In a candid conversation with Priyanka Mehra, John Sheehy, President, Global Operations, Starcom MediaVest Group (SMG), talks about SMG being awarded Media Network of the Year at the Cannes 2014, what went wrong for the agency in India last year, his belief in the SMG team and their relentless efforts, new and renewed focus areas for the group, and more….
What went behind Starcom MediaVest Group being awarded Media Network of the Year at the Cannes Lions 2014?
What you are seeing started a couple of years ago with our purpose of being the human experience company and creating experiences that matter. Importantly, I think that journey started with looking at where we had to go as a company, investing in our human experience centre in a deeper and engaging way, and investing in digital, including social, mobile and looking at data analytics, to ensure we are looking at ROIs. These things have added to our client’s success and subsequently ours. With stronger consumer insights, we partner better because we are thinking experiences, and having broader and more meaningful conversations with our clients that are more impactful.
We are able to bring in partners whether it is Facebook or another local partner to amplify the ideas in the market place. SMG was named the Most Effective Agency and Most Effective Agency Network by the Effie Index at the North American Effie Awards. In April, SMG was awarded Agency Network of the Year at the Festival of Media Global Awards in Rome for the second year in a row, which shows our investment is paying off. I say this with humility. That is why we get excited with what we do, also credit to the partners we work with.
That having being said, going forward we will be discussing what we could have done better and doubling the efforts, it is kind of the relentless push, not to get complacent, after all every year it just gets tougher.
We also have a global product committee with around 35 of our most talented people who get together and critically score the work and talk about which cases are working and why; so there is a lot of backbone that goes behind the award submission, and there is constant look at our product and how we are evolving it.
Awards and recognition certainly don’t happen by accident, and certainly won’t happen again, if we are not staying hungry, and keep pushing forward.
Whilst SMG has wins include 34 wins and 120 shortlists, APAC and India did not see enough representation?
We are a challenger brand in India and don’t have a dominant foot print as of now. We have made a lot of progress with Convonix and what they are being recognised for.
Our traditional foot print in India isn’t where we would like it to be and we may get over shadowed by agencies like GroupM, Madison and PHD, this fires us to do even better. We are focused on India in creating our future, we are investing in the future with digital and data analytics strengths. We would like to have better scale, but when you don’t have that, it forces you to get ahead on another curve. If you dig deeper you will see, new business wins on Convonix which may not mean big brand names but a robust portfolio, there is also a larger scope of work we are doing for our global network clients, Aarti Bharadwaj and her team are powering a lot of work for Coke and P&G, Kellogg, with projects which may not be visible to the outside world but underpin our product capability as we look to use India as a solid hub, there has been significant progress in the last two years.
SMG in India hasn’t had a great one year in the marketplace, there have been changes in leadership as well, how is this looking like going forward?
We took a step backwards, certainly not intentionally with the noise in the market place, and Samsung unfortunately was part of that and we are putting that behind us in a very clear and determined way. But that has put us in a need to establish ourselves both internally and externally, as well as with regards to the belief and trust in our product. We have addressed the issues. Some of it was just noise, the rest was fundamentals that we need to get back and refocus on. That is behind us, from a product integrity stand point; the reputational piece is what we need to work on re- establish and build trust. We are after that with existing clients and new business pitches, and having seen and been involved in some of the pitches, we have a very strong leadership core team. This includes Hanley King, Mallikarjun Das, Vishal Sampat and I feel confident this team can handle clients with world class capability. It is now about just getting those opportunities as we build back smartly, and go after the right type of clients but that is going to be the footprint for our success, we may not have the breadth we want right now, but we have the core critical mass to be able to make a difference to the clients we serve and we are doing that with digital, and data analytics.
And we have no doubt we have assembled the right kind of people for this, we will see the momentum and efforts of this year come in by early next year. Prior to last year we had won close to twenty five new businesses, and quite frankly we needed to consolidate that.
The Convonix numbers are ahead in the game when it comes to clients, and this is feeding into our full service capability and more importantly building into the search capability. Where we are positioned for the future is right, it is not going to be quick but it is going to be sustainable.
Our desire is go back and bring Samsung into the fold, same for all the other clients.
In the meantime we are opening up the conversation to our global client base on the back of our analytic strengths and digital capabilities. With Malli, Vishal and Hanley at core you will see a lot more business come in from the clients we are targeting.
What did not go right for the agency last year?
We had a look at our trading practise the way it was built in the Vivaki model that and made sure, it was fundamentally sound, the manner in which the background operations were working has been addressed . There weren’t major issues but they were areas we had to fundamentally strengthen. It wasn’t the most consistent of times for us, as we had some changes with people going on as well and it exasperated the issue, and loss of the Samsung business took on a new scale in the conversation.
Not an ideal storm but we had to move forward on the front foot.
While this was happening we had Convonix winning new businesses with its strong 3500 people team.
Aarti and her team were strengthening the Centre of Excellence and you are seeing this in the awards India is getting internally. You combine this with Malli who is recognised in the market place as one of the best product people with an inherent passion for his client’s brands. I have been with them in business pitches. It is very convincing and energising. It gives me a lot of confidence we are on the right path, we are not declaring any victories we will see that when the new business comes. We are always restless to do better.
How would you define SMG India’s new approach?
At the heart of it remains the belief of following the consumer, making sure we have the strategic planning to look at the market place, and get after that.
Investment – reach is being done in different ways in India, you need more sophisticated tools to build reach our planning capability where our client’s dollars need to focus. Putting visibility and focus on that has been an important conversation. With the same amount of dollars you are able to reach many more people in a more significant way.
Lastly is the optimisation capability of how are all these things working in a market place where the data infrastructure is not as robust as a well established market.
Data knowledge is critical for our clients, if you can be the first one to understand reach curves in a better way, you can be the first way to understand how to invest dollars and mitigate the market changes. Those are compelling advantages for our clients.
What are the growth targets for SMG India?
For all our emerging markets we are looking at growth two times the pace of the industry. That is going to be a challenge looking at how we went into this year. Hanley and Malli are going to have to sign up for some big growth numbers next year. 2015 will see a significant upside, I think 2015 will be for us what middle 2013 was, with a lot of new business.