Emerging markets offer potential that we digital natives thrive on: Amanda Richman

19 Apr,2012

It has been a dream run for Starcom MediaVest Group that bagged a series of client wins in 2011-12 and saw it post commendable growth numbers for the network. Of the many divisions under the network, probably the unit that surprised one and all with its performance was its digital arm – SMG Digital that managed to deliver 200 per cent growth in 2011. according to amanda Richman, President – Digital, MediaVest Worldwide & Digital Lead for Emerging Markets, Starcom MediaVest Group, that’s an impressive milestone, and a testament to the digital talent and the focus of the new leadership team at SMG.


On a short Indian sojourn, Ms Richman took some time out of her busy schedule to reply to MxMIndia’s Johnson Napier’s questions about the strides made by the digital agency in India and around the globe. While India continues to deliver spectacular growth, Ms Richman asserts that the next phase of digital growth will come from Greater China,Russia, as well as the Middle East and Central Europe.


It’s the size and scale of the BRIC markets that offers unprecedented growth opportunities for SMG, as well as its clients, she affirms. Ms Richman also delves on how social media will change the advertising ecosystem going forward and what is SMG Digital’s plans for India.


as you continue to deliver above-par growth in the realm of digital, could you elaborate on a few eminent strides that MediaVest has managed to gain under your leadership over 2011-12?

Our focus on designing and delivering human experiences as an agency puts digital at the core of what we do, and demands that we build that skill set across the organization.

From developing connection strategies based on digital behaviours, to integrated video buying approaches, to building capabilities in social, mobile, content and analytics, digital growth has been a singular focus of the entire agency, and that drives momentum.


How would you sum up the growth put up by the digital division here in India?

SMG Digital delivered 200 per cent digital growth in 2011 – that’s an impressive milestone, and a testament to the digital talent and the focus of the new leadership team.


How do the other asia Pacific countries stack up against India vis-a-vis harnessing the digital tide?

Each market has its own success stories, driven by our client’s objectives and digital appetite. What’s unique aboutIndiais the focus on cost and scale – the constraints of investment can lead creative innovation in how we build and scale ideas more efficiently.  There’s also an inherent creativity in this market linked to such a strong appreciation for technology. This networked mindset inIndiacan see new possibilities in both, the art and the science of digital.


How would you describe the agency’s growth in your global markets, including the US, Europe and elsewhere?

Digital growth continues to be strong in our core markets, driven by our integrated approach. When you start with human insights at the core, and build out experiences based on creating value, it naturally leads to opportunities with social, content and mobility, and we’re seeing tremendous growth in these three areas. However, it’s a more measured growth in theUSandWestern Europe, whereas the emerging markets offer that unbridled enthusiasm and potential that we digital natives thrive on.


Despite the current digital boom being witnessed in India, the country is still in its infancy, gripping with the sudden demand for the medium. What are the pros and perils of being a young, yet highly sought-after, market?

Hyper-growth, and the resulting chaos, creates a climate of intense creativity – and we’re clearly in that phase of opportunity inIndia. However, there’s a risk that this energy is expended on chasing apps and shiny objects, rather than building a digital foundation. It’s important during this early stage that we balance the passion for innovation with the need to execute the ‘brilliant basics’, train our talent to have a digital mindset over skillset, and find solutions that will grow our clients business – not simply check the box on doing digital.


Will social media emerge out of the shadows of the web and take on a singular role of being a popular medium for advertisers?

Social media is more than an ad opportunity – social is human behaviour that will increasingly power the web. Paid advertising is one part of the experience, but the real value is in understanding the human interactions and conversations, so that marketers can learn and engage in ways that provides real value in their consumers’ lives. That’s the real opportunity with social.


Of the three screens, television, web and mobile, which would be the most definitive in terms of ROI and reach for clients?

We approach the ROI challenge uniquely for each client, based on their objectives and audience goals.  While television is still a great reach driver with strong ROI, online has proven to deliver better ROI for several clients and targets, and mobile is quickly gaining ground as both a reach, engagement and acquisition tool vehicle.


Despite the huge buzz, spends on digital are still abysmally low, atleast here in India. What do you advocate the industry needs to do to attract more revenues?

In theUnited States, we faced the same level of resistance in the early 2000s, as marketers questioned the value of digital relative to traditional, proven media.  The shift to Internet being the #2 media came thru a series of wake-up calls:

  • For performance marketers, search and performance display was proven to be high-performers, resulting in ‘digital first’ planning, and quickly setting the pace for double-digit investment.
  • as time spent online exceeded time spent on most other media, brand marketers realized they needed to follow the consumer across all digital touchpoints.
  • as brand marketers began to engage with real dollars, they quickly realized how digital not only offered unique targeting opportunities, but also could complement v/s compete with their traditional media investments, serving as an activator towards the sale. The era of integrated planning took hold.
  • The advent of video, social and gaming demonstrated an unprecedented level of engagement that couldn’t be delivered elsewhere, leading to greater investment in creating digital content.
  • as mobile and smartphones usage increased, it was clear that digital was an always on, always connected medium that warranted deeper investment and experience design across all three screens.


Which are the new and emerging markets being tapped by your agency for the future?

Our emerging focus spansIndia, Greater China,Russia, as well as the Middle East andCentral Europe.  Clearly the size and scale of the BRIC markets offer unprecedented growth opportunities for SMG as well as our clients.


As you move forward, is there a vision that you’d want the agency to abide by as it prepares to take on the future?

Our dream is to grow our clients’ business by transforming behaviour through uplifting, meaningful human experiences. That vision transcends digital and market boundaries, and enables a level of creativity and commitment that motivates our entire organization.


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