We are super ambitious for India: Steve Williams, Global COO, Essence

Williams shares insights on the double digit growth the India operations have seen for brands, the growth trajectory that he says is here to stay, and much more

e4m by Tasmayee Laha Roy
Updated: Nov 21, 2019 4:10 PM
Steve Williams

“We are super optimistic to continue to take advantage of and grow with brands that are looking for smart data digital technology based transformation,” says Steve Williams, Global Chief Operating Officer, at Essence.

He spoke to exchange4media about the double digit growth the India operations have seen for the brands and the growth trajectory that he says is here to stay.

Essence, part of GroupM, is a global data and measurement-driven media agency whose mission is to make advertising more valuable to the world. They are a full-service media agency and have clients such as Google, Flipkart, NBCUniversal, L'Oréal and the Financial Times.

Excerpts:

What brings you to India? How important is the India facility for you?
I am here to spend more time with Andy (Anand Chakravarthy, Managing Director for Essence in India) and his team. So it's basically a listening and learning expedition.

We have 20 offices now globally. There is one coming up in Latin America, which hasn't been announced yet. We expanded in China in Shanghai and Beijing a month ago now. It's a really interesting science for us. We work in a hub and spoke model and I think it's probably fair to say that until last year we used to talk about ourselves as a three hub and spoke model, the hubs being London, New York and Singapore. But in every narrative I'm using these days, India is that fourth hub as well in terms of the way we've grown over the last couple of years.

How different is it to function in the India market as compared to the other markets of Essence? Has the slowdown affected business here in India for you?
I don’t think we have got a different strategy for India and how excited we are to grow in India from any other market in the world. We are interested in working with clients that are looking for high growth, dealing with complex data and digital challenges. And they can be either big or small. We're looking for a mix of clients that are looking to challenge the future and that's what, that's what gets us out of bed early in the morning. We had eight or nine wins in the last year.

And I think it's fair to say that the vast majority those customers that have come in are all interested in what the heart of excellence is, which is about data and digital transformation. That's where we do our best work. The success of our product and our growth going forward will be us retaining our point of difference and position in the marketplace.

I'm not expecting us to become a Mindshare and scale overnight. That is not the ambition. We're looking to grow at our pace. The wins by Andy’s team are the proof. So it's been an exciting time.
If we talk of the slowdown, I think we have to be optimistic because we have a stable political environment here.

When I think about India, I think about explosive growth that has happened here in the digital environment over the last couple of years. The growth has been tremendous. We are super ambitious for India and for all the work going on with Andy and his team. And then that's why we talk about India being a fourth hub. Even Bill Gates talked about how optimistic he was for Indian economic growth. We are not particularly crestfallen about a slight drop in GDP.

There is, of course, big brands like Google that Essence works with but what is the profile of the other clients?
Some of our recent wins are Zee5, upGrad in Mumbai which is a tech platform, Wakefit in Bangalore which has a very disruptive model. They sell mattresses, beds, pillows, orthopaedic pillows, etc online and they are able to offer customers a phenomenally good quality product online without having a brick and mortar store. And that's a business model that we know is going to take off. So while they are small right now we are looking at them as brands that we actually grow with because we all know the opportunity is huge.

With the growth in digital, do you see brands moving towards a trend of digital first campaigns?
From a macro point of view, we're absolutely moving in that direction especially with data and technology at the heart of everything we think about and then we deploy through media and creativity. So there is no question that as the world becomes more digitally connected, more data driven the markets are going to catch up with themselves in terms of how ideas are developed. And I don't think it's going to be a surprise to see similarly explosive growth in ideas in the way forward in India. It's happening elsewhere in the world, and it's going to happen here real soon. There's nothing that's going to be different about the growth story in that perspective in India from China or from Jakarta to anywhere else. It's just a question of time and speed to get there.

Tell us more about the Global Centres of Excellence that you have in India? How does it help the agency and the clients?
In 2017, Essence launched its Global Analytics Hub in Delhi to focus on campaign analytics for leading global clients, as well as serve as a research and development centre for work in mobile analytics, machine learning, social data mining and customer analytics.

This hub helps Essence to meet a robust demand in analytics and data-driven solutions globally, andthe unit works closely with the agency’s analytics team in driving innovation and overall operational excellence. In 2018, we set up Global Media Activation Hub that serves serves as a centre of excellence to support the agency’s media activation teams around the world by carrying out a selection of specific tasks and procedures on their behalf, helping to scale its expertise in running global and multi-market campaigns centrally.

It also enables Essence to overcome media technology challenges with speed and effectiveness, creates capacity to double down on optimization and insights, and evokes consistency and quality in campaign setup and monitoring. Finally Essence also set up set up the Global Advertising Operations Hub in 2018.Together, all three hubs offer a globally-scaled and centralized offshore solution to deliver task-based and end-to-end execution workflows, helping to build a 24/7 ‘chasing the sun’ execution engine that will centralize repeatable tasks and implement at enterprise-grade efficiency and productivity.

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