Neil Stewart, CEO, Maxus Asia-Pacific was in
recently. Here he talks to Marylou Andrew about his plans for Maxus and the key media trends for the next three to five years. Pakistan
MARYLOU ANDREW: You have been heading Maxus for over three years; what were your objectives when you came in?
NEIL STEWART: I joined during a period when globally Group M (as part of WPP) was revamping the Maxus brand. Maxus had been in existence for a number of years in different markets, and it was a conscious investment by WPP to position Maxus in some of these markets as a strong extra brand in their portfolio.
India is a good example, as is , where for a number of years, of the four Group M brands, Maxus has been a clear contender in terms of leadership and talent. However, this was not necessarily the case across the region. In fact, in a number of South East Asian markets, we did not have the talent or the skills required to be a strong brand. Another objective was to find some spaces in a rather competitive and cluttered media landscape where we could plant a flag for the future and put some investment behind this. This has really been my focus. Part of the reason for my visit to Pakistan is to identify areas we should be focusing on in the future, rather than just be comfortable planning and buying cost efficiently and saying that’s good enough. Pakistan
MLA: How different is Maxus from the other Group M entities?
NS: The majority of our clients have come from local appointments, whereas the other big media brands were born off the back of big global appointments. Our uniqueness comes from the fact that we are a home-grown agency in every market. Our leadership tends to be local and we have an entrepreneurial streak because our business has not been handed to us through a global alignment; we have had to win on merit at the local level. Another difference is our emphasis on relationship media, which is our approach, our process and our philosophy. When it comes to the JWT’s, etc. of this world, a lot of their growth has sprung from packaged goods clients, and the skills, tools and processes deployed in these categories were necessitated by the fact that they do not know who their end consumers are. As a result, it becomes about generating the maximum amount of awareness and eyeballs for the least amount of money. However there are other categories, such as telecoms, insurance, banking and finance where we do know who our end consumers are due to the fact that these organisations have a massive amount of data regarding their most profitable and least profitable customers. So the question is how do we take that knowledge and feed that into the planning process? We have been successful in delivering a different sort of product to categories that know who the end consumer is, and this is what we call relationship media. These are probably the major differences between the Mindshares of this world and Maxus. We also tend to be a bit smaller.
MLA: Is being a bit smaller intentional?
NS: Would I like to be bigger? Of course. Would I like to keep the attitude of a challenger? Absolutely. In
, we are the second largest media agency and probably the most rewarded creatively. We may be number two in size but we want to be number two in attitude to retain that sense of hunger, the desire to be a challenger, not to be complacent or arrogant which could potentially creep in if you have been a dominant leader for a long period of time. While we can always be bigger and take on more business – and we have certainly grown over the last couple of years in this market – I do not want us to get to a point where we feel like a big agency. India
MLA: Could you give some practical examples of brands in which relationship media has been successfully used?
NS: A lot of clients plan around TV without giving a lot of thought to the next step in the process. For us it is about plotting the consumer’s journey all the way through to the sale and repeat sale. For example, we handle Shangrila Hotels worldwide. Their previous agency put a lot of emphasis on TV and print, whereas we have done a lot of work on digital with a view to targeting business travellers more effectively when they are away from home. To do this, we may use IP media targeting based on location. For example, you may be travelling in the
US and viewing Pakistani content in newspapers and magazines, so we will buy you in and only pay for the impressions that are being served from outside the country. As I know that you are away from home, I can provide you with a very relevant message. So it’s about understanding the role different media play at different consumption stages and how to draw them together in a single relationship plan, rather than have a separate TV plan, radio plan, search plan, etc. Pakistan
MLA: It’s also about targeting specific consumers rather than having a generalised plan.
NS: The days of being able to say that your target audience is female grocery buyers over 18 are over. There will always be a requirement by FMCGs to provide mass awareness, but how do you deliver relevance?I know that when people go online to search for information I can deliver a much more relevant message rather than a generic one-size-fits-all message of ‘buy me because I’m good’; even in less sophisticated media markets this is not how selling or consumers work.
MLA: If relationship media relies on data, what happens to clients in categories where data and research are scarce?
NS: Data is always available – whether it is sales or traditional data; it is the industry that has to step up. At the moment the Pakistani media industry is poorly served by the lack of radio data. Group M and Maxus in particular have spent a lot of time and energy mapping out and researching the outdoor industry. We need to push the industry and if the industry doesn’t react, we owe it to ourselves to invest to serve our clients. If a brand has 60,000-70,000 Facebook fans, it has an awful lot of rich data, be it socio-economic, demographic, etc. The data is there if you look for it, and if it is not there, then you need to invest to get it. Activation is a massive opportunity to collect data; in my opinion informal data is just as good as formal research data. Every interaction with the consumer should be captured in some form and ultimately analysed and acted upon.
MLA: What are your impressions of the Pakistani media industry?
