India is one of the top four global markets for us: Nick Emery, Global CEO, Mindshare

In an interview with exchange4media, Emery talks about Mindshare’s 20 year long journey, the changing role of media agencies, digital transformation and a lot more.

e4m by Naziya Alvi Rahman
Updated: Mar 26, 2018 9:00 AM

He has managed to keep Mindshare--WPP’s first global media agency network-- on the top of the game since its inception in 1997. Nick Emery, Global CEO of Mindshare, who was on a short trip to India for the Mindshare APAC huddle, claims to share an ‘intuitive understanding’ with his India team. In an interview with exchange4media, Emery talks about Mindshare’s 20-year-long journey, the changing role of media agencies, digital transformation and a lot more. Excerpts:

In November 2017, Mindshare completed 20 years. Two decades is quite a landmark, making you one of the oldest firms in the media agency business. What has it meant for you?

It’s just a number. It is important to remind the company who we are. We are a company which is a start-up launched in Asia, still run by the people who started it and designed to service global clients, which is still true of the company. So all those things are still relevant but need to be adapted and enhanced. It’s good to remind people that start-ups can do things that other companies cannot. Companies that have a legacy of being in New York or London tend to be a little less creative in dynamics and lack in ambition. So I’m proud that we’re an Asian company and also proud that we’re a start-up and don’t want to change the company. What we want to do is adapt. Not necessarily that it is 20 years that is important. The excuse to celebrate- that is important.

Sir Martin Sorrell has time and again said he is ‘bullish on India’. Where do you place India as a market in the global scheme of things for Mindshare? Also, how has Mindshare India done as compared to other markets globally?

The way we have structured our business, there are top four global markets and India is one of them. India is also a very creative market. When I talk to PK (Prasanth Kumar) and the team here, there’s always an intuitive understanding and we’re always on the same wavelength in terms of how we are growing and developing business and strategies. It’s almost like we’re twins in terms of the same kind of group approaches and tools and systems. And I see a potential here in the digital market to grow. The way the digital market is growing, there is definitely potential in terms of digital penetration, infrastructure and also growth of digital spends.

There have been some key appointments and change of roles in the Mindshare India in the last few weeks. Anything in particular that has led to these changes? What are the outcomes that you are expecting now?

More of the same because India is an incredibly successful market and you have to constantly adapt, change, promote and recognise people to keep that momentum. So that’s what that does. Also, what I want is what India always does, which proves us globally in terms of examples of what the team always achieves. Every couple of weeks, there is an all-staff email based on some celebration of some Indian award, new business win or structure or change or new campaign. But there is something that I want from all markets, which is great ideas that make a difference to our clients’ businesses.

As Global CEO of a leading agency, what according to you are some of the biggest challenges towards fostering a healthy client-agency relationship in today’s times?

Trust…We have to be our client’s best business partner. You do that by making sure that you are constantly on their side, you’re fighting for them, looking for opportunities to grow their business. All of this stems from growth. They approving what you do as a measure for return on investment. You share their pain and are constantly looking for new ways and interesting ways to go to market. That involves the right people. The people that challenge your questions with the right tools and equipment to do them.

Sir Martin Sorrel termed Google, Facebook as frenemies. Have the frenemies become a larger threat in the last couple of years?

I don’t see them as a threat but there is an analogy on when we see the business 20 years ago. There were big TV barons which were squeezed in the life of our client’s budgets. And now we have big internet giants, who are looking into not only controlling some of the advertising money but also sometimes to destroy their businesses. So as of now we have both anarchy as well as opportunity. So, to conclude, I won’t say that they are a threat but an opportunity to reach out to people, as long as clients control their data, their ambition and know what they’re doing.

How are you seeing the role of consultancies such as Accenture or McKenzie shape in a market like India? Are they potential competition to your role as advisors and partners to clients in India too, as seen in other markets?

I think they’re potential competition to help clients who are struggling with digital marketing transformation because they can market themselves that way. I think what is interesting is that because we live and breathe the media business, we can help them to implement things. We can help them to understand how the media market works. Media market is different and there is a certain limit to their understanding.

Do you agree that the media agency business never truly evolved its business model and is still relying on scale and volume and offering better rates as strengths? If yes, why do you think this has not changed and will it in the future? If no, what are your reasons to disagree? Why are agencies of scale still considered among the strongest?

No, I don’t. The core of the business still is scale and it is still relevant especially in India where we look at TV as 45% share and digital as 20% share. So it is still a core part of our business and the idea to take up a message and disseminate to the right audience is absolutely important.
Scale has a different role to play when it comes to digital arena where it is much more about how you secure the best inventory and make sure that they have the best ability at fore to represent to your clients. But if you look at the agency make-up now, pretty half the revenue is coming from sources outside of the use of that scale. So if you’re looking at analytics, content-creation, insights, research, retail, e-commerce… all these kind of areas, it’s not just about scale.
The make-up of Mindshare now is very different from what it was. When Mindshare started, you had three jobs. You could be a planner, a buyer or a researcher. Now you can write codes, create programs, do global content deals, now you can work with shopper and e-commerce. You can do IP, work with influencer marketers, create your own blog/media. It is pretty limitless and is very different from how it used to be.

There has been an ongoing debate on the role of agencies – creative or media – if they are still seen as partners by marketers or as suppliers. In your experience, how has this equation evolved over the years?

What has strategically changed is content optimisation. Twenty years ago you might be managing a 60-second spot across two months. Now you can manage 50,000 ads in the course of a week potentially. So that inevitably involves a different relationship and a change of that relationship. So it might be a closer union increasingly for clients.

In its very first edition in India, Huddle has come up with a theme around ‘disruption’. Being the CEO of the world’s leading media agency, what do you think are three major disruptions that the media industry is grappling with?

I’ll bucket this into three areas. There’s brand and demand that have their expertise put together in the brand area and also they demand addressable outcome to the world. How they work globally and locally…That is a response to a world where we have giants like Amazon, Facebook, Google and all the rest. Also how we work across those will be tailored by the clients. It’s about the usual things we hear about- big Internet/tech players. Amazon, especially from most clients is the big disruptor.

There is a lot of discussion here around ‘asymmetry being a force for social change and need for ‘asymmetrical leadership and workplace’. How much do you agree with these statements? Please elaborate.

Asymmetry is being part of what media agencies do. But it is about negotiation. It’s about what is your competitive advantage when you are negotiating. It’s about what do, you know that you are to pay versus what vendors sell for. It goes back in terms of the old tradition of media agencies in terms of TV trading. Now the exchange and asymmetry is different because it is a value exchange that we’re having. It is a different creation of what that is. How you create competitive advantage for your client is essential. So it is a route of our business. It is about how we understand what clients need and translate those into the best of marketing exposure.

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