Laura Desmond, Global CEO of The Starcom Mediavest Group is “very pleased with progress in India” and expects substantial billings from the practices set up around Insights & Analytics, Digital, and Content – the ‘three big pillars’ of the company’s ‘human experience’ positioning.
SMG had earlier announced its commitment to move beyond the ‘media agency’ tag to become a ‘human experience company’, and set up these practices. “The progress is terrific. Just to give you an idea, three years ago less than five per cent of our billings came from those new pillars; today we are at about 17 per cent and we think we will be at 20 per cent by the end of the year. So, it’s a transformational change,” said Desmond.
“Our growth rate, which is right now about two times the market average, is a great sign that the changes we have made are liked by clients and commercially relevant in the marketplace. So we are happy with our progress,” she added.
Desmond is also very excited about a global centre of excellence (COE) on data analytics in India, considered one of SMG’s critical top 20 markets. “The COE we are starting on data analytics is a best-in-class opportunity for India. India already contributes to the company’s global growth, client reputation and prestige, and the data analytics COE is going to help us take a big step in that space globally,” she stated.
Commenting on the change in leadership in India and what it has done to shore up SMG’s India operations after a turbulent couple of years, Desmond said, “We were happy to send Ravi (Kiran) off well. He had a lovely career with us and we were happy to see him move on to a new chapter in his life. We are very pleased with our progress in India with Srini (Chairman CL Srinivas) as the new leader and the leadership team that he has brought on – Malli (CEO Mallikarjunadas CR) and the rest of the team. In the last 14 months, we have won 18 pitches out of 20, so that’s a pretty good success rate.”
Calling India a high growth marketplace for many of SMG’s multinational clients and a high growth local market, Desmond said India’s contribution to global SMG is not only in terms of growth, but also by way of talent. “Some of our smartest, most diverse people have homes in India and contribute to the global network,” she added.
With the Cannes Lions coming up, awards are at the centre of conversations. So how important are awards for an agency? “Our focus with awards has really been on measuring the impact or the business result. Where we have done that effectively, we have seen that we have got incredibly creative, imaginative and dynamic media work that does very well in awards right from the Effies to Cannes to the festival in Goa. We have a global product committee that meets three times a year... Srini’s team is on that. We measure and track all of our products on effectiveness measures for our clients. But again, our focus is not on creativity but on business-building work,” concluded Desmond.