Kelly Clark: Maxus is guilty of hiding its light under a bushel

By Prajjal Saha and Ashwini Gangal , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Media
Last updated : September 25, 2014 04:04 PM
The chief executive officer of Maxus Worldwide fields questions on Maxus playing second fiddle to Mindshare, the India-China growth story, and other trends.

Kelly Clark, the first worldwide CEO (chief executive officer) of Maxus, started his career with JWT New York, and has held several prominent positions including that as CEO of Mindshare UK and Mindshare Asia-Pacific. He has worked on several multinational brands such as Unilever, PepsiCo, Nike, IBM, Nestlé, Kelloggs, Ford Motors and HSBC. Maxus currently has 63 offices in 55 countries. Excerpts from an interview, on the sidelines of AdAsia 2011. 

afaqs!: Most media agencies are independent and function on their own. What is it like to be part of a large network like GroupM?

Clark: There is some serious competition amongst the four GroupM agencies, whether it's on a new business or about market growth. But, the benefits of being part of the GroupM family outweigh the competitive pressures that we might feel. 
Who wouldn't want the consolidated volumes from the media negotiations and buying standpoint that GroupM can create in a market like India?

Who wouldn't want a group that invests in technology, in new services, in the incubation of new skill sets like mobile for example?
afaqs!: In India, Maxus is perceived to play second fiddle to Mindshare. Why is it so?
Clark: I disagree with you. In the last few years, the team has done an unbelievable job in differentiating Maxus in the marketplace and increasing the visibility. The quality of work done for clients such as Vodafone and Nokia is second to none. 
If we're guilty of anything, it's hiding our light under a bushel. That's something Ajit (Varghese), the team, and I have discussed -- taking the credit for the work that we do, the incredible partnerships that we have with some of the most important, ambitious and successful companies here in India. 
Maxus India is already a 'Top 5 agency' in the Maxus network, globally. We get a third of our revenues from the Asia-Pacific. I don't think any other network has that high a portion of its global revenues coming from the region. 

afaqs!: Media agencies are often judged by the volume of work rather than quality of work. Do you see these parameters changing?

Clark: I think the media buying heritage of our business has contributed to this assumption, and that remains an important part of what we do. 
But, as we move into new channels such as digital and mobile and new types of media measurement, we will start to see that change. A lot of the work and value that we're creating now for clients isn't measured in terms of media billings -- it's difficult to measure the size and volume of an integrated campaign for Vodafone Zoozoo on Facebook. 
So, while your point is right, you'll see that change towards more of a qualitative measurement of media agencies' success -- contribution of clients' business results, creativity and innovation. 

afaqs!: What has been the trend globally?
& #VIDEO1 & #Clark: Similar. It goes back to market and present the work that we do for clients, as sometimes that's hidden behind questions like 'how much new business have you won?', 'What are your billings?', 'How have your billings performed this year versus last year?'. 
Though that's a logical basis of evaluation of media agencies, it should not be the only one. Being able to talk about the kind of things we do for clients that go beyond just the billings-based activities is the key for us. There will be a lot of focus on that in the next few years.

afaqs!: You had stated earlier that you don't want Maxus to be in a hundred cities and want to focus on 25-30 markets. What was the reason for this thought, and has your agenda changed since then

Clark: The strategy is broadly still the same. The thought back then was that there is no need to have four agencies within GroupM who have exactly the same business model. The other three agency networks are very global, very strong and they do very well, for some large global clients.

At Maxus, we tend to promote the 'big and small' concept. I mean clients like getting a big resource using the power of GroupM for investments in technologies, systems and tools, but they also like the high touch-feel of a smaller agency culture that Maxus can give them.

However, as our client requirements have increased, we have gone beyond 30 markets. Currently, we have 63 offices in about 55 markets around the world.
afaqs!: As more and more brands try to be global, the way media agencies function could change. Will this force you to expand your network?

Clark: I don't rule that out. We need to be very responsive to client requirements, and if they need us to move into newer markets, we'll certainly consider that as long as there's a commercial rationale. 
I still think there is a large group of national clients who are local business champions in their categories that still represent great opportunities for Maxus. This is especially so in markets such as Russia, China, India and North America.

afaqs!: We've seen media agencies deliberately decreasing dependence on media planning-buying and increasing focus on other services. Where is this heading? 

Clark: The role of this other function will grow. Clients are asking us to better integrate the two and plan across all types of channel opportunities. In the future, we will move towards more fee-based and outcome-based remuneration. 

afaqs!: In China, since nuclear families are the norm, people tend to connect online to build a community of like-minded people. In India, we still continue to have larger families. What is contributing towards the growth of social media in India? 

Clark: That's a good question. The markets and the cultures of India specifically, and Asia in general, seem to adopt new ways to think, work, communicate and interact faster than the so-called more developed markets. 

afaqs!: What stops brands from leveraging the power of social media? Is it just lack of measurement or also lack of belief?

Clark:Perhaps it is lack of belief, lack of comfort and lack of knowledge. In some cases it can even be lack of measurement. If people have cold, hard facts and prove through their own case studies, or case studies developed by other marketers either in their categories or other categories, more and more clients will start using social media as an effective brand tool, and not just as a response tool.

A hard-response measure is relatively easy. You can say 'It cost me that much to acquire a customer on that channel'. Brand engagement and softer measures of brand relationships with consumers, however, is not so easy to compare across channels.

afaqs!: With the increasing popularity of tablets, there will be more video on demand -- a pull rather than a push. When there is a pull and one pays for it, one wants content minus advertising...

Clark: Well, not always. If you look at the development of Hulu and the Hulu Plus service (ad supported on-demand streaming video of TV shows, movies) in North America, for example, you'll see that there still exist opportunities for advertising in that business model as well. 
But, brand advertisers need to find a place to make the brand experiences more interactive, engaging, and create value for the consumer rather than just push advertising messages at them.

afaqs!:  Can we say that we are closer to a stage where ads on television or on-screen ads have to change?

Clark: I don't have the answer to that. I've seen some interesting campaigns in India that have pushed the borders of how television advertising has traditionally been -- the way it is displayed and presented to viewers. And, we've got some incredibly innovative sales people on both broadcasters and online channels side. 
I see no problem with innovating and pushing and experimenting with new ways. We need to respect the viewers and users of media, and need to make sure they remain engaged with the programmes and content, but I don't think these two things will be mutually exclusive. 

afaqs!: Screens are getting squeezed as one moves from television to tablets while they grow bigger as you move from mobiles to other media channels. What will be the standard size of the screen in the near future?

Clark: If I knew the answer to that I'd be a very wealthy man in a few years' time! What we do know is that there will be multiple-sized screens in many different formats, used for many different things.

First Published : September 25, 2014 04:04 PM
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