The 39 year-old worldwide CEO of FCB, Carter Murray, is on a whirlwind India tour, something that was supposed to happen in October last year. But the timing seems right given the recent global rebranding, moving from the name DraftFCB. In conversation with Campaign India, Murray outlines the significance of the Indian market, which is amongst the top five for FCB (FCB Ulka), and the potential it holds. Edited excerpts:
Working in Publicis, WPP’s Y&R and now IPG’s FCB. How different is working as a senior leader in each network?
It is different. An organisation takes its lead from its leader. If you look at Maurice (Levy) from Publicis, Martin (Sorrell) from WPP and Michael (Roth) from IPG, they are all quite different, and therefore the cultures are quite different. I have to say I am quite lucky in that I have enjoyed working in all three of them; that I have had the experience across all three holding companies.
At FCB... what would you say are the challenges for the agency?
Whether something is a challenge or opportunity depends on how you divide it. One of the things you would have seen in the last six months is that we are relentless in having A-class talent. What I have discovered is that we have a lot of it, in different places around the world. In other places, we have been relentless in bringing in the talent we need. That’s been priority number one, and it is seen in promoting people from within, mostly; bringing a few people from outside - like Lee Garfinkel in New York, Edward Bell in China.
The second thing is making sure that while we have 8,000 people around the world, we have one vision - making sure that everyone in the company feels that we have the same purpose. So that all of us know why we’re here, why we exist as an agency, the direction we are going in. The talent and the direction are important. So are purpose, and focus on the work.
Most importantly, we need to be making sure that we are relentless with the creative product. We are very proud of the product we have. But ours is a very humbling business. You always have to try to be better at what you do. One of the things I have definitely tried, and which is clear in some of the communication that has gone out internally and externally, is that we really have a laser focus on doing great work.
One of the key things about the new identity is the integrated, single-brand approach. How much of business is integrated (multiple functions) across clients for FCB (globally)? How important an area of focus is it for you to grow organically with clients through multiple disciplines?
It really depends on which market you go to. But if you look at some of our largest clients, there is a lot of integration. It certainly is, with some of our bigger operations around the world. But again, what I have tried to ensure is that at the heart of that integration is the creative product. Which might sound kind of obvious, but sometimes when you try to bring different disciplines together, that focus on creativity and lateral thinking doesn’t always happen.
Every agency wants to sell more services. There is this amazing chart put together by this consultant a while ago, which shows that the more disciplines you bring to the client, the longer the average tenure of the relationship. (I hope they were right.)
In our business, we want to be a real partner to our clients. The more ways we can do that in, the healthier it is for us as a business. But I don’t think that will make us different from any other agency. All agencies would want to have more relationships across disciplines with more clients.
What would make FCB different, then?
For me, it is the culture that we are trying to create. It goes back to the three things I mentioned, starting with talent.
We’ve got some new business success on the West coast (in the US) – we’ve just won four out of five pitches there. We just won a huge pitch in South Africa and another one in Brazil. If you look at what’s winning, it’s about new clients coming to us and meeting the talent in the room. They are people they want to work with, people coming up with great solutions. It always comes down to the people. We already have a great deal of fantastic talent. But there is a talent shortage in our industry. We want to continue to attract the best-in-class talent there is.
Then comes the culture about the type of agency we want to be. The creative product is what the clients come to us for. And that’s the only thing we are focused on.
You have created a dual reporting model - the larger markets report into you, and the others to a newly appointed ‘President, International’. Elaborate on that strategy please. And among the larger operations reporting into you, where does India stand?
I have the 13 largest markets reporting into me. The other operations report into Sebastien Desclee. I feel that it always makes sense in the smaller markets to have someone who comes from that type of environment - someone who has managed operations of that size - to figure how to structure ourselves to look after clients in those markets.
In the largest 13 operations, India’s one of our top five. And, India is critically important to us.
Of all our management teams around the world, this has got to be one of the best, if not the best run operation. We have an amazing team of people here and I feel very, very lucky to be working with them. I spent this morning (17 March) talking to the management team and what they have done. The cliché is ‘Best alone. Better together.’ Here we have a team of people who really live and breathe that. It’s a team of people who have worked together for many years. They complete each other’s sentences.
