Gunjan Prasad
Jan 03, 2012

Profile: “Agencies need to learn digital integration”

JWT’s digital head Max Hegerman is on a mission to build the agency’s digital product

Profile: “Agencies need to learn digital integration”

The first thing you notice about Max Hegerman is how young he looks. Especially for someone who claims to have just celebrated his big Five O birthday. Ask him the secret and he credits time spent online for his youthful looks. “A third of my day is spent online – looking for ideas and sharing them with an audience that is much younger, yet nimble and quick. Being in this youthful zone keeps me young,” he says smiling.

Hegerman has many reasons to smile. One of them being his latest role as the digital head of JWT India Group – responsible for managing and growing JWT’s digital offering to clients across all markets.  “I am inside the doors of those clients who I pursued for years at Tribal. And though I miss being in a pure play digital agency like Tribal at times, this opportunity at JWT was something I just couldn’t say no to,” he says.

Hegerman has his job cut out for him. To give JWT’s digital product a stronger identity. “The imminent challenge for me is to build a distinct digital entity in a very successful agency – JWT Delhi, and leverage this opportunity nationwide. That, and then to take all of JWT’s different entities, along with an important acquisition about to take place, and mould them into a cohesive well defined digital unit,” he explains.

The good thing, according to Hegerman, is that the Indian clients are fast becoming digitally savvy and as astute marketers have gauged the power digital can and will unleash in times to come.  Unlike the agencies themselves that still see digital media as a separate communication platform, clients themselves see it as something that needs to permeate into everything. “Discussions have become much easier, richer and deeper with clients. Most of them are looking at digital as something that lets them befriend their consumers and have conversations with them in real time. This is not something any above-the-line medium can promise.”

Having spent most of his career above-the-line, working with the likes of Dan Wieden at W+K Portland and Scott Goodson of Strawberry Frog, Heger-man is media agnostic. “It doesn’t matter where the ‘Big Idea’ comes from. At Tribal, digital was leading the big creative idea. At JWT, digital could pick an idea that has its origins as a TVC tag-line and apply it below-the-line,” he says. “In fact, with Airtel working with various agencies the idea could be even from a different shop. We will be judged on how we well play it out from the digital perspective.”

Releasing an ad in print or TV or outdoor is just the beginning of the process of engagement now, says Hegerman. And you need a truly evolved creative head to be able to understand that and steer the agency’s output and talent accordingly. “Bobby (Pawar) is a digital proponent and just the person who can produce exciting and famous work keeping in mind this new kind of relationship we want to create with our clients’ consumers online.” Hegerman met both Pawar and his wife, Roshni Hegerman, brand partner, BBH India, while doing a consultancy jig at BBDO Chicago. Both people play an important role in his life today. “Our move to JWT was serendipitous,” he says when asked if Pawar and he had indeed planned it. “But I am glad we are together again.”

Mobile, according to Hegerman, is the thing for Indian marketers and their agencies to look out for. He explains that mobile phones have evolved from being simple communications tool to all-singing all-dancing multimedia platforms at a much faster rate in India than anywhere else in the world. Penetration levels are at an all-time high and the opportunities for engaging with the consumers through a hand-held are immense. “If 3G starts to take off, it will be incumbent upon us to create campaigns that will make people want to go to their hand-held and play, read, like and pass along interesting conversations, he says. “Mobile will soon become the centre of all digital activity in India.”

Besides the mobile, it is the social media that has turned traditional advertising on its head. “An advertiser who knew exactly how many eyeballs his TV commercial will get or how many people will drive through his outdoor hoarding has suddenly lost control over his marketing campaign,” says Hegerman. “The social media is forcing companies to be more open, honest and grounded than they have ever been. And one thing a digital consumer will not tolerate is a corporate that undermines his intelligence. That is blasphemous in the digital world.”

Aggregation is yet another trend sweeping the digital world. “An interesting example is how the US-based Dodge Cars aggregated everything that was being said about the brand on a custom modelled dashboard on YouTube. Facebook, too, has introduced an aggregated running board on the far right hand side where one can see, real time, what others in their social set are doing, liking or responding to. While we pitch YouTube, Twitter and Facebook as the mainstays for engaging with the consumers to our clients, I think Google Plus is an important fourth element. “In reality, conversations are face-to-face or among a close group of friends. Google Plus gives you a choice of selective groups, something that Facebook has reacted to, too, by creating circles,” explains Hegerman.

What India lacks digitally is integration, according to JWT’s digital head.  Hegerman adds: “There are a couple of interesting things happening in social media, a one off viral that rocks the digital world, an innovative website somewhere and a portal that makes noise elsewhere. No one has strung everything together and done something that is all-encompassing. The Nike ‘Bleed Blue’ interactive campaign rendered by AKQA came close but there is scope for so much more.”

The highlights

Age 50

Lives in Vasant Vihar, Delhi

Relaxes With jazz

Vice A Cuban cigar

If not JWT Would be an entrepreneur

Favourite Gadget iPad2

Favourite App Foursquare

Afraid of Snakes, beautiful women, driving home at night on NH8, heights

Always in the fridge Red Bull

Favourite Hangout Costa Coffee, Fact & Fiction Bookstore at Basant Lok market

Mantra for Life Do unto others what you want others to do to you

Campaign India