Interview: Bruce Haines, Global Chief Strategy Officer, Cheil Worldwide

“In last 18 months, 20% of our business has come from non-Samsung clients,” said Haines in an exclusive conversation with

Neha Saraiya | Delhi | November 1, 2011

Late Sunday night, Bruce Haines, Global Chief Strategy Officer, Cheil Worldwide, landed in New Delhi to attend what is touted as Asia’s biggest advertising event, AdAsia 2011. Enthusiastically looking forward to participating as a speaker, Haines was equally high on positivity about his agency’s gradual transition to becoming an independent agency and cut the Samsung tag when caught up with him over coffee on Monday, October 31, 2011.

In an exclusive chat, Haines shared his thoughts about how he is going about transforming the DNA of Cheil Worlwide ever since he moved in from Leo Burnett where he was CEO. He also shares his views on the Creative Vs Media debate in the advertising industry. Excerpts:

To what extent have you been able to transform a typical Korean and Samsung agency into a globally competitive agency?

I will say that we are still work in progress. But we also know that the new Cheil will be a global agency headquartered in Korea, with roots there. If you look at the headquarters of WPP in the UK or Omnoicon in New York, where you are headquartered will have an impact on style of your culture. Where we have been incredibly lucky is that we have managed to attract people who do not want to work in their network agency, partly because Korea is not noted for its experience in advertising, but they have incredible learning in other markets. Thus, we have a lot of Korean clients by definition, and to move away from a Korean culture will be counterproductive. We will not do it. Our strategy is a careful balance of the Korean business base with a lot of non-Korean advertising practices being followed in our region with a local approach.

So you truly believe that Cheil has been able to shed the Samsung in-house agency tag?

Yes. I think here in India, we are one step behind compared to our other markets. But there is a realisation that needs to be changed as different markets behave differently. We have discovered that, like in the UK, China, France, the USA and Thailand, that moving from Samsung geographically does not mean that we are moving away emotionally. If you move a little distance to your own space, then you can create an environment wherein others would join and work for the other businesses. This is a great compliment as in some markets Samsung local heads were initially quite nervous. I remember the first market that we moved to was Bangkok, and the Samsung head there was really nervous about it. But from there, we haven’t moved back.

What is the current employment level of non-Koreans at the agency?

I think it would be a ratio of 40:60 non-Koreans. Certainly a Korean dealing with a Korean client helps a lot. It is also understandable that the finance team is led by Koreans as language helps. However, the Beijing office is an exception. It is a huge office, and we have so much other Korean non-Samsung business there. But in other markets we are moving to more local leaders.

How much of Cheil’s overall revenue still comes from Samsung?

In Korea, 50 per cent of our total revenue comes from Samsung, but then one must keep in mind that Samsung in Korea is huge! On a global basis, around 20 per cent of our global revenues come from non-Samsung clients. This is a huge achievement that we have achieved in just the last 18 months. In India it’s around 90 per cent. I am pleased with the progress overall.

Which are your major non-Samsung clients?

Henkook is a very successful brand in China, the US and Germany. It’s a very aggressive Korean company. In Asian markets, especially in East Asian markets like China, Vietnam, Thailand, we have other big Korean brands with us.

In other markets we are trying to win some big local businesses, not just Korean brands. That’s the beginning of the process. The one which we are very much hoping to grow is Chevrolet. We have the Chevrolet business in Korea.

And in India?

We have Polaris, 9.9 Media and a couple of deals that we are finalising.

Coming back to your early days at Cheil, when you moved in from Leo Burnett in 2008, what was the biggest difference that you noticed at the agency?

Korean businesses are very structured in a highly hierarchal manner. It’s the same with Cheil. It is very much controlled from the top — orders come down the line, then the execution process goes back up. I came from a very different, Western corporate culture. The other thing was the absence of female staff — there one just one woman in Cheil! It was a male order and conservative, all very quite buttoned up in their suit and tie. Now it has got much more relaxed, open, young people have a say, creativity has been moved up as central to decision-making, rather than a service division. But there is still a long way to go.

How do you distinguish the role of a Chief Strategy Officer from that of a CEO? Is there an overlap?

My role is very clear; I am there to give counsel and support to the CEO. My role is to bring my global experience to the agency to make it more global in nature and to manage the contacts with other companies and attract the best global talent. I also provide thought leadership.

Talking about Cheil India, have any changes happened under your overall transition strategy?

One of the problems we have in India is that our key client, Samsung, has grown so fast and become so huge here that we have been completely occupied in supporting this business – and we literally don’t have the time to stop and breathe. In the last three years we have grown from 50 people to 100 people. China is probably the other place where we have a similar situation. But in China a lot of other Korean brands are coming to the agency.

How do you handle the diversification process in large markets like India?

We landed in Delhi, almost by accident. The thinking was that first Samsung will come to market, they will build the business, and next thing they do is to bring people from Cheil. So, as Samsung and Cheil grow, they hire local talent. So, we are here because Samsung is here. But as I see things, India is not a uniform market — Mumbai is a very different market from Delhi, in terms of business and approach. Mumbai happens to have a lot of FMCG business, it has a more established advertising business there; in contrast, Delhi has a huge pool of public sector clients. There is a deep pool of creative and planning in Mumbai. We need to manage our business keeping all this in mind, and we are interested in building and developing Delhi and other markets.

On a broader advertising issue, what’s your view on the deep divisions between creative and media?

I am of the generation that has witnessed the split because it happened in the UK before it happened elsewhere. To be honest, I really miss the days of media, creative and strategy being all together. If I could design an agency I would go back to a full-service agency. I am of the firm opinion that clients should approach creative and media together. It does not make much sense that a client should first sort things out with the media and then things are thrown at the creative to deliver. It has to be a collaborative strategy even before the client is approached. There are ways that agencies can work together in partnership before a client gets involved.

Do you see that happening?

I have worked very closely with media teams who want to engage. Like in the UK, the government was the biggest advertiser and if they would create a pitch, they would align creative, media and PR, and we had to agree to a common presentation. That was farsightedness from the government.

So what’s your goal plan for Cheil for the next one year?

I really do want to see Cheil to grow beyond the Samsung business and building new businesses. I need to complete our transition from a Korean leadership to a local leadership. We have done that in many markets now. I want to see our creative product improve exponentially. We are in a very simple business of advertising, but we have complicated it a lot.

Lastly, what you are expecting from AdAsia?

I think this is a big cap in my education. In our session I will be talking about our position in Asia, India, China, how it can improve, has it improved, how we can improve, basically the state of Asian creativity.


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