Advertising Interviews

Bob Jeffrey

Chairman & CEO | 06 Jan 2012

Our strategy is convergent with what is going on in the client world. I just saw the IBM study, which interviewed 1,700 CMOs, and found the two biggest issues for CMOs are geography and technology. What I always talk about at JWT is that on both those counts, we need to lead into all the changes going on with technology because everything is happening very fast, especially in communication. Secondly, our strength is geography. By that I mean, we are well established in the mature markets, but we have deep roots in the fast growing markets, much more than our competitors.

In the last few years, JWT has worked hard and consistently to build its reputation as a global creative powerhouse. If platforms such as Cannes Lions and Spikes are benchmarks of any kind, JWT is amongst the agencies that have done well in the creative business. According to JWT Worldwide’s Chairman & CEO Bob Jeffrey, the agency has had a good 2011, globally and in India.

As JWT’s CEO, Jeffrey is responsible for over 800 offices and 10,000 employees in more than 90 countries; working with blue-chip clients such as Ford, HSBC, Johnson & Johnson, Nokia, Nestle, Unilever and others.

Jeffrey believes the network should focus on three key elements: work, reputation and growth. It is this determination to continually improve creative output, agency perception and business development that has delivered a freshly reinvigorated network prepared to guide and build some of the world’s most powerful brands.

Jeffrey is regarded as an ambassador of advertising and is widely respected for his views and achievements. His knowledge and experience of the industry led him to become a regular contributor to Fox Business Network, CNBC and CNN, as well as a frequent source of quotes for leading trade and business publications.

After a good 2011, Jeffrey has high expectations from India in 2012. In this interview with Noor Fathima Warsia, he elaborates on why.

Q. Some agencies have been saying that India and China saw some slowdown this year. Have those markets delivered as per expectations?

They are on track in terms of expectations. There is slowdown in China, but it is all relative because these are all markets that still have a lot of growth and development opportunities. Brazil is another market that will see a lot of growth. Brazil, just to be pragmatic about it, has a stable political regime, the middle class is growing significantly year on year and the gap between the rich and the poor is narrowing. Plus, they have some mega events that are going to happen like the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, so there is a lot of internal momentum towards getting ready for those two big global events.

Q. In 2010, you had articulated the agency’s way forward with Digital at the centre. Talent, advertisers were buying into that...

Our strategy is convergent with what is going on in the client world. I just saw the IBM study, which interviewed 1,700 CMOs, and found the two biggest issues for CMOs are geography and technology. What I always talk about at JWT is that on both those counts, we need to lead into all the changes going on with technology because everything is happening very fast, especially in communication. Secondly, our strength is geography. By that I mean, we are well established in the mature markets, but we have deep roots in the fast growing markets, much more than our competitors. We need to make sure that the strength we have with our international capabilities is evident to our clients and our people. I have been very consistent on those points in the last few years, Digital being part of the conversation – we have major clients for whom the shift in spends is happening fairly dramatically on some of their brands. We have certain FMCG clients who three to four years ago just had minor experiments, and today there are brands that are spending 20-30 per cent of their budgets on Digital, which is very significant.

Q. Are they clear on what is the return they are looking for their investment?

It is a continuum. Certain clients have more experience than others, and the capability because of how they organise and how we work with them to look at the matrix and return on their digital investment. There are other clients that are less concerned about the returns, but being more experimental in learning and testing as they go along. That is true for every client now. There is more of an appetite now for experimentation and change because clients are wary of running the risk of not doing anything because they know that just to stand still is not a good strategy.

Q. If awards were a benchmark of creativity, JWT has done well and yet when there are conversations on a larger canvas, there are many others that are discussed before JWT. Does that bother you?

It can be frustrating sometimes. It is really only since 2005 that we have put huge efforts on our creativity. Other agencies have been doing it longer than us, so they are more top of the mind. But now, if I look at how we are perceived by clients, we are definitely more competitive than we were five years ago in terms of creative reputation. It is a competitive world we live in and every year, we have done so much better at Cannes and regional shows like Spikes and the Effectiveness Awards. Every year, there is more pressure to do better work that gets more recognition. People are very interested in the kind of brand work we had done for Macy’s that was ‘Just Believe’ and ‘Smirnoff Night Life Exchange’ and now Brand USA, which is a huge marketing programme for which we are doing the communication, that would launch in March 2012.

Q. What is JWT doing to infuse more of this new kind of thinking akin to what you did with Macy’s, a very content-led initiative?

We are doing a lot of training. We have a propriety process that we have developed, called Discover, Collide and Me. It is a process that we are implementing globally among all the people working on brands on how to get better work, how to get to innovative work, how to get to world class work. We developed it in the last one year. We are doing a lot on training and educating our staff around the world. The second thing is that we have standards. We have criteria on which we evaluate our work on a scale of 1 to 10. Ever since we have been doing this measurement and evaluation of our own work, there is a complete correlation between the work and our performance in award shows. A lot of the work falls in the 5 or 6 category. If you get 8-plus, we actually have a bonus system set up for creative teams across the world. We only have four 9s so far and we have never had a 10. I am waiting for India to do a 10.

Q. The year is ending well for JWT India, but at the beginning, some of your key clients partnered with creative independents. What does it mean to you when a creative independent gets on the roster of a big client?

I will say this in a general way, but first of all, it is not ideal because we want to do all the work for our clients. But even when another creative agency gets on the roster, the scope of what we handle for these clients is so significant and so far-reaching that it is a capability unique to JWT. There aren’t a lot of agencies, let alone a smaller creative agency, that can take on that responsibility. Even in the cases that you mentioned- Airtel and Pepsi – we have significant relations with both of those clients that go far beyond just TV spots.

Q. Any specific comments on JWT India?

I think Colvyn (Harris) runs a great operation. He is very dedicated. I am amazed with the energy level of people in India, what we see with Colvyn. Now we have hired Max Hegerman, so we will see more Digital coming up at the centre of conversations. We have made some significant hires in India 2011 and we are expecting that to show in 2012.

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