Raahil Chopra
Oct 05, 2016

"Smart, sophisticated clients tell procurement to go sit in the box": Mirum’s John Baker

Digital agency's global CMO reflects on opportunities in India and the Asia Pacific

In November last year, Social Wavelength, which was acquired by J. Walter Thompson in 2014, was rebranded as Mirum, paving the way for the digital agency brand's formal India foray. This followed the launch of a smaller office in Pune to service clients based in Finland earlier the same year.
In his first visit since to India since taking on his current role, John Baker, Mirum’s global CMO, underlines that the Asia Pacific market (including India) is a big growth opportunity. The vision is to have an interconnected agency, one that shares work across offices and capabilities.
In India, the agency now boasts a 170-strong team, with offices in Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad.
Baker states that the scope for growth in revenues in India (and similar markets) is 'huge'. He explains, “In markets like the United States, Hong Kong and to some extent London, you’re seeing the typical project price point being really high. For clients there you are doing a business transformation that includes a complete change of technology, revisiting how a client works for marketing and the core business offering. The price point of that project is 2 or 3x of what happens here. Social Wavelength (now Mirum India) is coming from a social place. And the market is currently not in the stage those developed markets are, in terms of expectations from an agency. So I think those developed markets earn more. India has more volume (of work) and a ton more of potential with the scale. The other markets like India are Mexico, Vietnam and Indonesia. Here the core of the work tends to start at social. Digital marketing is what happens here rather than experiences that are being built in other offices.”
He notes that the task is to move the market up the value chain. Of Mirum's three service areas – business transformation, experience development and commerce activation – the skew is currently towards the last offering in India, explains the CMO.
Some global clients are being serviced from India, but Baker wants that number to increase. “We are servicing some US clients from India. We have some, we want to do more. We have to be honest. We are a new agency. We don’t have the maturity of a McKinsey or Accenture in terms of being able to move people and work around over the world, but that’s our vision. That’s one of the reasons I’m here,” he says.
The reason he wants more work from India (on the global scale) is because of the type of work coming from the country. An entry in collaboration with J. Walter Thompson, Blood Banking for the Indian Red Cross Society, won a Lion at Cannes, besides recognitions at Spikes and a D&AD Impact Pencil.
He adds, “India is amazing. You come off the plane. It’s vibrant. You feel that it’s a young country, even though it’s an old one with heritage. We’d love to see a MNC client come out of India rather than one from North America to India. It could be a global brand where the relationship starts from here."
Changing face of social media
Baker believes that social media and what is expected from it have changed, and contends that Mirum’s prowess will help. 
“It used to be about building a fan space and communicating to them. Now, you have to pay for stuff like that. As soon as you have to pay, you see the media teams able to do targeted posts. The reason Facebook is achieving the numbers it is, is because it allows you to target a custom audience. Now, the next step is to get faster and better at targeting a post based on what happens on social elsewhere and you start getting into marketing automation. That takes you to the next phase of social. You are using technology to be able to do targeted offers, at scale. As soon as you do that, you’re not just publishing content for media metrics (likes, shares, conversations), you are seeing where people are tweeting, retweeting, Facebook messaging people and then getting to buy. You’re creating an experience. If you do that for a big company that has a lot of brands, you’re doing business transformation for it. You are fundamentally changing the way they approach their marketing using technology. You are creating a rich experience for people because it involves multiple touch-points and of course you’re ringing the bell on the cash register. That’s Mirum’s vision,” he elaborates.
Procurement and other challenges
Baker lists procurement and confusion in the market as the two major challenges globally. He explains, “I’m not sure if procurement is that much of a problem in the Indian market. But, particularly in North America and Europe, you sort of see clients are reviewing contracts constantly for the sole reason of squeezing down the fee. That’s also outsourced. So, an IBM could run a procurement process for the brand.”
With clients squeezing budgets, Baker claims that while other agencies may fall into the trap and reduce fees, but not Mirum.
“The client knows exactly what they are buying. The thing that gets us up in the morning is ‘what’s next’. Some teams in agencies get nervous about the changes. Our teams are staying up to watch stuff like the iPhone launch. We have curiosity and that drives our work. You are saying let’s make 'what’s next' and never lose your sense of wonder. That in turn means that it’s hard for procurement. They want you to say ‘we are going to do 50 Facebook posts in a month’ and benchmark that to four agencies who will do the same for a lower amount. We will say you need 50 posts a month, but we are going to make one half of them deliver at twice the rate of a typical post using technology to personalise and target them. The smart, sophisticated clients tell procurement to go sit in the box. The unsophisticated ones do not understand. We like the sophisticated ones. If you say to a client, let’s make 'what’s next', if they say no, they’ll be working with a duller and different agency, which is probably cheaper,” says Baker.
He adds, “Then there’s confusion in the market place about the skills of different agencies. We come from a digital agency space. It’s not a surprise that every agency is a digital agency. This is because if you are any kind of agency from PR to brand or anyone else, you have to present yourself as a digital agency. We believe there are differences and when procurement tries to do the analysis, it requires a degree of sophistication in understanding. Things like how big is the technical team have to be factored. Do you leverage technology partnerships, do you have real business consulting or only brand planning? And these are the differentiators that they pay for.”
Opportunities for growth
With offices across Asia in Hong Kong, Singapore, Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok, Shangai and a team in Beijing, to go with the four offices in India, Baker says that a third of the 2,400 strong Mirum team is from the region. Globally, Mirum has 45 offices, according to the agency's site.
He explains, “We are very (well) distributed. When you put us against our peers in WPP (and outside), they are large in North America and small internationally. We have three businesses running across San Diego, LA, Chicago, Salt Lake City, Miami, New York and Bentonville. By headcount our largest office is Brazil. It might be 250 or 300 people. You find that offices make relationships with offices and that’s how work flows. Then it’s also about capabilities. You have to define capabilities. For India it’s not surprising that it’s social capability and listening and responding. We actually think there could be more.”
When it comes to growth, Baker says that like all global agencies, Mirum is looking part at an expansion of (geographical) footprint and service offerings.
He surmises, “Where you are seeing the most visible expansion is geographical footprint. We are looking at the Middle East and Africa. In our world, part of it is because we are owned by JWT and then WPP, it can be acquisition or integration of existing acquisitions."
Campaign India

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