Tom Bernardin, chairman and CEO, Leo Burnett Worldwide talks to Campaign India about the role that their India office is set to play within the worldwide network and how Leo Burnett worldwide is poised in terms of its digital capabilities vis-а-vis its peers.
Could you define how the role of India has changed/evolved within the Leo Burnett network in the current economic scenario, given that this is one of the few markets showing some growth?
It isn’t so much that the role of India changes, it’s that we are putting even more effort into India, because of the opportunity that is here. So if you consider that India as an office has grown year on year between 15 to 20%, we had good growth in 2008. We will have positive growth in 2009 too. It won’t be at previous levels obviously. What I am excited about is the opportunity that India represents. India was our agency of the year globally for Leo Burnett and it was for all the right reasons; for the creative as well as financial success that they represent. We have been meeting recently on how we can get more out of this in a positive sense, what more investments we need to make, whether in terms of people or acquisitions, to really take advantage of the opportunities here. We will be putting even more emphasis on being even more successful in India.
How does an agency like Leo Burnett continue to invest in creativity during times such as these?
Our core strategy is in investing in hiring talent, people who represent creativity and we are undeterred even in these challenging economic times. We continue to make adjustments with the understanding that it’s all about creative. Globally, the rule of thumb that we use for every one of our offices around the world is that generally speaking at least 60% of the people in a given agency should be devoted to the creative product in one form or another and if they are lopsided, then the requirement is that we have to adjust the staffing levels in an agency.
We are undeterred even at this time, in terms of what our core value is to our clients which is creativity.
Clients are increasingly investing in more measurable forms of media such as digital. How does that pose a challenge to large network agencies like Leo Burnett, whose revenue models are structured around big mass media campaigns?
We do much more than just that. I understand the perception for large agencies but our model has been changing for a very long time. It is natural that clients would look at this medium, it’s more measurable. So we don’t only do those things but we are investing heavily in digital and in the shopper marketing area which can be very successful. I think, in the future, a big part of our business will be investing in that kind of close relationship with customers right at the shop level. But where it comes to digital investments, we have been investing heavily. We want more of them obviously and we are being very aggressive in that area. But if you look at our company in the USA, we have the biggest digital creative department in the Chicago office with 200+ digital creatives in one place. We need more of those. The share of revenue that we have in the global company that’s digital is probably 20% of our total revenue. We will need more of that and we will get it because I think we have got the right organisation and the right focus within the company to get there. What I believe is most exciting for creative agencies is that it is creativity that’s the connective tissue in these touch points with people. It’s about creativity and ideas and the right combination between shopper marketing, retail and digital, that’s where the new frontiers are in terms of creativity.
What do you have to say about the digital capability of Leo Burnett India and that of the agency globally?
Globally I would say we are better than what most people understand. A lot of the work that we do for Nike in Japan, for example. The digital campaign that we did for Tata Tea to get young people to vote, that’s a case study that I intend to take around the world. It’s never good enough, we always want more. There is a lot of interactive work for Procter & Gamble that we are currently working on. Not as visible as I would like it but I am pleased with the progress. That’s why we continue to invest in digital and creative talent and we continue to be very open towards acquisitions. It will help us get faster to where we want to be.
What about big networks hiring talent from specialist digital shops, is that a trend that you see becoming more common?
I do see migration of talent from specialist shops to mainstream network agencies. We hired talent recently in the US, and I asked him ‘Why did you come to Leo Burnett, how did we get you?’ and he said, "Because you already have the model." He felt that we had already immigrated our mainline brand agency (in the case of America, that’s Arc) with our activation agency and he said that was the agency of the future, he said that’s what attracted him. How do I get that message out to more talent like him, to say that we really have made that kind of progress. The perception is nowhere near the reality. I am not saying we are perfect, but it’s exciting to think that we can attract that kind of talent.
Most of the best talent that we attract, they understand that the core of what we do is centered around creativity and that we believe that creativity has the power to transform human behaviour and we are living that in the company. The way we devote time to what I call the 60:40 rule of hiring talent, among other things, obviously we live that in the company. We focus on that, it attracts that kind of talent. It is also the resources that we have and our willingness to redirect those resources to the creative and digital talents that we need to grow our business.
When the term digital goes away, we will all be happier because everything is digital these days. It’s going to have an ever increasing role. What I find interesting is that the pure play digital companies want to be more creative and then they want to be where we are, which is creative. But we are not as digital as they are and so we are all racing to the finish line on that one.