Product fails when commercial imperatives get in way of editorial integrity: Proctor

13 Oct,2014


By Pradyuman Maheshwari


Dominic Proctor took on the role of President of GroupM Global in January 2012. Prior to that, he spent a decade-and-a-half years as CEO of Mindshare Worldwide, the GroupM agency he had founded in 1997. With billings of over a 100 billion dollars that constitutes around 30 percent of all global media, GroupM is the holding company for all of WPP’s media agencies – notably Mindshare, Maxus, MEC and MediaCom amongst others.

Excerpts from an interview with Dominic Proctor while he was in Mumbai around a fortnight back.


This is your third visit this year. What brings the GroupM CEO to India so often?

I think it’s rather patronizing to speak about India as a market for the future. It’s a massive market now, and for us it’s a very significant part of our global company. It’s obviously going to get bigger and better as the economy and the population develops but we come to the present as well as the future.


You’ve been coming here for over a decade-and-a-half. What do you see as the significant difference between then and now?

Much more open-minded. I think those days were characterized by fairly closed minds in the marketing services industry. The status quo was everybody’s friend and therefore it took longer than most countries to get business going here. The thing about a closed economy or a closed mind is that you don’t get the fresh oxygen of ideas as in other markets.


The disadvantages of a closed economy is there isn’t much business, but when you have an open environment, the competition also gets stiffer, right?

That’s capitalism… that’s cool, that’s fine.


How do you see the digital business in India vis-à-vis the rest of the world?

The rise of digital platforms has been of fundamental importance to media and marketing and our business in India. It may have started rather slowly, but the important thing is it’s changing in the same way as the global, digital economy is. Each country starts in a different place and has a different speed. The direction is more or less the same.


But the spends here are not as much as in the rest of the world.

That’s exactly my point. They will catch up.


Is it because the best creative brains don’t work for digital here? They work for television commercials instead?

That’s not the reason at all. The reason for varying speed is the differential uptake of digital media by consumers. In the end, rupees follow the eyeballs.


Could the spend be getting distracted by the many offerings in digital- search, social media, conventional banner ads etc?

It’s a sign of growing up. It’s a sign of a platform maturing and moving in different directions to its usual requirements.


If you were to self-assess, what would be your own assessment of GroupM in digital given that Unilever, one of your biggest clients, is not with you?

I’d give ourselves a 7 on 10 and wouldn’t give anybody else much more than that, because I think there’s a lot of headroom to grow. Some of our direct competitors have been rather quick to assume the way of solving the problem is primarily through acquisitions. We’ve made some acquisitions and we’ll make some more. Acquisitions alone aren’t the main driver. The main driver is the fact that the whole world is becoming digital and therefore our business needs to become digital.


In digital, both media and creative agencies have turned full-service. Would you hence say your competition is not necessarily media agencies like yourselves but also an Ogilvy, JWT, Leo Burnett…

I think it goes way beyond that. Our competition for client attention, demand and revenue is not just from other agencies and other types but also from consultants, specialists and clients themselves who do things inhouse. Our competitive set is very broad indeed. That’s a sign of our business growing up and fighting on a lot of fronts. That’s good.


Is there a need to reinvent yourselves given the way businesses are growing? Is there any one thing you’d like to do in terms of reinventing?

We reinvent ourselves constantly. The most challenging thing in reinventing is of course training and development of talent. I’m very happy to say that our talent retention record in India is very good compared to other markets.


Are you able to attract the top talent given the very high remuneration levels at B-Schools? Especially since your clients have them…

That’s a challenge for us. I’ve been on platforms talking about the fact that we need to continue to move up hierarchy of partners to clients, because we need to earn the revenue that will pay for the A-list talent. There’s no doubt that other competitors for talent, example, Google, can have deeper pockets than us. I think people join us not just for that reason. A lot of them join us for varied life and varied training. It’s the environment. This year, we won the Porter prize for best places to work. To me that’s just as important, if not more, than our ability to pay a few more dollars to a few more people. People come here not just for that. They come here for the working environment, training, grounding in business. It’s really important to not forget that when you’re working in a media agency, you have the privilege of looking at a lot of different clients across a lot of different marketing platforms in media. That gives you tremendously good grounding for a business career.


