Interview: Kelly Clark, Worldwide CEO, Maxus

“Agencies need to be flexible and pragmatic for the client’s benefit. They must be ready to collaborate when the client wants them to”

Neha Saraiya and Surbhi C | Delhi | November 14, 2011

It is often said that change is the only constant in a dynamic environment, and this was reiterated quite often at the recently held AdAsia 2011 in New Delhi. Kelly Clark, Worlwide CEO of Maxus, agreed that things had changed rapidly in the media buying space and how agencies and clients were working in these new times with acute levels of media fragmentation.

In an exclusive interview with the BestMediInfo team, Clark talked about the kind of work that Maxus is churning out of the India office, how the relationship between creative, PR, media buying agencies and clients has evolved, and a peak into what can be expected in future. Excerpts:

Today, many clients are adopting a collaborative approach from the zero stage itself. Like when the UK government calls for a pitch, it seeks an integrated approach from the creative agency, media agency and PR agency and calls for a common presentation. Do you think this kind of integration between the three streams of communication works in bringing forward a better advertising idea?

I think it does. I think agencies these days have to be very flexible. Any agency that thinks very arrogantly it is the best agency that can do everything for the client and that they are going to do that for all clients, I think that is a very shortsighted approach. Some agencies want to be led by clients, while some clients want the process of integration to be led by the creative agencies. There are some clients that want the process to be led by media agency, and some may even want it to be led by a PR agency. Agencies need to be flexible and pragmatic for the client’s benefit. So, I think it will work in some cases and in others the clients will follow the more traditional route of choosing agencies based on their special skills and team chemistry which is always very important. So, agencies need to be flexible and ready to collaborate when the client wants them to.

Have you tried this collaborative approach at Maxus?

Yes, we have. We have many clients with which we have a direct relationship that is independent of any agency relationship. We have also had enormous success in collaborating and pitching together with companies within our own holding group, the WPP Group. We have regularly pitched with Ogilvy, for example. We have also worked with various research companies within the WPP Group to jointly bid for projects and client engagement, but we have also worked outside of WPP by pitching with agencies of other groups or independent creative agencies successfully. We are trying to build more and more of such relationships and this is something that we are also looking at here in India.

Post the meltdown, there were a lot of clients that cut their budgets but expected to see similar results s before. Did that kind of competitive environment lead to greater innovation?

I think it did. I think companies had to innovate in some cases to even survive and yes, in some cases to generate positive business interest. Again, as I said, extreme focus on business results on our line improvement actually encourages innovation. It pushes agencies to think differently and come up with new ideas and new ways of working so that they can demonstrate and improve client’s results. I see that as a positive reaction from the agency world to the challenges that the clients were facing.

Also adding to that was the media fragmentation that was happening around the same time with social networks getting more popular and mobile coming into the scene…

Exactly, and I think that led to many companies including those that have been criticised in the past of not moving fast enough into these so-called digital channels. It actually pushed quite a few companies to begin moving significant share of their budgets into social networks, mobile marketing and search campaigns. As these are directly measurable when managed correctly, the ROIs are understood and the clients can then with greater confidence put more of their budgets into those channels. So that definitely happened as the media fragmented and the world was going through economic uncertainty of the last few years.

Do you think that this fragmentation will continue going forward?

I do think that will happen. Media will continue to reach smaller groups of consumers and, in fact, individuals. Many media can already target and reach individuals. I think we are moving into a world where media plans are developed from the ground individual by individual. There will be very targeted messages and that will be a huge challenge on the creative process and creative agencies because you are no longer creating one campaign for hundreds of millions of people all across India, rather you are creating multiple campaigns for individual consumers or smaller groups of consumers because you can target them and offer an optimised message. You can then see which creative message worked most effectively with an individual or a particular audience. You can constantly optimise and improve your business results. I think that will be a real challenge.

So, on a broader note, how has the media buying space evolved over the past few years, like earlier the agency would take care of everything but now there are specialised agencies that are springing up?

I think we have tried to change very quickly from being agencies that performed very limited services for clients. When the media landscape was just TV, newspaper, magazine, outdoor and radio, it was a comfortable and simple job as opposed to what we face now in terms of the landscape. People in general don’t see it as TV verses internet, they see audio-visual communication. They don’t see newspapers verses tablets, they see the ability to get value, trustworthy content, whether it’s in an opinion format or whether it’s from my iPad. I am still buying the same thing. For us the challenge is to understand those dynamics across all of the different distribution platforms for media content, to be able to integrate clients’ messages in the content if you are advertising on websites and events.

How do we integrate across all channels to create consumer experience? That will be a challenge going forward. That means we would have to work very closely with the creative agencies, work very closely with PR agencies, work very closely with the media owners – and I think that is exciting, it’s fun. I think it’s a very interesting world that we live in now than what was 15-20 years ago when the media landscape was easier and much simpler but not nearly as interesting, challenging and stimulating.

How strongly do you believe that there is ‘uncertainty’ flowing in the environment today, among agencies as well as clients? What are your views about the current climate and how should it dealt with?

Uncertainty can at times be frightening, and the pace of change in the media marketing space is intense for clients as well as for agencies. It’s my very strong opinion that agencies and clients who embrace change, who see uncertainty as an opportunity, who look at media fragmentation to connect in more different and meaningful ways with consumers, are going to be extremely successful in the future. We have clients such as Vodafone and Nokia in India, which are among our important customers, leading the way and some of the works that we see coming from these brands in India are some of the best work that is coming out of the Maxis offices globally. So, I am honestly proud and excited.

But a major uncertainty currently is the tenure of relationship between an agency and a client, the average often being around eighteen months. How do you see this affecting media agencies in the new environment that you just mentioned?

I will have to be honest and tell you that I don’t think this is the case. In my experience at Maxis and before that in Mindshare and various other roles in GroupM, that is not the case. We have long and endearing relationships with many clients around the world, like Vodafone and Nokia in India. You may know that both these companies consolidated their media planning and buying agencies with different agencies globally over the last few years but they have stayed with Maxus in India on the basis of strong local relationships based on results. It is the same with our global clients. There are many long-term relationships where they review the partnership and the agency arrangements to make sure that they are competitive. I don’t think that a quick turnover exists in the media agency world; it may be there in the creative relationships. I am really shocked by that statistic. But then it’s an average.

Talking about Maxus India, how satisfied are you with the agency’s performance?

We have been doing some interesting work with Nokia, Vodafone and Titan. Now we have a new client, L’Oreal, for which we will be coming out with some interesting work. These are some really good work with proven business results, which is important. It was not just about creativity and innovation for the sake of it, but it is an opportunity to share business result as a result of innovation.

Lastly, do you believe that the 30-second commercial is now passé?

Yeah, I think the clients of today too realise the same. They aren’t exclusively relying on a 30-second television campaign. It is going to be increasingly difficult to engage with consumers and build relationships over time. It does not mean that television is no longer important; it’s hugely important but as a broader more integrated channel mix. Clients today use other channels for their ability to interact and engage with consumers, which perhaps traditional television advertising has not been able to do. While I don’t think it’s either or, but the days of relying solely on television as a broad communication channel are long gone, in fact, forever gone. I don’t think anyone can survive in that mindset any more.


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