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Interview: Matt Seddon, CEO, Saatchi & Saatchi India

“No, I don’t think we are quite there,” asserts Agency’s newly appointed CEO

Neha Saraiya | Delhi | November 18, 2011

The Indian advertising industry has been witnessing the entry of a fair number of expats in agency leadership positions. The latest to join this league is Matt Seddon (currently CEO at Ace Saatchi & Saatchi Manila) who is being brought in to replace Kamal Basu, the current CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, who has put in his papers. Seddon is set to take over the reins from December 1 as part of a revival strategy for the India operations chalked out by Chris Foster, Chairman & CEO, Saatchi & Saatchi Asia Pacific. Foster had hinted at impending changes during his last visit to the country in June.

During a two-day trip to Mumbai, as part of the transition process, Seddon shared exclusively with BestMediaInfo.com his game plan for the agency, how he will go about it and, yes, the challenges that lie ahead of him. Excerpts:

Your joining is being touted as part of a ‘revival’ process for Saatchi & Saatchi in India. Is this because the agency is not hitting the right chords in terms of business?

My plan is for Saatchi & Saatchi India to be the number one creative agency in the country, which it isn’t – yet. The agency has endless potential and in terms of “hitting the right chords”, no, I don’t think we are quite there. We’ll be working on this to become stronger right across the board.

Don’t you think that this step should have been taken a little earlier?

Our regional plans and priorities have moved forward since Chris’s appointment in June. So what we’re doing here in India is consistent with that plan. The sheer size, potential and determination of India represent a massive opportunity for any company in the ideas business. I passionately believe that at Saatchi & Saatchi we have the right strategy, spirit and beliefs to grasp this opportunity, and I look forward to working with my new colleagues and client partners to bring this to life.

Is your coming on board part of a large overhaul process that has been ongoing for some time, including appointment of Hari Ganesh Desikan as Senior Planner in the Mumbai office among many… Kindly throw light on how and when this process was initiated?

Getting India right has been one of Chris’s priorities since he arrived in June – and we have all been working to that goal.

What are your immediate plans? What are the specific areas you want to focus on?

Once I’ve started, I’m going to concentrate on getting to know my team and our clients. I’m going to review the agency’s business model and creative strengths, and on building our digital strengths. I want to ensure we have India’s leading creative team, fully integrated across all media.

What are the key sharings that you expect from Kamal Basu about the agency?

I’ll be working closely with Kamal over the next three months to ensure a smooth transition. Kamal has a lot of knowledge and experience and I look forward to getting his perspective and sharing ideas where we can.

What challenges do you foresee in your mission in India?

My immediate challenge will be to repurpose and energise the agency to ensure that we are in the best possible shape to deliver transformational ideas for our clients. As mentioned, I fully intend for the agency to have a strong digital and activation focus, and in this regard I need to look closely at our current business model. My challenge here will be assessing how and where we are better able to deliver for our clients and implementing changes where needed.

You bring in over 15 years of experience at the agency looking after various markets like Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia. Do you find the agency culture different in India compared with its Asian cousins?

Like India, the other Asian markets I’ve worked in have been dynamic, thriving and exciting. But it is the huge scale, youthfulness and ambition in India which differentiates it, and creates a potential for India to lead and change the communications world.

You said in a statement that you want the agency to be digital by nature and not by design. Kindly elaborate.

We recognise that technology is the currency of the future, especially in high-growth countries like India. Given the eagerness, energy and ambition of India’s population, my view is that a fully integrated, creatively driven agency, inherently digital in its focus, culture and output, has the potential to be a creative leader both in India and worldwide.

Talking about Saatchi & Saatchi, how is it performing in India, both in terms of billings and clients?

The agency has a very strong base – the best brand in advertising, a talented team and an exceptional client roster. Now we need to take the agency from good to great.

Finally, what’s your vision for the agency for the next one year?

My vision for the agency is to harness its opportunity for explosive growth and creative leadership in India, the wider Asian region and globally. We’ll be relentlessly focused on building on our strengths.

Neha@BestMediaInfo.com

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