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Despite lull, India’s global AdEx share expected to remain strong: John Sheehy, Starcom

Dynamic content, data and commerce remain strategic growth drivers for Starcom, said Sheehy, Starcom’s Global Brand President, during a conversation with exchange4media

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Updated: Feb 27, 2020 10:12 AM
John Sheehy, Starcom

In an era where procurement-influenced pitches are becoming more competitive with fees under scrutiny and media agencies being unduly squeezed, John Sheehy, Starcom’s Global Brand President, feels that it all boils down to providing additional value to clients, something that he believes has worked incredibly for Starcom in an otherwise turbulent media-agency landscape.

“A lot of this additional value comes from helping clients organize their data upfront through a common taxonomy and nomenclature, being their consultant when identifying the right third-party data partnerships to pursue, and eventually leveraging their first-party data in combination with third party data to be able to do more personalization-at-scale. In recent years we’ve become more creative in how we provide additional value to our clients. All in all, this allows us to make better decisions for our clients resulting in greater value and better business results,” he said in a conversation with exchange4media.

On the sidelines of his visit to India, Sheehy spoke of how India remains one of the top 10 markets globally in terms of billings for Starcom, the mandate for the team in India, the agency’s Human Experience distinction and more.

Edited excerpts below:

What brings you to India?
In my role as Global Brand President of Starcom, I spend a great deal of time traveling in the various markets we operate, connecting with leaders, clients and talent in the market. We are a globally connected network of more than 70 markets, and it’s always exciting to see how our offices around the world are unlocking growth for clients, cultivating top talent, expanding offerings or capabilities and delivering on our Human Experience proposition.

Tell us about how India as a market for Starcom is different from both a talent and market standpoint?
Starcom India is Starcom’s second largest APAC market and one of our top 10 markets globally in terms of billings. We bring strong global connectivity and a deep understanding of the Indian consumer, which is a key differentiator for our global clients operating in India and for local clients.

India is a robust and vibrant media market with over 900 channels and 17,000 newspapers operating and significant YoY media spend growth. Despite the current economic slowdown, India is expected to remain one of the strong contributors to the global adex. Mobile consumption is expected to go upwards with falling data prices, increased mobile penetration in tier 2 and 3 markets, availability of low-cost handsets, eventual entry of 5G networks and explosion in vernacular content formats.

Over the last few years, India has witnessed an exponential growth in internet usage. After China, India is the biggest online market in the world, with over 560 million internet users. It is equivalent to the combined strength of Indonesia, Brazil, Nigeria and Japan, which are also among the top 10 internet consuming countries in the world. By 2021, India is expected to have over 600 million internet users, more than double the number of users in 2016.

India is witnessing unprecedented change and digital transformation, and in many cases, mirrors global trends. For instance, an ever-increasing appetite for video consumption, OTT, e-commerce and gaming – all growing at a phenomenal pace. India is a significant market for all global players such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, Spotify and Disney.

All of these factors make it a really exciting time for our industry and we see that impacting talent as well. As our clients’ marketing transformation journeys continue and when we consider the complexities of the India market, having a diverse workforce with vast skillsets is key. In addition to media strategy and planning, having experts in programmatic, data engineering, data sciences, production, e-commerce, consulting and development and more is essential.

What is your mandate for the team back here in India?
The mandate for Starcom India is clear: Unlock growth for clients by being an indispensable change agent and partner on their digital transformation journeys. It is also imperative that we continue to deliver great work and product that drives meaningful business outcomes for our clients and attract top talent.

We have an incredible Starcom leader here in Rathi Gangappa, Starcom India’s CEO. Under her leadership, Starcom India has won key new business, cultivated an enviable client roster, attracted top talent and more. The team here has recently secured a number of key wins including Upgrad, RealMe Mobiles, Ola, Nykaa, Zivame and Cholayil, so the key is keeping that growth momentum going.

We’ve also recently attracted top talent such as Anil Shankar, who was appointed as Vice-President, Digital Media Solutions at Starcom India in January. We’ll need to continue to attract and retain top talent like Anil, while also nurturing their development.

