Advertising Interviews

John Sheehy

President of Global Operations | 02 Aug 2013

The market growth for India is going to be 8-9 per cent, which is consistent with last year. We see ourselves being ahead of that by two times… In the coming year, you can expect more change, more dynamic partnerships, more ideas, experience, automations, and addressability from us.

For more than 20 years, John Sheehy has inspired both creative and media teams to form better, more collaborative relationships with clients. He worked this alchemy mostly during his many years with sibling agency Leo Burnett, where he developed an entirely new approach to client teams on the Kellogg account. Now, President of Global Operations at Starcom MediaVest Group, Sheehy’s main mission is to further integrate SMG’s Human Experience practice across the SMG ecosystem.

A member of the Publicis family for most of his career, Sheehy has years of experience working alongside his media brethren. Under his purview, Leo Burnett consolidated 100 per cent of the Kellogg business across Europe, Latin America and North America, while increasing the client partnership with other Publicis Groupe sister agencies such as Starcom. He also led the charge to secure new regional and global clients such as Deans/ Whitewave, ConAgra and QXL.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Priyanka Mehra, Sheehy speaks at length about SMG’s digital strategy, India’s place in SMG’s global priority list, keeping ‘human experience’ at the core of all SMG activities and more…

Q. What is the nature of your conversations with marketers in India with regards to increasing digital spends?

The conversations are more about ‘how are we going to do it’ and ‘how do we best get after it’ than about ‘when’. Clients have sat on the sidelines in the past, but not anymore; as we understand from POEM and some of the tools, there is confidence and there is a shift.

A lot of clients out there are being innovative in the way they test and learn; sure, we have some clients who are slower and more cautious with digital, but they are all moving in the right direction. Our challenge is that it swings so fast once they get engaged in there that we need to be two steps ahead or be prepared to move at the same pace with them. The consumers are already there, it is just a matter of us getting there with the technology and making sure we simplify everything in an effective manner.

Q. When it comes to educating marketers about the benefits of digital, who has a bigger responsibility – internet giants like Google, Yahoo and Amazon or the media agencies?

Both have a responsibility, but it also depends on market to market. We are seeing a co-investment that is paying off. We are more effective when we partner with them on behalf of a client’s business. Nobody can do everything independently. It is really about understanding how to create an experience for consumers from beginning to end and it takes a lot of people willing to make that commitment. We have just become the first Google-certified agency in advanced analytics. We have a global deal with Twitter as well.

Q. Where does India feature in SMG’s priority list globally?

Within SMG and Publicis, India is an important market in terms of size, scale and ambition. As a market we are going to invest heavily, both now and in the future, we have aligned our talent and investment behind that.

Proof of that includes the data analytics centre that we are creating here, the Convonix acquisition, and the talent that we are bringing into our human experience centre here.

Q. How much does SMG India contribute to the business globally?

Within the emerging markets, it is the top priority; on the size scale of our business for our operations amongst emerging markets, it is probably third. When you look at our portfolio and see the size of the business in North America, probably 3-4 per cent of our business in total; but the size today doesn’t reflect the ambition that we have for India in the future.

Q. What is the target growth for this year, given the 20 per cent growth that SMG saw in India last year?

The market growth for India is going to be 8-9 per cent, which is consistent with last year. We see ourselves being ahead of that by two times.

Q. What are SMG’s initiatives in the mobile space?

In India, the biggest change is going to come through mobility – not just mobile phone usage, but people’s mobility and what that means. We are working on further enhancing our ability to reach across screens and deliver against that. The Millennial generation globally tends to have three screens and the primary screen is not TV, so we are really focussed on the millennial in terms of the great impact, much like the boomer generation did. It is going to be a big thing to watch out for.

Q. SMG has a big focus on digital, more so with Convonix . In India, we see digital spends coming from the travel and finance sectors. Do you see digital spends from other sectors also going up?

In a world of uncertainty, the certain thing is that we will continue to see significant shifts out of the analogue into the digital. The reasons for this are that we are seeing the impact of reach and an emerging consumer class. According to a recent McKinsey study, in a market like India, there are going to be more ‘haves’ than ‘have-nots’.

Q. How has human experience remained at the core of all SMG’s activities till date?

A big opportunity for us was looking closely at consumers globally and not only on market basis. For the last three years, we have been investing over $10 million a year to develop an understanding capability, leveraging everything – from social footprint to proprietary groups such as youth and moms, in real time to answer the real challenging questions. The HEC (Human Experience Centre) capabilities have paid off in terms of new business insights and existing clients, and has become an inspiration for our planning teams to go and get proprietary insights for our clients. Some of the clients, for instance, are using the insights to give feedback to creative agencies for some of the work. Those are big shifts.

Q. What can we expect from SMG India in the coming year?

With all humility, if we are not changing, we are going backwards. I would expect a lot of change, we would never be complacent in understanding client needs; the rest is making smart investment and partnership choices to best serve those needs. So, from us you can expect more change, more dynamic partnerships, more ideas, experience, automations, addressability; we are facing the pressure everyone is facing – of ‘doing more with less’.

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