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Jim Elms

Global CEO | 04 Oct 2013

We are making big strides in analytics. We are going beyond our competition and using analytics to understand the most efficient channels and the most effective vehicles. We are going beyond that to see how we can evaluate from a quantitative perspective content opportunities for certain genres of television and certain insights around our audiences that we can leverage back into our target insights so we can literally feel becoming better at targeting by knowing what’s working.

Jim Elms is the Global CEO of Initiative, one of Interpublic Group’s two worldwide media networks and part of the company’s IPG Mediabrands unit. Elms is responsible for the agency’s global strategy, direction and operations.

He has held several positions of increasing authority within the IPG Mediabrands network, including most recently acting as IPG Mediabrands’ Chief Strategy Officer. Prior to that role, he served as the Global Chief of Strategy and Insights at UM. Throughout his career, Elms has developed a reputation for inspirational and creative thinking by ensuring a relatable, human element in the media business. Prior to joining the IPG Mediabrands family, he held high level strategic positions at Wieden+Kennedy, Barkley, and Grey Worldwide.

Through his career that spans over 20 years, Elms has contributed to several advertising campaigns, from the inception of the ‘Got Milk’ masterpiece to numerous world-renowned Nike campaigns. His client portfolio includes ABInbev, Sonic Drive-ins, Procter & Gamble, Exxon Mobile, Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, E*Trade, Canon, Porsche and Dairy Queen, among many others.

In conversation with Rashi Bisaria, Elms speaks at length about the four principles that power Initiative’s approach, the importance of analytics, India’s digital capabilities and more...

Q. Everyone is upbeat about the Asia-Pacific market. What about you?

We are very optimistic about the region and the opportunities for Initiative in this region. This is my first trip to our Delhi office, and after meeting with the team and seeing some of the work that we do, I am leaving the market even more impressed than when I arrived. We have a strong team and the work that we are doing will continue to provide leadership here.

Q. Initiative works on four principles – Fast, Brave, Decisive, and Simple. Could you explain how each of these is followed on a day-to-day basis?

A few months ago, we decided to give our culture a little bit of a refresh. So, we have adopted the four principles because we wanted to stand for something rather than just being a media buying company. We wanted to have a code of conduct for how we behave as partners to our clients. The concept is based on the notion of barefoot running – which is a story about the evolution of shoes and how in the beginning of time we could walk barefoot and we could feel the soil beneath our feet, we could run faster, but then were added layers of complexity around that, with shoes and laces and airbags.

Similarly, we have added complexities to our business. We have added new tools that have fancy names and layers of process that are not necessary. To live up to the notion of barefoot running, we came up with the four principles, which is what we represent. So we have developed rules by which we engage within our company. For example, to make things faster, if we have a meeting and we have 10 people that are involved, typically we can take a couple of weeks to get everyone’s schedule together. If we can get half of those people in two days, we’ll go ahead and have the meeting to save time and then we have prepared a way to share the results of the meeting with the people who missed it. It can keep a lot of momentum going.

To give you an example of ‘Simple’, we had a process which was very rigorous and had 21 steps and several tools involved and took weeks. We streamlined that process into three very accelerated steps that focused on the key elements of what matters to business and two mandatory tools – first one is a consumer insights tool and the second one is a media allocation tool. Thus, the process can be completed in just a couple of days. When people have more pressure to make decisions, they come up with better and more creative decisions.

Q. Analytics and insights are a key component of Initiatives’ services. How important is analytics for the media and advertising world today?

It is critical and a must-have for agencies and good marketing partners. We are making big strides in analytics. We are going beyond our competition and using analytics to understand the most efficient channels and the most effective vehicles. We are going beyond that to see how we can evaluate from a quantitative perspective content opportunities for certain genres of television and certain insights around our audiences that we can leverage back into our target insights so we can literally feel becoming better at targeting by knowing what’s working.

Q. How has the transition been from Chief Strategy Officer to Global CEO?

It has been very interesting. It’s been fun and there are certain aspects of it that I absolutely love. I love being the leader in terms of the culture and the ideas, which is my specific charge. I am very involved in building critical tools, and inspiring the all embracing initiative around the world of building the culture around FBDS. I was a bit pensive at first, but the more I understand the opportunity, the more I enjoy it.

Q. Things are changing very fast around us in terms of technology, etc. How has Initiative kept pace with the changes?

We keep up in a few different ways. We have the world’s largest global consumer panel, called Connections Panel, which allows us to understand the very specific behaviours and attitudes of audiences around the world, so that keeps us refreshed. The other element of the Panel is that we can go and do very quick turn surveys, so if there is a very topical question, we can tap into our panel and ask very client-specific queries and understand how different audiences might respond to ideas and strategies. The other side is that in the new process, teams must experience the product. In Canada, we have a cake mix client and the team is required to go and shop in shelves, look at the competition, purchase the product, make a cake, taste the cake, so that’s a real hands-on experience. We get very immersed in our brands and our products. We encourage our people to go out and experience culture and do what they love. So, whether they love music, concerts, poetry – we foster an environment that supports that. We really encourage people do work on businesses they love, because that’s how they get their best ideas.

Q. How are resources shared among IPG Mediabrands network?

As part of the realignment, there is much more opportunity to do that. We have the three main brands, which are Initiative, UM and BPN, and then we have all the companies that provide speciality services. The new structure is such that brands have a single point of contact for all of those resources, which makes it easier for clients to access the resources they need. These services are highly specialised and share best practices around the world.

Q. Do you think India is posing a challenge to the rest of the world?

During my trip in India, I am challenged by all of the opportunities that exist here, and it is more about prioritising and rallying our energies to tap into these opportunities. It’s a very complex market; very large and important market for any agency and network. Fortunately, we have an amazing team here. I am able to take back so much great thinking to global central sharing. A lot of our leading edge thinking is coming from this market.

Q. People say that India is lagging behind in digital capabilities. How can we improve in this sphere?

There are so many opportunities in India within the digital mobile space and so much freedom in this country to really expand that. Some of the work that Initiative is doing here is leading Initiative global, so my sense is that you are not behind at all, in fact, you have so much the rest of the world can learn from.

Q. What are some of the trends that you are seeing emerging in the media and advertising space?

The three big trends that we are all grappling with – that Initiative has a particular focus on – are around the space of consumer insights and helping brands connect with people. Analytics will continue to be of utmost importance. The third is the content space. Media companies are becoming adept at leveraging relationships so that we can take our partnerships and insights to new levels and provide brands with really solid messaging platforms, which when connected to our analytics and insights can only get more exciting.

Q. With Amazon, Initiative celebrated a big win after a tough couple of years. How are you planning to be aggressive on the business front in terms of new wins?

We’ve had a really good year so far. Amazon was one global pitch that we were lucky to win; we are in another global pitch right now. We are very optimistic with new business in the future, primarily because of our FBDS positioning. In our global pitch, our position really set us apart from the competition and helped us connect with the client at a cultural level, a big part of why we ended up winning that. The new process we have is structured to be faster, braver, decisive, and simple. As our teams use that approach, the ideas have so much more energy. People are very invigorated with the process. It has totally opened our scope in terms of types of ideas, which are valid, coming from our space. Based on Amazon win, we are carrying a lot of energy and are using that to inspire our future approach.

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