The thing about Nick Brien is that it does not matter what the topic of discussion is, Nick leaves you with a sense of extreme optimism, and in this case, the subject of chat was the global communication business.
Nicolas Brien, the CEO of McCann Worldgroup, unlike most global advertising agency CEOs, has already made a mark on the media agency business, given his ability to differentiate the practice as most tend to know it. Needless to say, that when he donned the ad agency hat, which is almost for two years now, it has been an interesting watch to see how Nick approached the business. McCann has undergone various changes in 2011 under Nick’s watch.
In a conversation with exchange4media in October 2011, Michael Roth, CEO, IPG Worldwide had singled out McCann Worldgroup as an agency to watch out for in 2012. So obviously, when I meet Nick at The Core Club in New York, the first question on my mind is – what was the thought behind some of these changes and how does Nick plan to approach 2012 so that the agency delivers on IPG’s expectations.
Nick is not ready to answer that yet. All when the time is right, he says. Fair enough, but that does not stop us from discussing what his experience on the ad agency side has been. From the look of it, it has been one exhilarating, hectic ride so far. Advertisers are increasingly said to be more consumed about how their monies are spent and whether the channels they are using for their communication are effective and efficient. But Nick observes that even today, the one big thing on the mind of the advertiser is the brand story – the big idea.
He says, “CEOs want to know what the big idea is because that builds and defines their brands and makes it future ready. Of course the tactics matter but it is the big brand story that matters the most.”
And then Nick asks a question: why are advertisers and agencies in a market like India not looking at building a brand, bottom up. The question connects to the digital spends in India, and the fact that the spends are still not in sync with the growth of the digital users in India. The more I think of it, the more I am short of good examples, where digital was the foundation for the media plan of a brand. Not that we have not seen good work in India – we have seen the likes of Unilever, Nike, Titan, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Vodafone do some interesting work in the digital space but it has always been ‘add on’.
Building brands from smaller markets is another way to build a brand from the bottom up. Nick remarks, “Mumbai and Delhi are not India. Media pundits like you should challenge media practitioners like us to question everything that seems to have become a norm. The biggest risk is to not take a risk at all.”
And perhaps it was a risk of sorts, when Nick instituted the McCann Worldgroup Creative Leadership Council (CLC) and the first Chairperson of the CLC was Prasoon Joshi, who still holds that Chair. The position rotates every 18-24 months and Prasoon will play a part in choosing who the next Chairperson of the CLC should be. Nick has always been, and continues to be, very optimistic on India and the contribution from the market. To have appointed Prasoon as the first CLC Chairperson was yet another indication of that.
By the end of our conversation, some of his energy has once again rubbed off on me and I can understand why Michael Roth had said McCann is an agency to watch out for in 2012. I would have generally added ‘no pressure’ here, but in the case of Nick Brien, there is no need for that!