Advertising Interviews

Neil Stewart

CEO, Asia Pacific | 03 May 2013

Digital has to be our focus area, under that digital space you have got everything – from saying how do I use the data that the digital world is generating to give me better insights, better accountability to help clients put together the data that they already have. The definition of digital is going to change as more of us migrate more of our online behaviour to tablets or handphones. I don’t know yet whether the advertising dollars are necessarily flowing in as quickly to follow our behaviour. But that has certainly been a challenge as an industry for the last 20 years.

Neil Stewart, CEO, Asia Pacific, Maxus is a 25-year marketing and advertising leader, with experience in change management and delivering results. He currently leads Maxus, part of GroupM/ WPP, in APAC, with over 700 people across 14 offices. Stewart’s previous roles include 10 years in regional and local agency management positions - leading telco and IT related clients. He has also had over 10 years of marketing and product management roles at Motorola, Compaq and FMCG categories in Australia and across SEA, India, MENAT region.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Priyanka Mehra, Stewart talks about Maxus India’s contribution to the APAC revenues, leadership at Maxus India, the agency’s new digital innovation hub and more...

Q. India being an important market for Maxus, where does it stand in contribution to APAC revenues?

If I look at Maxus across the world, India is in the top 10 markets across the Asia-Pacific. For us, Maxus India is a jewel in the crown when it comes to not just the size and the scale of business, but the quality of business as well.

From an APAC perspective, from among the countries that I look after, India would be in the top three in terms of revenue and importance to our business.

Q. Can we expect structural changes from Maxus India in the near future?

Structurally we are always looking at how we get our best people aligned to deliver value to our clients, and building our data and adding a greater level of expectation from our digital teams. Our aim is to make it easy for clients to manage capabilities on getting deep specialisations in SEOs and mobile. I’ll be very honest and say that I don’t think we have cracked the model yet. We are experimenting in different countries, to say do we have a head of data and analytics for example, and do we embed people with data and analytic skills into our existing digital teams. Do we create an effectiveness practice, which helps us with the real time data, plus the historical business. We are trying a few different approaches at the moment.

Q. Are there any structural changes on the anvil for the leadership team in Maxus India?

Two words that I would use to describe the leadership in India are stability and the breadth. In an industry which tends to be dynamic, we are very fortunate to have both. Ajit over the years has managed to build a team of people geographically and competencies wise.

Q. How has the agency’s consumer centric Relationship Media (RM) optimised the India operations?

When we first defined our planning process four years ago, India already had very strong planning capabilities and clients who were saying show me your process, the India team absolutely leapt on to relationship media as our planning process. In simple words, our planning process gets the client from the starting point of a business objective; a level of communication that impacts the consumer in a consistent manner. We have called this RM and have tried to ensure that it encompasses the reality of the media world today. If my consumers are having relationships with different media in the same way they are having with different brands based on time of the day, mood state, behaviours, this can only improve our advice to our clients. It is about recognising that a certain piece of communication can provide utility that people will want to interact with and share, using data as a foundation.

Relationship may have an emotional perception, but it actually is understanding, media consumption, behavioural patterns, role and influence of brands, leading to purchase, and basing informed decisions on this data. Our planning process is new age enough to reflect this; India has embraced this really well.

Q. What are the focus areas for the agency at the APAC level?

Digital has to be our focus area, under that digital space you have got everything from saying how do I use the data that the digital world is generating to give me better insights, better accountability and we have a lot of work being done here and around the world to help clients put together the data that they already have, the transactional data, the store data, the real data that your business generates everyday with the media data, obviously the social data, and put that together into something that is manageable and meaningful. The definition of digital is going to change as more of us migrate more of our online behaviour to our tablet or our handphone. I don’t know yet whether the advertising dollars are necessarily flowing as quickly, to follow our behaviour. But that has certainly been a challenge as an industry for the last 20 years.

Q. What are some of the areas where Maxus India is likely to diversify?

Maxus in India has probably got a broader suite of services, if you look at where media agencies traditionally start with the planning and buying of media space. So you start with the traditional media planning and buying, then over the years you’re adding additional capabilities, especially in the digital space, search, display and network, that we’ve built at the GroupM level, creative, activation, content partnerships, we’ve probably got a very broad suite of those services already in Maxus. One area that we are globally focusing on, which Maxus here in India is playing a role in is in what we call digital innovation. Metalworks is a division that we set up here in Asia, a global capability run by a couple of guys based in Asia Pacific and India is playing a role as a development hub for this digital innovation space. The best way of describing where Metalworks sits is amidst the virtual world, the digital and the physical world. Metalworks is an interesting platform. It is a huge opportunity here in India for clients like Titan who we already work with, we are already doing very adventurous digital work, for Vodafone as well. It is going to be additional capabilities in the core areas that we are already playing, which we are trying to grow and it is often an adventurous client who is going to help us get there and help push us to grow.

Q. Given the dynamic changes that we are seeing in the media landscape, what will be the media agency of the future in your view?

It would be virtual teams of people, and groups of specialist skills that we need to put together in interesting ways to solve our client’s problems. Our client servicing part of the business is absolutely in the front end but if I look at the data side, the digital side and the explosion of digital channels it is unrealistic to assume that every agency is going to be able to deliver, every one of those special skills to every client consistently.

What we have got to get better at; is managing specialist skills and units of specialist capabilities that we brought together into virtual client teams on an ongoing basis. The other shift that we are seeing especially for the largest advertisers, here in India and around the world, is the creation of very closely integrated and dedicated teams. The Nestle team that we are part of and put together in the digital space is a great example where the client has physically given space in their office and to put teams from their own organization, the creative agency, the media agency, the social skills together because the decision making that needs to be made in that digital, social space is real time.

So the agency of the future needs to be a lot less rigid, a lot more flexible, a lot more adaptive which ultimately says the type of people that we need to employ, all of those qualities as well. So that is the exciting piece, we are moving all away from the media agency buried in the back of the office.



With Inputs from Saloni Dutta

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