Arshita Bharadwaj

Goafest 2014: "Mobile will allow developing countries to leapfrog": Melanie Varley, MEC

Melanie Varley, global chief strategy officer of MEC and erstwhile CEO, Europe, Middle East and Africa, takes responsibility for designing the company's future business model and for the global development and integration of its product and services. Her work focused on building network capabilities and managing staff and offices in more than 50 countries.

Varley also rolled out MEC Interaction and MEC Access across the region. Mel, as she is popularly known, began her career as a marketing executive at Sainsbury's. We caught up with her at Goafest 2014 and quizzed her on how the ad-media industry is expected to change over the next five years.

Edited excerpts:

Edited Excerpts

How do you see the ad-media industry changing over the next five years?

The speed of change will accelerate and the future is all about the confluence of data, content, media and technology. Marketing will become a much more important part of the value chain for businesses everywhere and be more valued in the boardroom. Consumers will be more influential and have greater expectations of brands. The pace of change will vary depending on digital infrastructure and maturity. Mobile will be the most important part of digital change and will allow developing countries to keep pace and in some cases leapfrog and overtake developed markets.

What is the one skill that will become an absolute must-have in the next five years?

Understanding how to code. If you can code, then you understand what is possible in a digital world.

Creating integrated campaigns is something Indian agencies are still struggling with. What is MEC's approach to this?

This is the case in most countries. MEC has just launched a new way of working, in order to deliver integrated campaigns - T5, which stands for '5 (steps for brands) to thrive'. It is a five part game of skill that requires a multi-discipline cast of players to navigate the game board. We created T5 specifically to deliver integrated strategies and we have adopted gamification techniques to ensure team work and encourage critical thinking. And of course, to ensure we have fun whilst we work!

Is the industry truly global now, or do you still see an Asian way or a European way or an American way of approaching things?

I think certain aspects of our business are increasingly global. For example, marketing principles and strategy (T5, above, is an MEC example). Digital, particularly platforms like Facebook and Google, create more scalable ways to engage with consumers across borders. The influence of technology will mean new approaches, and products and tools will travel faster, better and cheaper.

However, culture and the media landscape, whether local or sub-regional, will always have a big impact on marketing. To use a football analogy, we all play the same game, on the same pitch, but how we play is different - think Brazil and Germany!

Tell us about MEC India's performance and your expectations from the team in this region.

MEC is having an extraordinary run in India - we have doubled in size in the last four years. India is absolutely crucial for us - both, globally and regionally. We have won some significant accounts recently - Britannia, GE, Malayala Manorama, GoDaddy, Butterfly Gandhimathi, Dixcy Scott, Reliance Life and Reliance Capital. It's heartening that we are also winning 'digital-only pitches' - we have won seven-eight digital mandates in the last six months.

I am impressed with the quality of work coming out of India - especially on Colgate, Reliance Mobile, Citibank, etc. I love the Colgate Kumbh Mela campaign for its smart use of technology in creating a simple solution for a complex challenge.

I am particularly excited about our leadership team here. We have had significant additions to our senior management team in India in the last six-eight months - Roopam (Garg), Ajit (Gurnani), Vishal (Chinchankar) and Rahul (Jadhav). I believe this team is well poised to take MEC India to the next level.

With inputs from Ashwini Gangal.

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