Chris Foster mentioned that your appointment for Saatchi & Saatchi India is one of the first steps in the renewal process of the agency. What are the other steps one should look out for?
To be honest, I have just arrived and met the people at the agency’s office in India and some of the clients. It has been a very warm welcome, I must add, but I am going to devote a lot of time with them so that we get to know each other better. To start with, we are going to assess whether we have an appropriate business model and then make sure that we do have one. The goal is already there, the only thing to be figured out is how do we reach it.
You were born in Manchester and brought up in Singapore, and you have spent 15 years of your career in South-East Asian countries like Vietnam, Malaysia and Phillipines. Now you’d be working in India. How do you go about understanding such diverse cultures every time?
Well, I like to meet new people and understand them, I always find that very interesting. I think it’s all about absorbing the new wave of information brought along by new people, new cultures and new environments. Whether it was Vietnam’s office which was just set up in 1995, where my office was literally my hotel room for the first few months, or a more developed market like Manila, the challenges have been just the same.
You have talked about increasing focus on digital activation for your clients. Would that involve an expansion of the existing team-size?
Inevitably, we will have to beef up. And I say that purely on the basis of the fact that we are not generating enough revenue from digital till date. Are there any more capabilities to be explored in digital medium, whether it is latent or it doesn’t exist, all that has to be found out. But what I do know is that we are not maximising on that opportunity so far and therefore, I suspect that we would need to bring in more people who have relevant experience in the digital space. When I entered this business, it was all about TV and billboards but the world has completely transformed since then. Today, anyone you hire, whether it is a planner or a creative or an account manager, she/he should be digital centric and fully conversant with the medium. My 17-year old daughter makes websites at will and yet it will take me a lot of time to do that, if I were to do it on my own. It’s a generational thing, and that’s the future of business, that’s where the industry is headed. Digital is going to play a massive role as we move forward.
Are you looking at setting up a separate digital division?
No, not really. Certainly everyone comes with different experiences to take a call on this matter. What we have done in Manila is that we have infused the entire organisation with digital specialists. There’s a separate activation group that operates in the same way as an account group, the trick there is to make sure that the guys with a different mindset and expertise come together as one at the appropriate time. Our philosophy at Saatchi & Saatchi is ‘One Team, One Dream’. We have created a process whereby our digital specialists are involved at the outset, it’s not like two days before the presentation we start realising that we need a website now. That’s history, now we have got to have these people at the heart of our creative development process. And the beauty of having all in one team allows you to do that better. If you have separate teams, sit at different floors in the same building and have different P/L accounts, it just makes it that much more complicated.
How did the revenue scenario change with the introduction of digital in the overall creative process?
The revenue from digital activation processes has increased from zero% to about 20% in the last two years and a good majority of that is from the existing clients. So, it’s not necessarily about going out and chasing new businesses. With P&G, Novartis, General Mills and Skoda, the business is already there. They might have different requirements for which they will have to partner elsewhere but if we can provide them all the services it’s better both for the agency as well as the client. Nobody wants to take the risk of their left hand and right hand saying different things. We as an agency like to be our client’s ‘brand guardians’.