What happens is people use your organisation as a jumping board to move elsewhere

That’s fine. I don’t mind that. That’s why I’m pleased our people aren’t jumping ship.


Talking of higher remuneration, if a GroupM can’t achieve that, who can? You are a market leader, and have a longstanding relationship with clients.

We can and we do. Our income rate and clients are increasing. We’re of increasing value to our clients. The more value we are to clients, the more revenue we can make, the more we can attract talent. It’s a virtuous circle.


GroupM today is a lot more than just a media agency in India and the rest of the world. How much of your focus is on businesses such as Dialogue Factory and your association with sporting events and other BTL activity?

A lot of it. One thing common to all countries is that the bedrock of our business is media planning and buying. It’s always been clear to me that unless we can get that fundamental activity right and be efficient and effective for our clients, then we have no ability and no permission to expand our service offering. We absolutely have the ambition to broaden what we do in our agencies. Sports marketing, digital consultancy, data analysis, we could go on. It’s becoming more and more broad because the clients demand is for agencies to have more and more specialist insight into the opportunities, to make sure that the specialist insights are integrated.


In the current scenario where digital has overtaken print media spends, what is your view of the future for spends in print versus the rest?

If your print business stays fresh, relevant and interesting, that’s where the eyeballs will go. The challenge simply isn’t just to abandon all traditional media platforms and just follow the digital dollar, the strength of a print brand, the attractiveness of its editorial, the freshness of its presentation are critical. If you lose those things, you lose your audience not just from print, but digital as well. Your brand suffers.


One of the peeves of print publishers is that the advertisers forever want innovations. Like in the papers you have these jackets, one or two or more pages of advertising over the front page, taking away the interest of the reader?

It does if it’s boring and it irritates people. So, the balance between the editorial and marketing judgment has to be more even. You just look at any country in the world,  where commercial imperatives get in the way of editorial integrity, the product fails. Media entities are brands. If you mess around too much with the brand, it becomes confusing to the consumer.


Over the last couple of years, GroupM in India has seen a fair amount of changes. One is the embracing of digital has leapfrogged. We’ve had the Y-Co, a kind-of youth ‘Shadow Board’. How many processes of GroupM India have you followed elsewhere in the world?

Y-Co is an Indian idea born here. I was at the launch myself, a year ago, and it has now been taken up in other markets. So, India is both an exporter and importer of ideas. Y-Co is an Indian export idea, made in India. Your current Prime Minister has been talking about Brand India. It’s also an importer of ideas. So, a lot of the initiatives happening here were born elsewhere. It’s an import-export business.


Anything you’d like to see here in GroupM in future?

We encourage our teams to continue to be open-minded. We encourage them to be more focused around the digital developments. As brand or market leaders in India, we’d want to be at the forefront of these and rather than wait for a market to form and join in, we’d like to form a market.


Over the last year, India has seen a lot happening in the field of audience and viewership measurements. We are all set to get a new measurement regime in television and we have had an uproar over a print survey. Since you are a key stakeholder in the business, how do you advise your clients when questions are raised about the veracity of data?

We have specialists who are able to give very special advice in very important areas. Measurement is a very important part of what we do. Return on investment is a very acute measure of our performance and return can be linked to the performance of leadership or viewership. of course, it’s fundamentally important to get it right. To me, it’s symptomatic of change. As media landscapes change, the way we measure them changes too. We intend on being a very important part of stewarding that change so that it’s fair and accurate. If it isn’t, we’re going to be rejected.


A variant of this interview first appeared in ‘dna of brands’ as part of the dna issue dated October 6, 2014


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