NS: You have the same fragmentation that happened in a lot of markets. You have people craving for more and different content and that content is arriving in a multitude of ways. Multiple channels are popping up, some perhaps illegal in terms of distribution deals and structures. You also have the same reality a lot of other markets face, which is that there are too many commercial breaks. I know it is terrible for a media person to say this, but as an industry, we owe it to ourselves not to kill the golden goose. If people are overloaded with advertising, they will not watch a show and will find alternative ways of getting the same content. Globally there are models like Hulu or illegal downloads, where people are saying, ‘I want to watch this show and I want to watch it commercial-free’. Now I don’t think people really want to watch it commercial-free, they want to watch it in a commercial environment that does not abuse them and cut off half their screen with running scrolls.
MLA: Pakistani media buying houses are criticised for favouring TV above all other media. What is your view on that?
NS: It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when the TV industry is the most researched and provides clients and agencies with – not perfect information by any stretch of the imagination – a step change in accountability, in terms of ratings and research data, and this is naturally going to drive a lot of decision making. I have seen it happen in many markets that as soon as the outdoor industry (it happened in
recently) provided the equivalent robust audited data on audiences and traffic profiles, there was an interest in outdoor. The sooner the radio market here organises itself a little better and invests as an industry behind panel or research data that monitors and measures, you will see a shift. Digital media will continue to grow because it is inherently measurable. Group M and Maxus are very clear about the fact that we are a very transparent, compliant organisation. Unfortunately in Australia , a number of agencies have conflicts of interests; they will have relationships with, and own properties in the media space. It is not my place to discuss the business model but it is understandable if agencies recommend the same media they inherently own. There are two issues: one is compliance, transparency and integrity in terms of decision making, the other is lack of research and data. Both need to be improved in this market. Pakistan
MLA: What are the challenges and opportunities for media in the Asia-Pacific region?
NS: Talent, without a doubt. The industry – creative agencies, digital agencies, media agencies – is fighting in every country for a limited supply of talent and the number one issue that keeps me awake at night is how do we get better at attracting and retaining top talent? The universal opportunity is that compared to Western Europe, the
US or Eastern Europe, we are the growth engine of the world. If you put China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Vietnam together, you have huge population bases and significant economic growth potential; our challenge is to continue to grow our businesses there, offer our clients more services and move from stereotypical, number crunching, Excel spreadsheet, planning and buying CPRP deals on TV to a conversation about activation, content, search and digital, and how they fit together.
MLA: What is your approach to attracting the right kind of talent?
NS: We have been a little ad hoc about it. We have done things like go out and talk to university students. In markets like
where there is full employment, Maxus and Group M in conjunction with the government have developed a media master’s programme. The easier solution we as an industry in South East Asia and China have opted for is to raid the talent pool in India and Pakistan and drag those people out of here and throw them in there, and this is a reasonable, short term solution given that there are an awful lot of talented Indians and Pakistanis in the media space. However, it is not sustainable to keep developing talent in this part of the world and then ship them off to other parts of the world. We have tried a few things as an industry and as Group M, but there is room to do a lot more; we need to triple our efforts. Singapore
MLA: Isn’t part of the solution to make media a more attractive profession?
NS: Twenty years ago there was a TV show called LA Law and by the time it became the highest rated show, there was a global growth in people wanting to take up law as a career. Today there has been a tremendous surge in people wanting to make forensic medicine and science a career thanks to shows like CSI and Bones. As an industry we need to fund a TV show which is set in a media agency and with very attractive people having a brilliant time and heaps of fun; I think this will sort out our problem.
MLA: Which countries in the Asia-Pacific region are most strongly positioned for growth in the next three to five years?
NS: I would say based on their population,
China and . As an industry we are doing a good job among the major MNCs and the major local players, but there is a long tail of smaller, regional businesses that we are not working with. We have marked India Pakistan, Indonesia and as a cluster of countries which will provide us with significant growth – but let me put a caveat here; it is the population base, the penetration base and the growth of the middle class that are the key drivers of growth. We cannot plan for unforeseeable factors like natural disasters, which unfortunately tend to befall a lot of these markets. Then there are external factors, such as currency fluctuation and rising prices which have a negative impact. If you look at the medium to longer term horizon, the three, five and seven year horizon, there is no doubt, Pakistan, Indonesia and Vietnam will provide us with a lot of significant opportunities. Vietnam
MLA: What are your predictions for the media market for the next three to five years?
NS: Firstly, there is the digitisation of everything, including POS and IPTV which gives you the ability to target and deliver a very precise ad through a cable network or distribution system. Secondly, there is true activation and engagement; there are only a few brands in this market (and globally) which say that my brand is the event and the programme is my brand. Red Bull does a very good job of saying that extreme sports – the participation, the programme, the events, the activation – is my brand. This is a trend that will continue to grow and develop. Thirdly, participation needs to be encouraged. People are very keen about this, especially in developing markets where opportunities for entertainment are limited. Those will be the key trends; if we can get them right, we have a bright future.
First published in the September-October 2011 issue of
Maxus at a Glance
Helping marketers build profitable relationships between consumers and their brands, combining the disciplines of communications planning and customer relationship marketing to deliver ‘Relationship Media’, a model powered by creative media thinking and sophisticated, real-time customer data.
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Source: Maxus Fact Sheet www.maxusglobal.com