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Of client relations & talent: ZO’s CEO Steve King on India ops

05-July-2011
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Of client relations & talent: ZO’s CEO Steve King on India ops

ZenithOptimedia India has had a good year with wins like Honda Siel, Toshiba, AMD, OLX and Unicharm coming in the last few months. The company had also made a significant appointment in April 2011, when Roopam Garg was brought from ZO’s London operation to India as Chief Operating Officer. The agency had ended 2010 on an interesting note when Reckitt Benckiser was geared to move its media duties to the agency and industry conversations were about ZO losing money on that business in India, given the pitch clauses. Winning or not, the one thing ZO has not been is ‘out of mind’ in India.

Needless to say, Steve King, Global CEO, ZenithOptimedia, is very “happy” with the progress of the agency in India so far, which, despite its late entry, is already amongst the top five contributing markets to ZO’s global revenues. In a conversation with exchange4media, King speaks on India operations and the two-pronged growth strategy of the company.

On ZenithOptimedia India...
I am very happy with our progress in India. Sometimes it is hard to believe how far we have come in the last five years. We were virtually nonexistent and now we are becoming a key player in the market. India has been in the top four or five markets for us, and we would need to continue to grow and invest to support India to become a dominant player, which we believe we would soon achieve.

On the strategy ahead...
The way we see it, we have to continue to do two things -- we have to maintain excellent client relationship, and it is equally imperative that we make sure we have the best talent in the marketplace. You may have observed but every six months, we look at augmenting our talent base by either recruiting locally or looking in the network and doing things like moving back expats from India or in some cases from other territories to the market. For some, there is a sense that we are overinvesting in India, and we are going to continue to do, also because we started late in the market.

On Zenith and Optimedia...
In various markets, we run Zenith and Optimedia as separate brands with very distinct identities. Our experience has been that it helps deepen client relationships in certain cases and offers you flexibility at times too. While that is something that we may consider for India, but you would not see us do anything in the short term - not in 2011, for sure.

On VivaKi...
Yes, some of the changes at the group level have really helped individual operations. Vivaki Exchange, for instance, is helping ZO, making it a very strong part of our offering. Ambika (Srivastava) knows the business very well and in Ambika and Mona (Jain) we have a very strong team in VivaKi Exchange that works closely with a very strong team in ZO.

On competing with Starcom...
I think it is healthy. If you were in a race, it is better to have two ways of winning than one.

On whether Reckitt Benckiser has been a tough client and a good business...
All clients are tough right now, typically in markets such as India, which are seeing inflation and increased competition. There is much more pressure given the kind of growth markets these are for clients. And this is another one of the reasons why we are investing so heavily in India, because we have to be much stronger than the other players in these markets.

I am not going to comment on industry speculations, certainly not about a client, but all I would say is that you don’t want to believe everything you hear. We have a very strong business globally -- we were the first media agency and we made long-term decisions. The reason we have the kind of clients we have, is because we support them and work with them in many different markets. They help us in growing our profitability in all markets, and there would be no exception to that.

Parting Words...
The thing for us is that ZO is a late entrant in India - we are a child in India. We were the first media agency to set up globally. We began in the UK way back in 1987, we were the first in China, in America and Continental Europe. We were the first to have separate digital brands. There were one or two markets in which we got off to a late start and India is one of those. Hopefully the learning and experience from the more mature would help us further in India.

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