Ananya Saha
Feb 19, 2014

‘It is a bad thing in Ogilvy to be just an ad guy’

Q&A with Miles Young, worldwide chairman and CEO, Ogilvy & Mather

‘It is a bad thing in Ogilvy to be just an ad guy’

In India for the agency’s worldwide board meeting, Miles Young spent some time with Campaign India and took us though his journey at the agency, the dynamics of advertising and PR sectors, and expectations from O&M India.

You have been with Ogilvy for over three decades now. How has the agency changed over the years? Has its approach and outlook changed after you took over from Shelly Lazarus in 2009?

In many ways, it is the same agency. The spirit is same. The values are consistent. But it has changed quite a lot too. It is less conservative compared to back then when agencies were a part of the establishment in the old days. And certainly, I don’t feel it should be like that right now. Since its conception, it was a very creative agency because David was a creative person. It was a creative person's foundation. Since then, it has gone through various stages of mutations and at some stage possibly lost that creative edge a bit. The one thing that's happened in the last four to five years, we have got to the forefront of who we are and what we do, thanks to the creative partner Khai (Tham Khai Meng, worldwide chief creative officer) and the partnership that we have. I think in this business, these sorts of partnerships are fairly exceptional. I certainly could not do it by myself - I am not David Ogilvy, and so I needed a creative partner. That has been a big change.

The most important thing is the work. And the work itself has changed because of the digital revolution. Luckily, we have always been on-side of change and because David had the good sense to see that advertising was not the only communication discipline that mattered, we have been at the forefront of pushing other disciplines. It is a bad thing in Ogilvy to be just an ad guy, and say that you are only an ad guy. However, it is not the case for the industry at large.

We are off-centre, and that is a good thing. We were the first people in India really to push the other disciplines where people are still in the mind-trap of Goafest. It is like looking in the past.

Pushing the digital agenda has been the second big shift in the last five years. We were the first agency to have an interactive capability back in 1980's. We have always been the first ones for stimulus and innovation. Now it has become an absolute central to what we do.  Those have been the two big shifts in the last five years.

While BRIC remains a priority for many multinational clients, do you see the dynamics changing?

BRICs still remain a priority but they are slowing down. And currency movement also makes it less attractive to clients. But this is not a change of strategy out of necessity. These are just short-term shifts.

Behind the BRICs, we obviously see the next markets. We are putting attention on Indonesia, Vietnam, Pakistan, Turkey, Colombo, Mexico, and sub-Saharan Africa. That is important for us because that is where large numbers of consumers are. And all these markets are modernising very well. Thus, it is important for us to have a strong business in Pakistan or Turkey as it in China or India. And our clients see that, particularly CPG (consumer packaged goods) clients. What has changed perhaps is that these places have started to become more market-oriented. What I mean by market-oriented is the number of middle class people and how quickly they can come into the system. That defines the rank-order of BRICs. Sub-Saharan Africa will take a little bit of time but the numbers are there.

How are revenues growing for the group?

The revenues are good. We always have an objective for ourselves of growing faster than the market. We are doing that. That is the only measure that really matters. If you are growing along with the market, then you are not really growing.

More than that, we are doing it in the right places. For instance, our London, New York offices are growing very rapidly and that is a sign of us winning market share. It is easy to grow in developing markets, where you just do not have to make any mistakes. But to grow in London, where we are growing in double digits, is a really strong performance.

Purely in terms of business, which markets are performing well for the agency?

We are doing well in Africa. We were the first one in really. We are consolidating our business there. We have a joint venture with Scangroup, and now we have a majority. We have a strong presence in East Africa. We have to do more work in West Africa to be honest but it looks positive for us since we have a strong base in South Africa.

We continue to do very well in China, and our strategy there has paid off brilliantly. Our strategy was to be first in and we set out to be Ogilvy with Chinese characteristics. Other market that has recently done very well for us is Columbia.

Digital, with OgilvyOne: how integrated is it to overall offering? Do you envisage a future with one integrated offering under the Ogilvy banner?

It is completely integrated. But let's not see digital as an OgilvyOne thing. It is not. Digital, for us, is across all our disciplines. Advertising has a digital component. PR has a digital component. Activation has a digital component. Digital, for us, is across disciplines. It is not only with OgilvyOne.

