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Steve King

Global CEO | 18 May 2012

ZO is second or third largest business globally, it is the number one brand in the US and it is in the top three brands in most of the key markets. I am pleased with what we did last year in India but we need to push harder, invest in people and training, invest in technology and explore options such as acquisitions to grow further, because arguably India is going to be the fastest growing market in the next 10 years.

ZenithOptimedia (ZO) India had a robust 2011 and the agency’s growth story was no different at the global level. ZO began the year 2012 with the new positioning, Live ROI, which built on ZO’s proposition of being the ROI (return on investment) agency. At present, ZO is amongst the top three players in quite a few markets and the ambition is to achieve the same in India. In April 2012, company unveiled a comprehensive global rebrand across all ZenithOptimedia Group companies including Zenith, Optimedia, Performics and other to reflect the new positioning.

Steve King, Global CEO, ZenithOptimedia Group speaks to Noor Fathima Warsia on the new positioning and various steps the agency will take to bring it closer to its ambition in India.

Q. The year 2011 was good for ZenithOptimedia in India. Was it as per your expectations?

The year was good but we can do so much more in India. I suspect most of our competitors say this too but we are not where we need to be. If I see us in the other markets, we are amongst the top three players, we have the best leadership in the markets and we have three of the top 10 clients in most markets. In India, we have strong leadership and some very good clients but we do not have the scale that we need to have. We are getting there and making good progress but India is still very much an investment market for us, if you saw in a relative position.

Q. By that you mean because globally ZO is a very strong brand?

Yes, ZO is second or third largest business globally, it is the number one brand in the US and it is in the top three brands in most of the key markets. I am pleased with what we did last year in India but we need to push harder, invest in people and training, invest in technology and explore options such as acquisitions to grow further, because arguably India is going to be the fastest growing market in the next 10 years.

Q. Which market surprised you the most with its pace of growth last year?

North America. We had a very strong year and the economy was much better than we had anticipated. We did well in Western Europe and won the biggest account move in the UK last year, which was the RBS retail bank business. We knew we would do well in China, so that was on track. Our businesses on the whole were 30-40 per cent larger last year than what they were three to four years back. We have had some very pleasing results despite the terrible downturn of 2009...

Q. ...And the downturn is back, according to people, and this time it is expected even in markets such as India and China. Are you sensing that too?

Our advertising forecast this year said that global ad spend would be at 4.8 per cent and that is an increase from what we had forecasted in December 2011. The economy is on a tough spot but the advertising expenditure is not reflecting it and there are a few reasons for that. We have one-off events such as US Elections, the Olympics and the Opening Soccer Championships. They will add 1.5 percentage points to global ad spends. Also, advertisers, unlike three years ago, have got rid of their debt, have got cash and are looking to invest in their brands. Consumers are feeling the recession but it is not impacting ad spends.

Q. How is the Reckitt Benckiser business shaping up in India? It is still perceived to be a loss making proposition for ZO.

I am obviously not going to comment on that or on any client’s profitability. Reckitt is a tough client but clients can be tough - what is wrong with that.

Q. Let’s speak a bit on how VivaKi has worked for you in bringing additional growth impetus in a market like India?

Srikant Sastri (Country Chair, VivaKi India) has brought stronger focus – we are much more strategic in the way that we are looking to grow the market. We are better able to attract and retain talent. And we are able to develop tools and systems, which we know we can work with across platforms and grow the businesses such as Starcom MediaVest Group, Digitas and ZO. It has helped in accelerated and consolidated growth.

Q. How are clients responding to your new positioning of Live ROI?

The execution is much cleaner and simpler and so far, we have great feedback from everyone. We are still the ROI agency, which is a strong position to have because it only becomes more important with every passing day but Live ROI takes the game up. It is about dynamic engagement, real time measurement and active understanding. We have developed a suite of tools and processes and it is very exciting. In fact, if you visit ZenithOptimedia in Gurgaon, you would see our new logo and you will feel the energy.

Q. You made an interesting addition with Performics last year. What are the plans on bringing in Optimedia to India and differentiating it as second brand from Zenith?

That is something we may do in India but it is likely to happen when we feel there is a clear upside in doing it. The final objective is to make ZenithOptimedia Group stronger in India.

Q. There is quite a bit that we have been reading about the various steps you are taking to train your talent globally. What is the thought process there?

Talent is the single most important thing in our business and it is a big area of focus for us. There are all kinds of things that we are focussing on like growing our digital capability, even though we have one of the largest digital task force there is but it still is not where we want to be. We are doing a lot more, we have a global head of digital and we are working on getting more experts not just at junior level but at senior level and these people don’t exist. So the only way we are going to hire these leaders was to hire, train and retain. And this is happening across markets. In a sense, that is one talent initiative we have put in place. There is a lot more we are doing for our talent this year. We have a programme called ‘Live my Life’, which engages generally the younger members of the team. We orchestrate a competition internally and we take a number of talented potential executives for a month to another market of their choice. And they get to experience everything about that market – the lifestyle, the work culture - everything. We introduced it last fall and it has been fantastic. Our clear aim with all this is to be recognised as the best media agency to work for.

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