Chris Thomas: BBDO India’s performance has been fantastic

29 Dec,2011

By Tuhina Anand, Video-Shruti Pushkarna


Chris Thomas, Chairman and CEO of BBDO in Asia, Middle East and Africa and Chairman of Proximity Worldwide, has spent over 25 years in the communications industry, and the majority of his time working for BBDO. In an exclusive interview with MxM India, Mr Thomas shares his views on the network and his view on BBDO’s performance in India and the road map ahead.


Q: Are you satisfied with the way BBDO brands are performing in India?

I think we’ve seen tremendous developments in the BBDO brand in the last three years. Our partnership with RK Swamy BBDO has been a tremendous success and continues to grow and develop. BBDO India has been ranked as one of the most creative and the most effective networks in India.


Chris Thomas on BBDO expansion plans

You measure their performance at Cannes, by winning the first Indian effectiveness awards at Cannes; there has been tremendous progress.


BBDO India’s performance has been fantastic. We’ve gone from nothing in BBDO India to an agency that punches well above its weight in terms of size, is winning on the world stage, is developing our multinational clients’ businesses and brands in a way that’s highly compelling and effective.


Q: With the recent development of Mudra, would it in any way also affect the scheme of things for BBDO?

Well, that is a tremendous commitment and recognition of the importance of the Indian market. For Omnicom, there’s been a long standing relationship with Mudra. Obviously from the BBDO perspective, Omnicom’s continued commitment to the Indian market is very important and supportive.


Chris Thomas on Omnicom Mudra acquisition

Q: Are you looking at expanding your footprint any further? If yes, where would it be?

The only thing I’m looking at expanding is quality. What I’m always interested in, is doing great work that’s talked about and moving consumers in the Indian market. If we have specific needs to be addressed in specific geographies, then we develop those needs. But the most important thing to expand is to make sure that we are doing the best work in the market and expansion comes after that, not before.


Q: So if you were to define BBDO, would you say it’s small, mid-sized or big?

BBDO is a network around the world, so obviously it’s enormous. But it’s not what we focus on, what we focus on is on being good. BBDO is defined by what we call the work, the work, the work, producing the best and the most compelling commercial content on behalf of our clients.


So in this market, we absolutely live up to and deliver on that promise, and that’s why it’s been fantastic for our clients.


Q: In the current times, what are the two challenges that you are facing?

The challenge… it’s true in all of the Asian markets, it’s around the world, I think. But I think particularly in India and China, the key for all of our networks is to make sure that we are attracting the best people into the industry, we are retaining them and we are developing and growing them. So for me, I spend a huge amount of my time on attracting talent, developing our talent, and making sure that we have got an unfair share of great talent.


Chris Thomas on current challenges

Q: So what is your formula for attracting talent?

Well we have a phrase, ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’, and what we mean by that is, it’s about the power of the brand and the power of the culture. The fact that we are indisputably the most creative network in the world, the fact that this year we’ve been ranked as the No. 1 effectiveness network in the world means that we have a very powerful culture, we are aligned around a set of beliefs and what we care about, and that tends to attract good people. And that’s what we preserve and protect at all cost. So culture ahead of anything else.


Q: We’ve been hearing about a talent crunch but there’s also the issue of being paid well. Is that an issue or is it being blown out of proportion?

I think there’s a difference between accountability and effectiveness, and I think as an industry, we are spending quite a lot of time thinking about accountability. There are things we can count, like the cost of production, cost of media and so on. And we need to be concentrating a lot more on effectiveness and the value we add as a business to our client’s business. If you do that and you can demonstrate that case and that value, then you can command a premium. But it’s for the clients to see value and that’s about generating effectiveness and effective work. And I think if you can get that right, then the remuneration conversation can follow from there.


Chris Thomas on his formula for attracting talent

Q: Can you tell us about Proximity in India?

We launched Proximity about a year ago now. Obviously as a network, it’s a rapidly growing direct CRM and digital network. I think there’s been a huge amount of conversation around social media, digital CRM, and we are seeing good growth in that business and I think that will continue in India as digital media, broadband penetration, use of mobile – which is enormous in this country – continues to grow, there are tremendous opportunities ahead.


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