Some say the India and China story within BRICs is not going as planned. What is your view?
Really? I have the polar opposite view. With India, there are two or three things. When you have a one billion-plus population, neither our clients nor we can ignore India. It has to be a focus area for us.
And also, we are in a creative business. Look at the richness of the culture here, the history and the potential for the future. From a creative perspective for a global company, I don’t see how you cannot take inspiration from it.
Do you see people moving across borders and working in other markets more across a network?
That may be becoming less, actually, because of the costs involved and the procurement push from clients. The cost of moving people across countries has got more difficult. I am actually seeing less of that. And in markets like Asia, there were expatriate people in management positions earlier. Now, there is an expectation given maturity that these markets lead the way. Local talent and leadership needs to be fostered.
FCB doesn’t boast of too many globally aligned businesses. Is that a priority area as well?
It would be strange for me as a global CEO to say that I don’t want global clients! Of course, for the health of the business, in the long term we want to have more global clients.
Having said that, what makes us different from other agencies is that if you look at the other networks, a lot of them are dominated by their global clients. We have a culture of strong, local insights, creativity and talent. Actually, that’s what is going to attract new global clients to come and work with us – the fact that we have such strong local operations. I absolutely want the global clients, but I don’t want to lose the culture of strong, local footprints that we have.
Do you feel there is an ideal ratio between globally aligned and local clients?
Traditionally (from my past experience and while speaking with people), an ideal scenario would be 50 per cent global clients and 50 per cent local. Given the nature of where we are and what I want for this network, I think a 75 per cent local and 25 per cent global would be great. But you wouldn’t hear me argue if we got to the 50 per cent mark (laughs).
But those percentages are not how our business works. You take it as it comes.
Inferno, in the UK, was the first acquisition under your leadership. How is that shaping up?
We did an acquisition in December of this agency called Inferno. It was a discussion that was already underway when I arrived. )There were several discussions around the world.)
I met Fraser (Gibney). As much as Inferno the brand, it is about the management team. Fraser is a strong leader and someone I really enjoy working with. We’re excited about the deal and having put the operations together. We are currently working on making sure our clients see the benefits of that. I know Fraser and the whole team are working day and night, and weekends, to make sure we do that. When these things happen, there’s always the question of the merging of the cultures. But so far, so good.
That was an instance of taking the acquisition route to growth. Do you see scope for acquisitions in more markets?
Absolutely. But it has to be strategic. And it has to be done in the right way. I don’t believe in buying our way out of a problem. However, if you look at certain markets and certain places where clients demand that we are, where I don’t believe we can grow organically... Or, if there’s a management team that I really believe in, then we will definitely look into acquisitions.
What could be the other markets that would lend themselves to the acquisition route?
It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to talk about them as I am having some discussions in those markets. But I can say that it’s not a large number of markets. It’s maybe two, or three, of the 80 in which we are, around the world.
And India certainly is not amongst them...
Absolutely not! Given our scale, reputation and team in India, for me it’s about supporting the team here. They’re quite exceptional.
What is the outlook for 2014, for FCB?
It’s an exciting year for us. It’s been great to see the positive response to the rebrand. We’ve got the key people in place in the key markets. We’re doubling our focus on our clients. It’s a year where a lot has happened in the first six months. The next six will be about focusing on our clients, the product and building on the new business momentum that we have going in some key markets.
And frankly, it’s also about making sure we enjoy ourselves. We work so hard, I think it’s important that we make sure we enjoy ourselves along the way too.
Are there any specific areas you would look to strengthen in India?
There’s no one individual thing I can tell you that we’re looking to do here in India. When you’ve got to this scale as we have in India, it’s about going into every discipline and figuring how we can reset the bar every year. And raise our ambitions. As opposed to some other situations like turnaround situations (in some other markets). What we have here is what I call a ‘high class’ problem, about resetting your own bar.
One of the things that I feel strongly about is that India has, like, a birthright to creativity. There are a few countries around the world (that do too), but given its cultural heritage and diversity, this is a very rich market to do great work in.
But no one’s been able to export the work from here, really...
That’s the opportunity for me. We spoke about going after global clients. We could work with the India team here to plug them into some of our other stronger operations. That would be to help our existing global clients further, and also help find new ones. If you go to any global client, India will play an important role.