Focus on making SMG India a human experience company : John Sheehy

11 Jan,2012

By Johnson Napier


For the Starcom MediaVest Group in India, 2011 was a particularly testing year. Apart from the top-level exodus that the network witnessed, it was also faced with the grim task of getting its three-pillared strategy, around Insights & Analytics, Digital and Content, deliver on its targets. But the mayhem didn’t happen. With the coming in of plenty of new and experienced talent, the agency was able to fire with renewed energy, with the result that it swept a record 18 wins, the best by the agency since its inception.


Showering praises, John Sheehy, President, Global Operations, Starcom MediaVest Group says that this superb growth wouldn’t have been possible without the zeal and efforts of CVL Srinivas and his team. In conversation with MxM India, Mr Sheehy talks about the growth story in India so far, on the scope of emerging markets and how digital would continue to be the core focus area for the agency in 2012. Excerpts:


Q: It was claimed that SMG’s growth story in India for 2011 was way ahead of what the industry average stood at. Does that give you a sense of accomplishment or do you feel that the growth story could have been even more stellar?

With a revenue growth that was nearly twice the industry growth rate, 2011 was a very strong year for us in India. In fact, the strongest in three years. With 18 new business wins, this team has achieved great momentum in a relatively short amount of time working together.


Yet, in many ways, 2011 was a building year for SMG India, with a new management team and a fair amount of restructuring. Importantly, the team has managed to attract some of the best talent in the industry and has established a strong foundation. We are focused on human understanding and creating experiences that go well beyond a smart media strategy, and as we’ve seen throughout 2011, it’s something clients are responding to.


Q: The three-pillar strategy adopted by SMG was one of the talking points, both within the agency and outside amongst industry players. How would you rate the performance of each of these verticals in 2011 — Insights & Analytics, Digital and Content?

Our three-pillar strategy, focusing on Insights & Analytics, Digital and Content, was key to helping us reach our goals of creating a differentiated media product, attracting quality talent and growing our business at a pace faster than the market average. On each vertical front, we will continue to push Digital forward aggressively. For example, 10 percent of our revenue comes from digital which is a strong performance for this market and I fully expect that percentage to double within the next two years.


In addition, we are in the process of setting up a Centre of Excellence in Analytics in India. The Global team is working closely with the Indian management and we hope to leverage our existing knowledge and observations through this center.


Q: As part of the restructuring exercise that the network engaged in last year, what stood out was your emphasis on attracting experienced talent from within the industry. How would you rate the performance of the new inductees, including the chief?

Our new chairman, CVL Srinivas, is a world-class operator, who is very strategic and very focused. He’s a talent magnet, and he has been able to attract world-class talent, including CEO Mallikarjunadas C.R.; National Digital Director Arnab Mitra and Insights & Research Director Amrit Kaur. They set an agenda that aimed to create a differentiated product, attract quality talent and grow the business at a faster rate than the market average, and achieved these aims on all counts in the year.


Q: SMG winning almost two dozen clients in an otherwise dull year may be an achievement that must have surprised many. How would you quantify the many (client) wins bagged by the network?

We won 18 businesses in 2011, many of them coming in the second half. We will realise the full impact of these wins in 2012. What was heartening to note was that the wins came from across our four offices and from both our agency brands, Starcom and MediaVest.


Q: While winning clients is one way of acknowledging success of being a good network, do you feel winning awards, too, should be another benchmark for rating the network?

It can be a part of the measure to rate a network, and we celebrate our accolades (including “Network of the Year” at the Festival of Media and the Most Awarded Network at Cannes) as ONE. Our focus globally is one of creating meaningful experiences that connect our clients and consumers through a “future-proofed” practice of content, digital communications and consumer understanding. This drives all that we do and unites us to be the best, awards and accolades are a byproduct of a world-class product.


Q: How would you rate SMG India’s performance compared to the siblings across APAC, and around the world?

We had high expectations from our team in India and they have delivered. We have had our best performance in the past three years in this market. Overall, SMG continues to do well across the globe.


Q: While you’d continue to channelize resources around emerging markets, are there any new markets that you plan to explore/pursue in 2012?

From a geographic standpoint we have a leading global footprint, consistent with the changing global consumer, our focus is expanding core capability in key growth areas, which are Analytics, Insights, Digital and Content.


Q: Given the volatile economic scenario, what were the impediments that SMG had to deal with from a global standpoint?

Many clients are still in a “watch-and-wait” mode when it comes to 2012. I can say that early predictions of 15 percent industry growth have been significantly scaled back and are in the 8-10 percent range. Regardless, based on our 2011 performance, our large client profile, diverse revenue streams and the changes we’ve made to position us for growth in 2012 and beyond, we expect our agency’s growth to surpass the industry average. While TV is still our largest area, we do hope to double the percentage of revenue coming from digital media in the next 1-2 years. Right now, I’d say we have a “measured optimistic” outlook when it comes to 2012, but the first two quarters will be very telling.


Q: What according to you were the key media trends of 2011 that may redefine the way we do business in the future?

Consumer expectations drive and define our focus, going forward. To this point we will focus on creating meaningful human experiences by leveraging our core capabilities like Insights, Data, Analytics, Content and Digital.


Q: What is the vision that you have chalked out for the network in 2012?

Moving into 2012, we will continue to build on the three-pillared strategy as we move SMG India beyond mere “media agency” offerings to becoming a Human Experience Company, which grows client business by transforming behaviour through uplifting and meaningful human experiences. In doing so, we’ll become more than an agency that simply releases advertising across a variety of channels, but as a storehouse of research and insights that can help integrate communications plans across media and non-media channels. While others in the marketplace are still working in the commodified world of planning and buying, we feel we’ve carved out a unique place to operate that’s focused on where the industry is headed, not where it’s been.


John Sheehy image courtesy: Starcom MediaVest Group


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