You don't want to be a victim of challenger brands: Mike Cooper

Cooper, CEO, PHD Worldwide on the fun in being a challenger brand, wish list for PHD India, and the collaborative value of PHD’s global planning system Source

e4m by Priyanka Mehra
Updated: Dec 22, 2014 9:42 AM
You don't want to be a victim of challenger brands: Mike Cooper

Mike Cooper, CEO, PHD Worldwide has always been a big believer in India. He has been coming to India since the early 1990s; his first job in Asia was working with Saatchi & Saatchi wherein he was responsible for India and frequently visited. Cooper has had a great year with 2014 for PHD worldwide; it was the most successful media network at the 2014 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, winning more Gold Lions than any other agency.  A total of four Gold and one Bronze Lions were awarded, with a further 43 awards as the credited media agency, bringing PHD’s tally of awards to 48. Apart from this, the most recent philip PHD has added to its cap is the Brand Culture Grand Cristal for Kan Khajura Tesan (KKT) at the recently concluded at Cristal Festival 2014(16th to 20th Dec) along with 2 Sapphires and 1 Emerald. In all, PHD has won almost 85 awards for its work in 2014.

Cooper, who has been running PHD Worldwide for seven years, loves the fact that it is a challenger brand. “Being a challenger brand is a very interesting place to be. I mean we love challenger brands. We love the underdog. It forces you to be more innovative, creative and faster. When you are a challenger brand, there is no point in doing the same thing as everybody else. Because you are going to be a smaller version of everybody else. You have to think more creatively. And do things in a more interesting, engaging kind of way. Frankly, being a challenger brand, you just have a lot more fun, it’s a more interesting place go be, “says Cooper.

“You don’t want to be a victim of challenger brands. Because all that means is that you are going to be losing marketshare, “he adds with a confidence which comes from experience.

What does the road hold for PHD going forward?

One thing Cooper is focused on is the increasingly important role that technology will play in media. The ‘big value’ in the future according to him, for media professionals, is being creative technologists. “So you’ve got to be very familiar with technology and you’ve got to be creative in terms of its applications. And finding those right kind of people who can do that is a challenge, quite difficult. That’s what we need to do,” he explains.

So what needs to be done to ensure the right talent pool is available in the future? The most important thing, says Cooper, is to foster people who understand technology and its application creatively. “We need to train people to think this way; who are looking at the opportunity with technology. And doing it in a creative way to engage with consumers,” says Cooper with elan.
Few excerpts from a conversation with Cooper on the challenges for the challenger brand, wishlist for PHD India, how the agency’s proprietary global planning system Source leverages the principles of gamification and boosts collaboration within the agency globally.

What is PHD’s India contribution to revenues?

I am not allowed to discuss that but it’s obviously relatively small. PHD is growing dramatically over the last four or five years. We’ve established global relationships with advertisers like Unilever, GSK, Volkswagen Group amongst others. It is relatively small but it’s growing very fast. It is massively high profile within our organization because of the awards. But also because of the momentum. They have won work from Diageo, from United Distillers, they’ve won more work from Unilever, GSK. So you know why it gets a disproportionate amount of attention, and also because it’s from such an exciting market with so much potential. So profit contribution is relatively small, but it’s growing fastest than anywhere in the world right now.

What are the challenges ahead?

The challenges ahead of us is we work for some outstanding clients. Obviously we want to grow those relationships as we go forward, growth in terms of more depth in the marketplace, the secondary challenge is when you’ve had a very strong year in terms of awards, you have to keep that up. So we are working to demonstrate it wasn’t just 2014 that we had a good year!

I spoke at the exchange4media Conference about three years ago with Dominic Proctor, and I got a lot of questions about why we haven’t started PHD and I kept saying we will do it when the time is right , when we have something to bring to the marketplace. So hopefully now people see we have brought something to the marketplace. Some crazy thinking and some great work for clients. We are only 12 months old, we are very young. We’ve got a lot further to go and a lot to do. The big mistake to be remotely complacent while arrogant about the success when we’ve just started is not good. We’re keen to grow but size is not a strategy. Doing great work and being high quality and contributing to your client’s business, that’s the strategy.

What is your wish list for PHD India?

We would like them(PHD India) to grow bigger, develop bigger relationships with their existing clients, win some more new business, but more than anything else we want them to carry on great work. They have some fantastic talent here, great people and we want them to add to that as time goes by. To keep the best people they have is always a challenge. You have to provide them with challenges to keep them.

PHD seems very youthful how different is it culturally from OMD?

That’s right. Culturally, OMD and PHD are very different. OMD evolved from the media departments of BBDO and DDB. PHD was always media-independent. PHD was always very strategically focused. If you were watching two brands in any area, you try and differentiate them. The differences between the two of them are very healthy.

How does Source help upgrade skill sets and distil insights for better planning?

Source, which is our global planning system is about using gamification techniques to engage people on a bigger scale across the network. Source is a very complete planning process. It’s not just a planning process, it’s an operating system. If you work at PHD and you want to do some research, all of that has pipelines into Source. So if you’re a planner and one of the problems with being a planner in a media agency you have to do a lot of research, Source is a portal to all of that kind of research. Secondly, you can do your own research in Source. It connects with an online survey group so you can ask questions. And get instant answers. Literally within 10 minutes. It gives you all of the data about costs of thousands of different media in every market in the world. I mean it has all the population data, all the segmentation data, it is a very sophisticated planning system.

So in a way Source also encourages gamification? Can it also be likened to crowd sourcing?

You have to build a platform before you gamify. You build a platform that’s really really good and then you gamify. The more you use Source, the more pings or points you get. So you’re encouraging people to engage with it. And people get very competitive about it in a nice way, in a positive way. They want to be on the global leaderboard, they want to try and get into the top 100 or top 200. They also get competitive from a country point of view. Last you have Australia win it. UK was at No. 2. But I think what it does more than anything is just like the internet is a force for good, people are encouraged to collaborate, and  they feel good about collaborating through Source. So they’re helping each other, it’s altruistic. The evidence is that we have around three and a half thousand employees in PHD. And a lot of those people are planning people and we have nearly two thousand people using Source. And Source is generating 300 ideas a day across the world. People are working hard at being more creative, contribute ideas. It’s all over the world; you’ve got somebody in Peru helping somebody in Australia. You’ve got somebody in New York helping somebody in Mumbai. It happens live. It’s like crowd sourcing in a way but you’re doing it just through the PHD network. The fact that it’s generating 300 ideas a day, I’m not saying all of those 300 ideas are good, but some of them are very good. We’ve had Source running now for about 18 months. It makes PHD a more interesting place to work for everybody including the people here in India.

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