and DraftFCB -- have to have digital capabilities. We also have specialists like RGA and MRM, which are huge. MRM on its own would be the fifth largest in the world. So, we have expert digital brands and we reach out to them when we need unique capabilities, but digital is in everything we do.

Q. Clients, however, are not yet looking at mainline agencies like McCann or Lowe as their first choice for digital requisites...

If it lingers that way, it is a concern, but I think you will see it change. If you would look at the people we are hiring, you will notice the effort is to grow internal digital capabilities so our clients will begin to look at us for their digital needs too. If they don’t, then we are not doing our jobs well.

Q. As an industry, do you think enough has been done to groom talent?

We have not done a good job at all. At IPG, we have made some investments in universities in the US and Shanghai, but largely, right now we are trading talent with each other and we are paying up for people moving within the agencies. That is not healthy. We have to develop our own talent and go to the schools ourselves. So far, we are doing a decent job of pushing the industry forward and making it attractive to young talent, but we need more of it.

Q. IPG has taken an interesting initiative for women in the Women’s Leadership Network, and it’s been a while now that you have been talking about it. Any results already?

Cannes Lions this year was the first time any agency had done what we had with WLN and the reactions that we have seen from clients, as well as our competitors, have been very positive. When I had first taken this job, I felt that we were not doing a very good job of the whole issue of diversity and inclusion. For me, it was very important for this to be a part of our DNA as an organisation. And this led to the women’s initiative and so on. All the different affinity groups within IPG are having good traction. It has helped us with people and with clients, because clients are also focussing on this. I finally had it included as a financial objective for our network agencies to move the needle on diversity and inclusion.

Q. How did they take it?

One or two did not like it at first, but now they do...

Q. We tend to hear a lot of conversations at the media holding company level – IPG, WPP, Omnicom and such. Do you actually sit down and view your business like that?

Only when Martin (Sorrell) talks about it! At the end of the day, we want to be the best in everything that we do. Bigger is good, but I would much rather just be the best.

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