Could you tell us about Mindshare’s digital offering in Asia?
What a lot of people don’t realise is that Mindshare has been in digital for a long, long time and it’s developed at different rates in different markets. The UK had a digital offering back in 2000; obviously in some parts of Asia the digital offering hasn’t happened as early as that, but now we virtually have a digital offering in every market of the world. We see digital as an integral part of all marketing communication and therefore we have a very aggressive programme in terms of training – internally for our non-digital or traditional media people, and externally for clients as well. But having said all that, inspite of the digital movement in our organisation globally, Mindshare is more well known for its planning and our portfolio of clients have probably been in categories that have been slow to adopt digital as a bonafide marketing channel. That’s changing clearly slowly in the last few years.
The good news about digital, certainly in Asia, is that it’s spinning off a fairly low base and it’s a very exciting time in this part of the world, just because it’s all to play for – the UK and US markets have all been through the beginnings of digital, the dotcom boom and bust, and then have had to rebuild that space and consumer confidence and marketing confidence, and have come out on the other side now, to the point where online spending was at one point outspending television. If we look at that trend in this part of the world, we’re a long way off that. Digital might be 10-15 percent of the marketing budget. I suppose it depends on the dynamics of every market; whatever works, works, and digital may not be the answer to everything, but it’s definitely something brands should be embracing we think a little more aggressively.
How are clients taking to Mindshare digital in Asia?
It depends on the scale. There are a lot of clients that still feel that having a digital specialist is the right strategy for them and what we are trying to do is educate clients that we are also a digital strategist or specialist. Just because of our heritage, perhaps the relationship with that particular client over many years, they probably see us as a traditional strategic agency on the media side, for their TV buying and trade, and I suppose, they struggle to see that we offer digital as well now: “Are you really specialists or are you just vaulting that on as an extra service?” The reality is we’ve got thousands of people across the network, I think in Asia-Pacific, we’d have about 200-220 digital specialists who work 100 percent in digital every day, which is a big, sizeable network if you compare that to other networks. We’re definitely committed to this space and it’s beholden on us to make sure we make our public relations a little better.
Any recent case studies you’d like to mention?
The bulk of our digital business is online traditional planning and buying, which is banners and so on. Obviously the last few years have seen a big push into search and paid search, as brands start to understand the benefits of being visible on the search space, which has been a little slow over here, compared to other markets.
There’s a mobile gaming example that was activated in an outdoor format for Castrol in Malaysia – it was around the World Cup, where one of our guys developed a game that was executed on a 2G phone. There’s a culture in Malaysia where the audience they were targeting gather in centres. The game was projected on a big screen, and you could go and play a game of football via your 2G phones. That was groundbreaking, never been done before stuff in that market, and what was interesting was that it was done on the old phone, not the smartphone.
Then, there are examples of what the guys in India have done in augmented reality for Nike. Hong Kong, for another example, did some work for Unilever where they built a brand channel on YouTube, but the format was very engaging – what you can do with brand channels now is you can interact more if you like. The ecosystem has moved beyond just flashing a banner on a publisher’s site.
Are clients also asking you for digital creatives?
That’s changing and again, it’s market by market. We have production capabilities in lots of markets where there is demand. For example in India, if you talk about mobile, the team here within GroupM mobile has production capabilities – they are producing creatives. The dynamics we have to be careful of is media convergence – we are working with clients where we are the media and strategic partners, and then we’re working with the creative agency for the creative. Those worlds are starting to collide a little bit more than they were a couple of years ago. The lines on social media are starting to blur on that. In markets like China, clients are asking their agency partners to bundle services. If you want the media account, you have to offer creative and production services. The challenge for us as a brand is that production and creative development isn’t something we’ve been traditionally involved in. But we are evolving, mainly on the digital side of things.
In India, there’s an in-house team that’s involved in app development on the mobile side, so they’re fairly advanced here.
How easy or difficult is it to get talent, because you’re competing with so many other potential employers?
It’s difficult; in some markets the pool that we fish from is so tiny. The challenge is that we want to double our revenue over the next three years, and this a region-wide initiative, but what that means is that we need to bring in people, which means effectively doubling our workforce. We did this exercise in Singapore, where we realised it meant employing almost every agency person in the market, and clearly that wasn’t going to happen. The challenge is how do we as Mindshare and ultimately GroupM, nurture the talent coming out of universities and present media or advertising as a viable career choice. We’re working with universities in some marketers to create a training academy of media marketers where we take 30-40 people in 3-4 intakes a year and we keep feeding them into the entry level, and hopefully some will stay.
Any budgetary impact on intake in the light of economic nervousness?
Not really. We’re under the same pressure as everybody else. There is some economic nervousness regarding the instability of the markets, and we aren’t immune to that. The benefit of working in the digital area is that we are more likely to get those hires through than traditional, because it’s still growing and we need more talent.
What are the opportunities and challenges India presents?
The team here is definitely one of the best offerings we have in the region. The challenge, I would imagine, is that you have such a diverse population and the big gap between the haves and the have-nots. How do brands talk to both of those groups, and find relevance. The dynamic around mobile penetration versus broadband penetration or the PC is also interesting. Will the low cost, Android-enabled smartphone change the game out here? I think it potentially will, and how do advertisers take advantage of that.