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MEL VARLEY

Chief Strategy Officer | 03 Sep 2010

"Two things stand out. Content is already quite fluid and there is a culture of creativity and ideas which might not exist everywhere else. So you would think that USA is idea centric but it is not. Often with big countries, implementation becomes so important that strategy becomes less important. India and China to a certain extent are exceptions. The other opportunity here is the database because there is a lot of data and a lot of information and we have been talking about how we can address this as a business."

In her role as Chief Strategy officer, Mel takes responsibility for designing our future business model and for the global development and integration of our product and services. Mel was previously CEO, Europe, Middle East and Africa. Her work focused on building our network capabilities and managing staff and offices in over 50 countries. She also rolled out MEC Interaction and MEC Access across the region. Prior to moving into the CEO role, Mel led Global Solutions, our international client service, across Europe. Here she developed key international relationships with clients including Novartis, Henkel, Visa, BDF and Danone. Mel also led the development and roll out of MEC Navigator, MEC's global operating system and was responsible for the introduction of communications planning to the overall global MEC offer. Before this Mel oversaw the management of MEC MediaLab - our global ROI, insight and development service. Mel began her career as a Marketing Executive at Sainsbury's. She later joined Leo Burnett (latterly Starcom) where she managed blue-chip businesses including Kellogg's, McDonald's, Mercedes, Seven-Up, United Airlines and United Biscuits.

In conversation with Khushboo Tanna and Tasneem Limbdiwala, Mel Varley speaks about the road ahead for MEC, the market strategies and how India fits into her scheme of things.

Q. Is there any specific reason for you to release the study at this juncture?

When I started this job, we created this position of CSO, 10 months ago. We realised that there is so much change going on and we needed to get ourselves organised for the future. So the first thing that I said is that we need to get organised for the future and we need a new ambition for the business and we need some thought leadership to guide us in this journey and that is where this came from. It came from getting ourselves a roadmap for the future.

Q. Was there any specific research that you conducted in some of the countries?

There was no specific research, but we consulted the top 10 countries of the world and got inputs from them into developments that were happening, what were the important things that the clients were looking for and we put that together done brainstorm, had workshops, started writing, sending it back out to the countries to get people's views and comments and brining it back in. So in a sense I was the editor of the material.

Q. Was India a part of that list?

Yes

Q. How long have you been working on the project?

I started work on this project in November last year and we completed the book in June so it was about a 6-7 month project

Q. Globally, clients are ready to spend a healthy amount of their marketing spends in digital. Do you see the same response from Indian clients as well?

The client will increase their spends on digital in India as well. The other interesting thing what we learnt from India is what is happening with mobile. As 3g comes, and mobile devices will become cheaper, I think India, Brazil and Africa will see a leap in the internet and mobile world and social media will be an important part of that. As digital grows, either via internet or via mobile, these will help the digital media grow the engagement of the campaign. It is already allowing the creation of more engagement rather than just awareness.

Q. We have been hearing since a few years that digital is going to be the next big thing and although it is growing quite rapidly, it still hasn�t reached its full potential. What is your prediction for the medium grow in the next couple of years

There are two things that impacted it which are broadband penetration and 3G. During recession, the countries which had clients spending less than 5 per cent of the budget on digital, had been hit by the recession more and in the countries where the spend was over 20 per cent, it went the other way and it boomed. Now we are coming out of recession and clients will be ready to move to digital again.

Q. What are your views about Indian clients?

Two things stand out. Content is already quite fluid and there is a culture of creativity and ideas which might not exist everywhere else. So you would think that USA is idea centric but it is not. Often with big countries, implementation becomes so important that strategy becomes less important. India and China to a certain extent are exceptions. The other opportunity here is the database because there is a lot of data and a lot of information and we have been talking about how we can address this as a business.

Q. India is very nascent as far as the digital medium is concerned. Would you use this as a trail and error medium?

More importantly, we are going to look at India for mobile learning's because India is going to be the first scalable major mobile market. Maybe we can start doing it from next year.

Q. Are you also planning to invest in education consumers about how to use the digital media correctly?

Good question. The one thing that we are doing with consumers is helping government educate about privacy. So to answer your question, yes we have been involved in trying to help develop consumer education. So that is the main area we have been involved. In terms of consumers and the possibilities, the handset providers are doing it quite well.

Q. However, social media is still used quite passively in India and there are hardly a few brands that make full use of this medium. When do we see that improving?

It is impacted by PC penetration and internet penetration and it is not enough of a mass medium to be taken seriously enough by certain agencies. What we have seen is as a market gets to maturity and digital penetration reaches 40- 50 percent, it is started to get more investments. What is interesting about India is that more idea created heritage. It just needs to get that critical mass and maybe that critical mass will come from mobile faster than the internet.

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