Talent continues to be a key area of focus for us. And Mobile is another area of priority on our agenda. Our resources are fully alert on that area. We had started very early on it in Europe and then we made some interesting reinforcements in the US. We now expect that the global teams would also work with our teams in markets such as India on that front.
Maria Luisa Francoli Plaza has been one of the first regular visitors to the India market. Currently the Global CEO of MPG and Havas Media North America, Maria Luisa has served many roles at MPG since first joining as the Corporate Development Manager in 1993, responsible for the company’s geographical and business diversification. In 1997, Maria Luisa combined her extensive background and her instincts about the future of the industry to create Media Contacts, a digital agency within Havas Media. In 2003, she was appointed CEO of what was then known as the Media Planning network, the largest division of MPG, and was later named Global CEO of MPG in 2006.
In conversation with Noor Fathima Warsia, Maria Luisa speaks about how MPG’s digital business is shaping up, change in leadership in India and the road ahead...
Q. In the past, you have spoken quite a bit on how the digital business would shape up and gather strength in India. As you look back, has India delivered on its promise of being an important digital market?
Yes, it has, but true to the medium, there are new factors coming up that probably put the spotlight on other markets too. We are seeing conversation shifting away from digital and moving into social media and mobile. In that regard, the place that India could have been is coming from countries like Africa. The growth and the significance and the uses of mobile in Africa are obscuring everything else. This was not expected, but Africa is leapfrogging much faster and the market is not following the same kind of progression from mass media to digital that we have seen in other mature markets.
Africa does not have a developed infrastructure. Mobile has entered with a very strong force. A lot of people did not have a phone, but they have a mobile. Many people did not have a bank account before and now it is mobile, they did not have a credit card before and now they are using their phone as a payment term and that is amazing. It is also clouding the evolution of other more developed and established markets such as India. India is not the emerging market that it was. There are other markets that are younger and doing these jumps without going through all the steps.
Q. Would you say agencies such as MPG in India have understood the balancing the role of traditional and digital while working solutions for advertisers?
That can always be improved. We are doing some good work, but we probably could do even more and help clients more. Having said that, despite what has been happening in other markets, the evolution in India has been amazing. You see more interesting cases coming from India in different domains with very different styles. I was in the Cannes Lions jury last year, and the Indian case around The Times of India in the Integrated category, was wonderful. It encompassed many factors of the most modern theories and for me that was one of the best cases that we had seen in the year.
Q. Are you happy with the way MPG India has met the targets you had set out for them?
Yes, MPG India is meeting the targets we are setting for them. But for us, India is a mature market. We have been there for a while and the market is growing. We have been capturing some of that growth and we have been growing our business in India in a healthy way. We would like to see more and we would like to see MPG India accelerating that growth. Anita (Nayyar) had done a fantastic job. She has met all targets we had laid out, but of course, we would like to be bigger, growing faster and be a force in the market. Everything takes time, talent and investment though and we are focussing on all of those aspects.
Q. We have seen some MPG undertake various steps to invest in its talent globally and in India...
...yes, we do several things on that front. The highest, most visible initiatives would be the Havas Media Lab that operates like a Think Tank, with Umair Haque as the head. We all have access to this Lab. And then on a very basic level, we have a very comprehensive training programme that can be accessed by all of our employees that has a stronger line component. So, we have over 1,000 programmes and learning that are accessible to any of our employees through our internal exchange connections. And then we have different kinds of expertise in areas such as search, mobile, social media, negotiation and buying, for which we have worked on some internal documents and shared. Something we have that is unique is discipline training for mobile, search planners, data analytics and so on. Talent from these areas meet at a quarterly basis every year and exchange notes and experiences on what they are doing in their markets. This allows us to maintain a very consistent level of expertise across all markets by sharing knowledge across markets.
Q. There is change in leadership in India, with the appointment of Mohit Joshi as the India head. What are your expectations from him?
The minimum most expectation would be to meet targets! Every time we have a change in leadership, there is a freshness that comes with it. There is always a degree of race, but knowing Mohit, and given the base that Anita has left, there is great opportunity for us in India. I would expect we do everything we do, and get into, with a fresh approach. We offer solutions to advertisers with fresh eyes. One of the key points would be to work thoroughly on Meaningful Brands. We are focussing very aggressively on that globally, on what it means and how it changes the way we should be planning for advertisers. India, from the surveys and the work that we have done, is a very receptive market, which is ripe for this type of proposal. I would expect we push hard on that. That is a piece of differentiation for our company and for our group, which will allow us to make a statement in the marketplace.