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Our team in India is a hungry bunch: SMG's John Sheehy

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Our team in India is a hungry bunch: SMG's John Sheehy

John Sheehy, President – Global Operations, Starcom MediaVest Group (SMG) is a man on a mission. He aims to further integrate SMG’s Human Experience practice across the ecosystem.

For over 20 years, Sheehy has inspired both, creative and media teams to form better and 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.

In an exclusive interview with exchange4media on his visit to India, Sheehy and SMG’s India CEO Mallikarjunadas CR talk about the data analytics advantage of SMG, the agency’s approach to attracting new talent, renewed emphasis on training, decrease in attrition rates and more...

Given SMG’S data and analytics focus, how do you counter the question of why a media agency is handling data and analytics as opposed to a consultant?
Sheehy: The ability and need to respond accurately in real-time and make the required changes are what a media agency can do, driving higher efficiency and effectiveness for clients. Especially, when you have a client that is tuned into this, it is very dynamic. We see this across our biggest clients such as Microsoft, P&G etc.
Malli: That hits the nail on the head. Today the feedback loop from what you have found out to then going and executing it, is crucial. There cannot be any delay in closing the feedback loop. We are the only guys who can execute things in real-time; we not only understand data but can also action the insights. Any knowledge which is not executed in real-time is useless, it is like stale food.

HES (Human Experience Strategy) and analytics make us a twin powered jet with digital at the core. We take into account that the mind is non-linear; there is a very strong qualitative aspect to the way we go about decision-making. As consumers, we want to understand the extremely deep and fine nuances that our HES practice gives us. At the same time, we know we are dealing in an era of Big Data and you need big math to deal with Big Data. That is where our analytics practise comes in.

What stands out about India for you?
Sheehy: Having spent the last 24 hours with the team, what has emerged is just how fast transformation is taking place. From strategy, to execution, to innovation – all parts are being put in place. That kind of an owner-operative mentality is really different from the developed markets. We are also able to make changes dynamically because we are still small enough in numbers. The consistency in terms of how it all links up to the global piece, the orchestration of how we all act collaboratively, consistently and collectively, is pretty remarkable for India. Our team in India is a hungry bunch, with new energy and new ambition growing every month.

How is SMG dealing with the talent crunch faced by the industry?
Malli: We have been able to attract talent quite successfully in the last 11 months, both in terms of our Human Experience Strategy and our analytics practise.

This industry has gone through cycles as far as talent is concerned. We are a talent crunched industry. I suppose the number of media planners is lesser than the number of tigers in the country.

What we have focussed and done successfully is get new and different kinds of talent, which can sink into our culture and also bring in new knowledge. For example, we are probably one of the few agencies that goes to the Indian Institute of Management and Indian Statistical Institute for recruitment. On the product side, we get absolutely the right people with the right credentials and this has raised the bar. We also get subject matter experts; this has really paid off for us. It also re-energises people in the system, as we are talking a different language now.
Training is often seen taking a back seat. What is SMG doing in this regard?
Malli: Training is generally not given adequate importance in this industry. We have really formalised the importance of training, and we are giving functional training its due importance. For something like the non-sexy part of our advertising like TV planning is given huge importance. With the kind of training we do, we ensure the TV plans we deliver are rigorous; we use analytics to understand TV data of our clients. We need to make sure all our employees are on top of the issues facing our industry today.

We also conduct leadership training to make sure we are grooming people into larger roles, as well as soft skills. In the last one and half year, we have made training a very important part of our culture.

Are you seeing a decrease in your attrition rates?
Sheehy: We manage our attrition rate globally and it has decreased when compared to 2012.  The reason for this is we have a compelling culture globally, which manifests itself locally. Diversity of work culture stimulates our environment; it is not a commodity business, but an ideas business. It is innovation; we’ve gone from services to making products. Maybe the industry is attracting the right kind of people. Nonetheless, globally attrition rates are moving in the right direction for us.

How has Convonix added to SMG’s work culture?
Sheehy: Convonix also brought in a very disciplined approach to training. It recruits from all the top engineering schools. The rigour the company puts its people through each initiative – from cross training and meticulous planning – is great.

Malli: Convonix comes in with its own engineering culture. We are benefitting from its best practises and vice versa.

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