Advertising Interviews

Matt Blackborn

President - Emerging Markets | 28 Jun 2013

Growing our business is paramount; the reason we cluster emerging markets the way we do is because we see them as a driver of growth for our business. The Indian market is growing and we want to grow disproportionately within the market, we are set to grow at a rapid pace. Even if the rate of growth in the market place drops in terms of GDP growth, our ability to grow is definitely there. India is our fastest growth market.

As President of Emerging Markets at Starcom MediaVest Group (SMG), Matt Blackborn is charged with overseeing emerging markets and driving growth for SMG and its clients in markets such as India, China and Russia. In this role, he drives business development through improved brand strategy, as well as commitment to content, digital and analytics.

Blackborn is a 20-year SMG veteran, dedicating his entire career at either Leo Burnett or SMG. From the inception of Starcom UK in 1999 to the formation of SMG in 2003, Blackborn has lent his expertise and well-rounded global perspective to support both internal and external growth.

Prior to his current role, Blackborn was EVP, Executive Director, Global Client Operations, where he fostered a multi-national client community across brands, including Samsung, Honda, Heineken, Proctor & Gamble and Novartis. He also honed his leadership skills as CEO of MENA, where he stabilised internal operations and created a path for infinite growth.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Priyanka Mehra, Blackborn speaks about how Convonix’s acquisition has given a boost to SMG’s operations, digital medium optimisation in India, and more…

Q. How has the acquisition of Convonix helped in strengthening SMG’s positioning in the digital space in India?

Since we have acquired the Convonix business, the focus on India as a key market for us is absolutely critical, acquiring business in emerging markets is a clearly stated strategy both for Publicis Group and SMG, and it is one of the first digital businesses that SMG has acquired and will integrate into SMG. It gives you an idea of the focus in the market – we want to lead the digital space in India and be seen as having the best digital capabilities. We’ve had a terrific run of growth in the market; the acquisition of Convonix gives us a whole new story and capability. Historically, there has been a tendency to let digital business sit on its own in a group structure, but we are integrating Convonix within SMG’s existing digital capability, which makes it a powerful proposition in the market. The market is recognising this – we started integration in April and are already seeing a positive impact.

Q. What is your perception of digital medium optimisation in India? Do you think India catching up with the rest of the world is just a perception?

It is a peculiar mix; we’ve had capability in India which is world class, we’ve already had our global teams interacting with the Convonix and SMG teams, and the perception is that India will be playing catch up in the digital environment because it is not a developed market.

But actually the specialist digital services in India such as Convonix really stand out; in fact, we are looking to see how we can export some capabilities from India. The perception that emerging markets are following the rest of the world is now misguided; we have a very strong story to tell the rest of the world from India.

Q. What are the strengths in digital from the Indian market that SMG is leveraging globally?

As far as social and web analytics SEO are concerned, there is a level playing field across markets; nobody can legitimately saying they are leading the rest of the world. We’ve scaled capability in India in these areas and we see these areas as key pillars of our growth strategy. The capability in India in data and analytics is world leading. Convonix has bought us some proprietary tools, which we can export to other markets and really learn from.

Q. How is SMG’s proprietary tool – POEM – being used in India?

POEM or Paid Owned and Earned Media is a key tool that focuses on convergence. We see it playing a leadership role in convergence globally. It has been tried and tested with global clients like P&G and Samsung. It will add a new dimension to what we do in India; convergence modelling is market leading.

Q. Are Indian clients open to experimenting with new forms of media?

We got a mix of clients who recognise the need for experimenting and testing; for the rest, we need to lead clients who haven’t necessarily got there. Clients in Mumbai and Delhi have an amazing appetite to try new things. My reason to visit clients is to understand their needs and local relevance. Clients in the financial and travel sectors are particularly open to experimentation in digital because the path of purchase in digital is so clear. I was pleasantly surprised, as we tend to think that local clients will be averse to experimenting.

In fact, Indian clients are more flexible, entrepreneurial and demanding of us. I was hugely impressed with the way clients were asking us to bring new thinking and the way they were asking us to adopt that thinking. It gives me confidence that experimenting ahead of the market for digital is the right one.

Q. What kind of growth do you foresee for the group in India for 2013-14?

Growing our business is paramount; the reason we cluster emerging markets the way we do is because we see them as a driver of growth for our business. The Indian market is growing and we want to grow disproportionately within the market, we are set to grow at a rapid pace. Even if the rate of growth in the market place drops in terms of GDP growth, our ability to grow is definitely there. India is our fastest growth market.

Q. What is SMG approach to the much touted growth driver mobile medium in India?

There will be exponential growth of mobile in India, India still has a low penetration of smart phones, versus feature phones that is changing rapidly Everybody has been talking about mobile being the next growth area for so long , it could easily be the main medium in which the bulk of the population consume media. We’ve done a bulk of work in that direction to understand how consumers are using mobile devices and how brands can intercept consumers. The results are remarkable, clearly there is a massive surge in mobile search and clearly brands are also using it becoming more innovative in their interaction. You cannot translate formats from desktop to mobile,that is wrong. We put the consumer at the heart of everything, to understand how different consumers use medium differently to provide a better brand experience.

Q. What is the kind of focus that you are giving to social in India?

There is danger in companies believing that the way social is used is similar across borders, I don’t think that is the case. Our job is to understand how Indian companies use social. We are at a phase where we are moving from fan acquisition to building interaction. Brands have to have a value exchange; if all you are focusing on is acquisition, which is the initial phase and there is no follow-up on providing value to the consumer, then it is a waste. There is clearly a role for fan acquisition, but if you don’t sustain it with dialogue, you will quickly lose the benefit of acquiring that fan or getting that like. This is true for markets globally.

Q. Do you think ‘big data’ being the latest buzz word has given rise to a lot of misconceptions surrounding data?

There is too much of data for most people to cope with; I feel our role is to find efficient ways to collect the data, but in deriving significant insights from it, there is a danger that the ability to analyse data should not be seen as the end game. Distillation of data to derive insights is the key, and those insights should be used to drive creativity and innovation. If we can do this, we can harness big data. The key word is what you do with it.

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