Shinmin Bali
Nov 13, 2014

'We can build a mobile center of excellence from India...'

Michael Kahn, CEO, Performics Worldwide, ZenithOptimedia Group, speaks to Shinmin Bali about agencies operating in the specialisation era, the strategic importance of acquisitions and the challenges of operating in India

'We can build a mobile center of excellence from India...'
From absorbing search marketing agencies within their companies to adopting programmatic buying, how would you describe the evolution of agencies?
In the longer history of time, you had agencies that did everything and the whole world was stuck at this point where it became the media that dominated. In India, that might be the newspaper, in the US it was the TV and the broadcast industry and then you had agencies that could’ve been a JWT, for instance, that dominated and did everything. As media became more specialised and the advertising environments became more diversified, media agencies started to break off from the agencies.
And then with the explosion of digital it became even more specialised. All of a sudden you had performance, mobile-only, social-only agencies. We’re now at a tipping point where you now feel the need for holistic integration strategies to connect with the consumer in a completely complicated media environment and it requires more integration from the agencies.
The agencies will be more holistic in how they serve the client. That means they’ll do traditional communications planning, be deeply rooted in analytics and measurement to drive the planning, but they would also be thinking about paid, owned and earned strategies together and how to leverage them for the brand. The advertiser would want an agency or an agency group that can do all of this seamlessly.
All media, is going towards biddable or programmatic. It has been black-boxed and hidden behind a wall. That’s not going to remain the case anymore. In the future with the rest of the media and advertisers having asked for transparency, programmatic would be more transparent as well. It will be an expected part of the media mix for paid media management. It will become a core skill set that the agencies need to have.
Is housing a broad spectrum of functions (such as discussed above), a move towards specialisation or integration?
The challenge with the specialist model is that by nature a specialist does only one thing and has a narrow focus. If you’re an agency you’re expected to have an integrated view of what you do and how it fits into the client’s brand mission. If you’re on the client side, you want a partner that doesn’t think about one narrow bit of what I do but has a full understanding of what I’m trying to accomplish.
So I think it’s gone from a specialist focus as a benefit to may be having an integrated partner that specialises in something or delivers a unique area with an integrated view.
Performics, for that matter, grew up as a specialist agency doing search and performance media. If we would’ve stayed within that definition we would have a very narrow view of the world. Search is now the biggest area of spend within digital, it is integrated in full into the media mix, it is a  response vehicle from TV or it’s a place where people express their interest. (Yet) If we would’ve stayed a specialist, we wouldn’t have had a view of the world.
For us, it is about specialising in performance media and search and now figuring out how we can drive integrated strategy in everything we do to bring in the highest returns.
In case of integration, what role does the holding company play to ensure seamless integration of agencies? How do you look to achieve it?
Performics has two levels of business that it works on. We have clients that we win, become AoR for. Those accounts, we own, in full, integrating with client and any other agency partners they have and delivering on their strategies and objectives. There are other accounts that we’re working on within ZO and the ZO Group. In those instances we should be the integrated performance arm of the assignment and that’s not just about having team members (assigned), but collaborating and playing well with others. So in the road map, I want the agency DNA and the people working at Performics to have an integrated view of the world and be amazing collaborators and contributors, which will help us be integrated partners to a client and also to the sister agencies that we work with.
As we did grow up as a specialty agency, we had to work even harder than other agencies to make sure we integrated with others. So our core-competency should be our ability to integrate with others. 
How have the first few months for Performics Mobile India been?
It’s been great for us. I’ve met the team here. It is a huge focus (area). We’re talking about a marketed India where mobile and mobile devices drive the digital marketplace. In many respects, it is still a feature phone led market with smartphone enabled technology all to come. The Group is focused on mobile-paid advertising, mobile optimisation (both for SEO and apps) and we’re seeing a tremendous amount of demand and it is only going to grow.
We probably can build a mobile-global capability center of excellence from India and Asia.
We would like to see Performics Mobile India becoming a lead practice for the existing as well as new accounts. In a mobile-centered marketplace, you’ve got to start with the user experience and we want to be able to counsel our clients on the right pages and websites to serve, the right apps to build along with the right optimisation of those. Having a mobile-first lens to communications planning and analytics activation in the client’s media and content strategy makes sense. I think it will become a bigger and bigger practice. 