In terms of product, Starcom India has consistently delivered best-in-class work for our clients. I was wowed by a recent work - Project Pragati for Dabur, which is an inspiring analytics case where Starcom teams created a holistic data-driven approach to investment decisions across Dabur’s 36 brands and multiple markets. I also loved our recent Jeep Bollywood Trails campaign, an outstanding content integration piece for Fiat Chrysler. An exceptional travelogue, the show features prominent Bollywood filmmakers who narrate their stories and experiences, through iconic film spots and locations. All the travel in the show happens via the Jeep and the show positions the legendary Jeep SUV as the ultimate travel-machine.

I love these pieces of work because they are people-centric and deliver both human and business outcomes. We’ll need to stay relentlessly focused on delivering great work that fuels growth for our clients’ businesses.

Over time, the industry is witnessing more agency consolidation with digital and creative. Industry observers have opined that media too should be returned to single, integrated agencies. What do you think about that?
No doubt collaboration and connectivity between data, creative and media is essential. Given our clients’ transformation journeys, this is key to being a client-centric organization. That said there are also distinct areas of capability, expertise, strategic partnerships and more that different agencies and leaders bring to the table. Therein really lies the Power of One. Publicis Groupe’s bespoke model brings the best in breed from across media, creative and technology to unleash creativity and deliver personalized experiences at-scale for consumers. We continue to break down silos to ensure all efforts are collaborative in service of our clients. And without a doubt, Power of One is a proven, successful model. Clients see great value in it and we’re winning business because of it.

One of your key clients Dabur has called for a pitch.
We cannot comment on in progress reviews and defer all comments to Dabur.

Starcom defines itself as the Human Experience Company. How important is Starcom’s Human Experience distinction going forward and how does the human experience dovetail with digital transformation?
Driven by digital transformation and the proliferation of technology, people are empowered like never before. That is why our purpose as the Human Experience Company is more relevant than ever. It’s about people and understanding where they are headed; it’s about seeing the person behind the data point. Through our proprietary HX approach, we help brands to meet people as human beings, on their terms, with experiences that are valuable to them. To do so, we harness the power of media, data and technology to create experiences people love and actions brands need. Ultimately, it’s about creating the right human outcomes and business outcomes – both of which I see as indispensable in our tech-enabled world.

To what extent does in-housing remain a threat to agencies today? Critics have also predicted the decline of media agencies ever since the questions rose about them being ‘disintermediated’ by tech giants.
Certainly it’s something clients are evaluating. Where clients do in-house, many continue to look to us as a strategic resource and partner. We also see clients boomeranging back to an agency model after trying in-housing. So it can be an iterative process. I do think there are clear benefits to working with an agency that are difficult to replicate in-house. This includes a unique programmatic approach, depth of talent and expertise, our verified and rigorous processes, industry vetting and more. I think that’s why marketers note the importance of the agency role in delivering on their marketing strategies. According to the ANA’s in-housing survey, 90 per cent of marketers cited they still work with agencies (Source: ANA In-housing survey). Ultimately, it’s about how we bring them value.

What are your target areas and expectations in terms of growth numbers as we go forward?
Starcom’s human experience proposition combined with the scale and expertise of Publicis Groupe’s Power of One model is unlocking growth for clients and growth for Starcom - globally and in India. While I can’t share specific numbers, we see dynamic content, data and commerce as strategic growth drivers for us and our clients. Let me elaborate further on the opportunities that exist within each of these areas.

First, data. Data is an accelerant to creating human connections. We must harness it to be more insightful and drive the right outcomes for our clients – both human and business outcomes. Second, dynamic content. Underpinned with a strong data strategy, we’re helping our clients distribute content that is tuned into people’s shifting behaviours, interests and preferences. Lastly, commerce. No questions, technology has transformed the retail experience. Where we shop, how we shop and where we seek inspiration is changing. We’re helping our clients transform their e-commerce strategies to meet this evolution.

When you take a step back, this is all about being critical change agents for our clients and fuelling their marketing transformation journeys. That will be the key to growth going forward.

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