Need to help clients understand the impact of their investments: Peter Mears

The global CEO of Havas Media Group talks about the challenges the industry faces, states the impact of a winter World Cup, the importance of India, and more...

Oct 31, 2022 10:00:00 AM | Article | Raahil Chopra

Peter Mears, global chief executive officer, Havas Media Group, was in India earlier this month during which Campaign India caught up with him to discuss a variety of topics which included how important the market is for the network globally, predictions for 2023, and the Metaverse among others.
 
Edited excerpts:
 
What brings you to India and how’s your experience been?
 
I’m here for our APAC budget meeting. We have all our market leads from the region here. I’ve not been in India for the last three years and wanted to get back, so we decided to host the meeting here. We’ve had some great sessions so far and there’s been a tremendous amount of change between 2019 and now!
 
On the experience bit, it’s been fabulous. The energy in the office is awesome and there’s a real buzz around the place. People want to be here, which is great.
 
What are the changes you’re referring to?
 
The very obvious change is that we’ve gone from 250 people in the group to almost 1,000 people. Inside the media group, we’ve strengthened the leadership, won loads of new clients, and retained clients too. We’ve transformed the product globally, and the team here locally has done a lovely job in embracing that transformation and expressing it in a market-nuanced way and they deserve a lot of credit for the same.
 
The new accounts you’re referring to have seen you dominating the new business charts in India. Is new business right now the priority? 
 
We’ve been on a very strong run in India and globally. It’s been a very busy year and a half in terms of new business wins. We experienced a bit of a slowdown in 2020 and things came back aggressively in the second quarter of 2021 and have been pretty constant this year too. This is both on a local level here, regionally and globally.
 
You mentioned that we’ve recovered after the 2020 slowdown. How much has the Russia-Ukraine war hampered the recovery?
 
There’s always something happening in the world.
 
In some markets, we’re still feeling the effects of the pandemic or haven’t come out of it. For most markets, we’re out of the pandemic now but experiencing the conflict in Eastern Europe which affects the entire world. The impact on the global economy is significant.
 
There’s not a single answer to your question, but we’re experiencing some softness in some markets. The situation in Europe is tough with rising inflation and the consumers feeling it in their pockets. This has made the clients hesitate a little bit as they think about what their budgets will look like next year. There are some concerns around European markets.
 
What we don’t know today is how rapidly it’s going to end. We’re optimistic it’s going to be a ‘V-shaped’ slow down and we’ll recover quickly by the the middle of next year.
 
From a group perspective, we’ve got ourselves in a very strong position. We’ve invested in products and talent so that the capabilities we have today feel very solid. While we can’t control macroeconomic situations, we can control our destiny to a certain degree and it feels like we’re in a strong shape.
 
The winter FIFA World Cup and its timing should help spends increase in those European markets? 
 
Elections, World Cups and IPLs are events that fuel our industry locally and globally. Those kinds of events always help the industry and the economy.
 
About the World Cup, we’re not expecting it to have a massive impact overall, but it’ll help some countries for sure.
 
Coming back to India, among your top priority markets where would it rank?
 
India sits very well in our top 10 markets globally. Mohit Joshi (CEO, Havas Media Group India) is on our global leadership team. There are several reasons for that. In terms of market size and sophistication, India is big for us and so it’s important to have an Indian voice in discussions around product development, technology and where we should be heading from a data perspective. We hope and expect Mohit and the team to continue bringing that voice forward.
 
We are super bullish on this market as you can see in our investments over the last few years. We’ve grown significantly and we expect that to continue.
 
We focus on content, commerce and data globally and those three areas are super relevant in this market. With the scale of India’s population and so much access to technology, and more to come in the next five years, the importance of having a robust e-commerce practice is important. We are investing globally and we’re investing in India as well and hope it pays off not only locally but also helps us globally.
 
You mention commerce, content and data as the focus now. With your career now spanning 28 years, could you state the biggest changes in the landscape?
 
I don’t feel like I’ve been doing this for 28 years. There’s been tremendous change every couple of years and that’s what keeps the business interesting. The constant change drives us to constantly transform ourselves.
 
The core product and the core delivery are the same as it was 28 years ago, which is understanding and interrogating our target audience, and thinking about the best way to reach them. Everything around it and the way that you reach out to your target audience, the data sources, and the access to different channels have transformed the business.
 
The essence and joy of understanding the target audience and learning how to reach them are still as important.
 
Going into ancient history, when I started it was television, radio and newspapers. Now, with the proliferation of different channels, the access that we have to data is so much richer that gives us so much more opportunity.
 
Does that access to data make life simpler or complicates it?
 
It makes life more interesting. Ultimately, the important differential now is that we can now be more of a business partner to clients than we’ve been in the past. We can help them solve business problems. We’re not having conversations about media, but we’re having business conversations and that’s different. The opportunity to have a seat on the grown-up business challenge table is interesting. We’re having more conversations with clients about solving their sales problems and having these conversations is super motivating.
 
The Metaverse - we saw a lot of noise around it in the last year, more so around the Cannes Lions, but are hearing a little less of it now. What do you think of it?
 
We’re doing that thing that we do in our industry, where we are starting the conversation at the end rather than at the beginning. The Metaverse is going to become an important space for us in the way that we live our lives. It doesn’t play as important a part right now though.
 
Is it important for clients to understand what the future could look like? Yes, it is and that’s our job. We need to help them understand the role that the Metaverse could play in the future retail experience. As consumers, the way that we’re going to live our lives could be different. The technology is going to come to us, but we’re going to have to come to the technology a little bit as well. There needs to be an equal meeting in the journey, and we’re not there yet.
 
Understanding what the potential of that could be is super important for us and our clients.
 
We’ve seen plenty of brands that entered the Metaverse earlier in the year, not focussing so much on it now. Is it because it was too soon and it didn’t get them the desired results? 
 
It’s the early days. The user experience will continue to develop and enhance, but finding reasons to go there is what we need to unpack.
 
We need to understand how consumers will live their lives and shop in the future. For sure, the Metaverse will play a role. Is it going to be the only venue? No. It’ll be a sort of a physical retail experience with a digital experience and that’s quite interesting.
 
Predictions for 2023?
 
It’s difficult to make any!
 
We will continue to see an increased focus on commerce and that’s what we are doing in the group. We want to foray into the content space and help clients create it. And then even more interpretation and embracing of data. The first few months of the year will be ‘wait and see’, but I’m hopeful we’ll see a strong 2023.
 
Are any acquisitions planned in India?
 
We are always looking for partners but nothing that I can share today. We’ve prioritised India as a group and that focus continues. We are expecting to grow organically and have some acquisitions on the way.
 
What are the challenges in the advertising space? Would talent be the biggest challenge?
 
The talent challenge is priority number one. In pretty much every market around the world, we have to find ways to retain talent and attract it. It’s not only about getting them into our organisation but into the business as well. We’re focussing on making this an attractive place for people to work in.
 
Continuing to help clients solve their business challenges is priority number two.
 
Thirdly, we have a responsibility to think about the broader industry and the impact we have on the world from a sustainability and ethical perspective. There’s a lot more that we can do as an industry to help clients understand the impact of their investments and that’s a priority for us.