I think, we are at a point in history, where we will soon stop talking about digital because everything is digital. And it is becoming rather ridiculous to track it. When everything is touched by digital even by a bit, how do you say it is digital or not? You cannot be not digital. The issue is whether you really embrace digital at your heart.

In India, there is a long way to go yet. I think in other markets, we start with digital. In China, it was a much earlier-adopted digital, strategic thinking starts with digital. In India, it does not begin with digital yet.

According to you, what is a content-based agency?

A content-based agency does not think in terms of packaged communication anymore – communication that is to do with neat packages like TV commercial, press ad, direct mail or website, but thinks in terms of a daily flow of dynamic content, and seamlessly integrated for the consumer on his or her journey.

Your expectations from O&M’s leadership in India...

My expectations are two-fold. One is to continue what they are doing, which is extremely good. They are exemplary in terms of twin-peaks, which is our slogan for the best creative and the most effective. They have been exemplary also in adding new capabilities. My second hope for them is that they continue to push digital strongly. We have the strongest digital capability in India now. We are larger than Mindshare. That is an amazing achievement for one network agency. This has come about because we said that we must push this harder. I want that to be pushed even further. We are doing it organically. We have had an acquisition in Pennywise. We have more in the pipeline. I don’t think acquisitions are the main things with which to do this, but our office here has done a remarkable job in pushing mobile, social, mainstream digital. Probably, continuous commerce is the next practice to be done.

So, more of the same in mainstream strategy and more focus on digital.

A lot of the ad revenue spurt is expected to come from political advertising around the 2014 elections in India. O&M’s policy of not engaging in political campaigns must prove to be a drawback?

It is not a written-down policy. David Ogilvy did not like doing political advertising. It is something that came about as a result of his belief but it is not a strict thing. You certainly can’t stop people from supporting a political party.

Can we expect it happening from Ogilvy India?

You have to ask them. I am not involved in Indian politics (laughs). I am sure there are people here who feel strongly about it one way or the other, and they are welcome to engage in political activity. I think political advertising is a great pedigree.

PR as a function hasn’t gotten its due in India. Is it destined to be the low-value business it is now? If digital/social is not a part of PR, how do you see PR growing?

PR industry in India is not as developed as one would see in some other BRICs. We often ask why it is. It is difficult to understand but maybe it has something to do with the unwillingness of clients to pay for it. Fees have not been a part of market psyche here, so it has been a commission-based system. Fees came in quite early in China. As a result, the sophistication of the work has not evolved. It still is journalist-relations PR, and there is nothing wrong with that. But PR has also developed way beyond that and it is a form of consulting. It is a bit under-developed (here).

Also, what is happening is content is changing the nature of PR. In that content model, PR is absolutely baked in. It ceases to be a discipline apart. The whole concept of a newsroom is something that comes from PR. What you have to do now is to bake it into an advertising model. I am not sure, even in five years' time, this would be a such an interesting question even if it worries us now.

For us, digital and social are a part of PR. If you take it out, then I do not see a future for PR.

Work from O&M India team that you are really proud of...

Vodafone work is always, for me, the kind of litmus test. I am very proud of that work.

What are the key priorities for O&M in India in 2014? And the concerns...

More and more digital, and start to explore the continuous commerce opportunity as an aspect of that. We are here in Delhi so that signifies that India for us is not just about Mumbai. We see strong growth opportunities outside of Mumbai, and that will continue.

Geometry Global for us is an important priority. It has been a very successful launch, globally, and there is a lot more to do. This is a market, which does not have a strong G2. Thus, we have to differentially boost our Indian operation here. It has the potential for some inorganic expansion.

Of course, the work the work the work, quite relentlessly. It obviously seems difficult in India here with forthcoming elections. I hope we come through them with a stable government, and some sense of regained purpose. Because to our clients, there is a little bit of concern, little bit of disappointment, because there was so much promise.

I think my concern is lack of openness in the Indian market. For instance, we do business in Pakistan and it is far easier, far more open with no restrictions, no bureaucracy - foreign companies and investments are welcome. It is the exact opposite here. It is very difficult to do business. That’s the issue.

Campaign India

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