Thenetworkone’s Julian Boulding has been keenly watching the Indian market for a few years now. And if there’s one thing in particular that he would like to point out as a great sign of confidence in the state of the market here, it has to be the ability for agencies in India to say no.
“I see independent agencies here being more selective and I find that to be a very healthy sign. For most businesses in other countries, if you are a startup you feel you’ve got to pitch for everything. I certainly see that in other parts of the world, including UK and the US. Here, I sense the confidence in the new generation of independent agency heads who have proven themselves and have started to distinguish themselves from each other. That’s what we are looking for,” says Boulding.
“When we started thenetworkone, we hardly got any enquiries about China or India. Now, 50% of enquiries from multinational clients and agencies are regarding India or China or both. There is a huge amount of interest from outside,” says Boulding.
In case you were living under a rock, Boulding’s company thenetworkone is an independent advertising and marketing agency network, that works closely with independent agencies from around the world in executing global briefs in different parts of the world. He notes that increasingly clients are starting to take much of their channel planning and budgeting in-house, then getting specialists to execute it.
thenetworkone works across different business models, depending on the marketing problem at hand. “We focus on what benefits the client, we don’t make exclusive arrangements with any one agency. We look for who is best for the task. If a client needs one point of contact, he needs somebody with a generalist’s skills. If the client has got in-house skills on the ground to understand needs and responsibilities, then they may ask for specialists,” he explains.
“Sometimes we work with the traditional agency model where we have a lead agency generating creative work and agencies in different countries in Europe or around the world, adapting the work and creating local communication of that. Sometimes we work towards developing a global concept using strategic inputs from other key regions.The work we just did for Nokia with Vertu phones is a good example of that.”
For Nokia’s Vertu phones, thenetworkone worked with a London agency for developing a campaign idea that uses hands of different celebrities and used Chinese celebrities for the China segment and American ones for the US one. “There are also times when we work with clients as a kind of a SWAT team to tackle specific issues and problems. With Exxon Mobil, we worked with them on motor sports in Japan and on trade relations in the USA. It justifies our slogan — Network on Demand,” he added.
Boulding says it is the last 10% in the client’s budget that interests him the most. “Most clients keep 10% of their budgets to themselves to see what they can experiment with. We are happy to have a go at that last 10% because we are interested in the sort of initiatives which are leading the way, those that haven’t necessarily been done before.”
He says the need for specialists has emerged as a key trend in the last few years.
“Clients have different needs in different places. There was a time when a full service agency did everything that the advertiser wanted. Generalists still exist. But increasingly in new areas like digital and social media, clients are outsourcing work from the main agencies to sub contractors. They are opting to go directly to the subcontractor by paying half the cost of doing it through the agency. You may not get the agency’s strategic contribution, but the client may not actually need that. Actually what they might need is execution, so there is no real need for them to pay twice the price to do it through somebody else. It’s a trend that will happen elsewhere too.”
On what thenetworkone looks for while identifying partner agencies for a specific business, Boulding says, “It might sound obvious but an agency’s location is important. Then you look at objective factors like whether the agency has relevant experience. The exercise has to be conflict-free. The reason why we don’t have exclusive deals is because you can’t help the client if your agency has a conflict. The third criterion is skills.”
Boulding says soft factors like culture and character are also significant indicators of alignment. “You are looking for a fit not just between the company and the agency but also between the individual (the marketing director or the CMO) and the agency. What are they looking for? Are they six months into a new job and looking to build something over the next two to three years? Or are they three years into the job and looking for the next job and looking for a steady pair of hands to not drop the ball? These are factors that we have to keep in mind.”
Two areas that Boulding says they will be looking at in future will be shopper marketing and healthcare advertising.
“Shopper marketing is a frequently misused term . How to influence the person making the purchase, specifically at point of sale but also before they get there. It’s about understanding the journey that takes them there and the journey that takes them away, both online and offline. It’s not just about point of purchase material, it’s more complex than that. How do you map their journey at the moment of decision making? We have clients from the US who ask us how to execute those skills in other markets. Then there is healthcare advertising. Traditionally, it was the people who couldn’t hack it in traditional advertising, who somehow ended up in a medical agency. You also need a creative skill, alongside with the expertise in healthcare. We are actively looking for people who have those creative skills along with the knowledge of healthcare advertising.”
2003 to present
Owner, G6 Communications1998
President, International Division at N.W.Ayer1990
Global account director at DMB&B, promoted to VP in 1992