In what respects does Performics India draw support from Performics Worldwide?
We have about 120 people in Performics in India, between Mumbai and Delhi. We have a really strong practice with a goal to continue strong investments in analytics, mobility and performance content for owned and earned visibility. We have global teams and initiatives that are leading practice development in analytics, programmatic, performance content etc. so we want to make sure that we have a network in place that can bring those learnings, tools to India and have great training and communications exchanges. 
Performics, globally, is well known and we gain a lot of multi-market assignments. Looking at the very best practices that are happening here in India, many of them surrounding mobility and content, there is constant thinking about how we can leverage those and transfer those to the rest of the world. There’s things that we are doing at the global level that we do and will bring here, but it is more of a mutual exchange - there are things in India that can be leveraged for the rest of the world.
Are there any particular set of challenges that Performics faces while operating in the digitally booming market like India?
There are challenges in every market but the challenges in India that may be unique are that (a) it is still a very strong newspaper market (b) mobile devices are a preferred way into technology and a good number of them are still feature phones. Also in many cases, people get access to the internet through social on mobile. So knowing all that, you have to be very smart about the audience you’re trying to go after and if you’re trying to go after people in the urban areas, you will probably have one strategy and if you’re talking about a brand that is targeting the rural audience, that audience may not be mobile-enabled in the same way. You can have a whole different kind of programme to reach those areas. That goes back to the classic of understanding who your audience is and then adapting your market strategy accordingly.
How do you view India performing with respect to search-driven marketing as compared to others in the Apac region?
What makes Asia so interesting is that it has these very large, diverse, dynamic markets that require, for an agency, proper investment, stewardship and development on an individual level. India, with its dense population and with it centered across many large cities, is still on the upside of digital growth and technology capability. So we look at India as an investment market by talent and practices.
China is another huge marketplace to be solved, for that has a completely different set of variables to be looked at or even Japan which is another huge but more mature market that has its own dynamics. So what makes this region of the world unique is that you have mega-sized market places and opportunities that are all very distinct and for an agency network and for Performics, we have to think about those individually and to have the proper leadership and talent to do our best work that will turn into leadership in the marketplace.
What are the agency's plans to develop further inroads into the Indian market?
We want to build a fully enabled, integrated, performance marketing agency in India. That means that it would have planning capabilities; media capabilities across all biddable and programmatic media opportunities; performance content capabilities so that we can create, produce the content, design new strategies for owned and earned visibility; and finally best-in-class analytics. We want all that to be rolled up under a unique performance lens, which we like to call ‘planalytics’ approach. At the end of the day we want Performics here to be the absolute leader in driving performance-based outcomes for the clients that value them at the same time being a center of excellence for the Indian market to handle multinational accounts that want to come to India to build up business and market share.
The biggest thing that we’re looking to do here is investing in planning talent, analytics talent; we’re going to be building out our performance and programmatic capabilities.
Which markets would be among your top performing markets across the globe?
India has been really, really strong in 2014 which has given us a lot of momentum here and would be very much up there. We’ve also had a very solid year in Singapore and China. The other markets around the world that we’ve done exceptionally well in would be Germany, France, UK and North America. Latin America would be one of the fastest growing regions for us.
Who are the largest clients in India?
The India clients are MaxBupa, ICICI Bank, Airtel, Standard Chartered Bank, Star India, Birla Sun Life Insurance, Tata AIG Life Insurance, Musafir, and Games 24X7 among others. The global clients are MoneyGram and HP.
The trend of consolidation (acquisition) seems to have ebbed. But acquisition has worked for agencies, or so they say. What has been Performics' experience? What is the outlook?
Acquisitions are a key strategy for us and within Publicis overall. This year we’re close to closing some acquisitions in Europe, Asia and Latin America. We have an aggressive road map in place for acquisitions in India and other markets around the world. We do those acquisitions to add to our current capability or to build the capability that we don’t have today. A lot of those acquisitions will be centred around content, analytics, performance and media capabilities. Acquistions are absolutely core to our strategies and we have a pipeline with about half a dozen that we’re pursuing to close now and will have a renewed and strategic focus on that in 2015 and going forward.
Campaign India

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