The global agency power brokers

The bosses of the big five global marcoms agency networks reveal what keeps them awake at night and outline the key trends they believe will shape the future.

Senior editors from PRWeek's sister titles within Haymarket Media Group conducted interviews with the bosses of the big five marcoms groups: Omnicom, WPP, Interpublic Group, Publicis and Havas.

These group heads, who run billions of dollars' worth of client business between them, were asked about the mega-trends in marketing and the issues that really keep them awake at night.

The responses cover five key themes, from digital media to the retention of staff, and provide an insightful overview of the burning issues affecting the global marcoms business.

David Jones
CEO, Havas
Interview by Danny Rogers, editor-in-chief, PRWeek UK

Digital media
Today you can no longer buy attention, you must earn it. The marketing world has shifted from what was once a captive audience to multitasking consumers. You can't bore people to death; you need engaging, compelling content.

It comes back to the concept of the proactive consumer, or ‘prosumer', that we borrowed from [influential futurologist] Alvin Toffler. Today the scale and velocity of consumer influence is so much larger than in Toffler's time. This is both an opportunity and a threat to brands.

Brand management
Brand management used to be about what was said to consumers, but now it is about what consumers say to one another. It used to be about image, now it's about reality. This is because of the radical transparency social media have brought to the world. If the reality is the problem, brands need to change.

Look at the Domino's Pizza example a few years ago, where two employees posted a video on YouTube of themselves doing repellent things to the food. Not only did Domino's apologize and act, it relaunched the entire company off the back of it.

Hiring and developing talent
A decade ago people no longer wanted to join ad agencies, but digital has made it an exciting career choice again. The challenge is to have a disproportionate share of the best digital people – and there's a huge talent war out there.

To attract this talent, you also need different models – we're creating a lot of start-ups around the world where we share up to 50 per cent of the equity. This is also the smartest generation yet. You can give them responsibility at a much younger age than previously.

There's no such thing as local any more. Everything one does is now global. For example, when in France we did the first ever gay ad for McDonald's – it was picked up by the media in America within 24 hours.

You have some local freedom, but within a global framework. Today, all the best ideas work globally.

Social media and CSR
The social media revolution presents an opportunity and a threat. And in my view, social media and social responsibility are totally interlinked. If companies are not socially responsible, the digitally empowered consumer will punish them.

CSR used to be about image, but today it's about a real competitive advantage. Most companies understand this, but not all of them are taking the right steps. Unilever's goal to double its revenues and reduce its carbon footprint is an exciting ambition.

Maurice Levy
Chairman and CEO, Publicis Groupe
Interview by Noelle McElhatton, editor, Marketing

Digital media
Our issue is how we can transform ourselves to deliver what clients are expecting from us. Clients want agencies to lead this change. To this end we have been heavily investing in two pillars: digital and emerging markets. This is where the growth is coming from.

To change the weight of our operations in digital, we had to make acquisitions and go to areas where we have no experience – hence Digitas (acquired in 2006), Razorfish (2009) and Rosetta (2011).

Brand management
Brands are already important to all our clients, but as the world becomes even more connected, they will become vital. Managing brands will become increasingly complex, and one of our most important jobs is to make this easy to navigate.

Our people need to grasp the complexity of these issues and sharpen their skills, in order to help our clients understand the new opportunities of this connected world. One important issue is how to keep the brand relevant to empowered consumers.

Hiring and developing talent
When it comes to competing for talent against other ad agencies, we win. The problem is that when we create a new kind of digital talent, clients and technology companies then poach from us.

The bad news is these players have some clear advantages. Start-ups offer adventure, technology platforms offer possibilities of making money. When Publicis has to hire someone now, they have to be digital natives. The average age of a Publicis Groupe employee is now 31. It was 34 a few years ago.

We recently announced the acquisition of China's largest independent PR agency, Genedigi Group, with more than 400 professionals in key cities and access to a portfolio of clients.

We will continue to grow by acquisition in China and expect to complete one or two more in Brazil and in other emerging markets. Russia and South Africa are interesting, Turkey is fascinating. We have to adapt ourselves to this.

Social media and CSR
Crowd-sourcing is something that is helpful for some small operations. But when it comes to managing big brands and creating long-lasting campaigns, it is much more difficult.

It is good for one-shot marketing, much less so when it comes to building for the future, which is what we are doing.

Michael Roth
CEO and president, IPG
Interview by Jeremy King, editor, Media Week

Digital media
Consumers are making more demands because they are experiencing more exciting digital opportunities. For the industry it is important to understand how best to use these experiences.

Now you have consumers who are not just part of the media, but partaking in interactive experiences. In the future privacy is going to play a bigger role. Consumers will be prepared to act against any brands that violate this, or the brands will lose their trust.

Brand management
If you take Coca-Cola as an example, it has the highest number of ‘friends', but it still needs to be managed carefully. Managing a brand offers a long-term opportunity on the understanding that it continues to resonate with its consumers.

It is important to be very well versed on a brand's wants and needs and to make sure the client is aware of all of the tools available. Many brands are looking at video and mobile content as a priority, but importantly they are also not disregarding more traditional media.

Hiring and developing talent
It is essential to get people in who understand new media; who are challenged by the work and are able to adapt to change; and those who know how to use the big ideas. All over the world we have pools of talent that understand the markets in which they are working. And we have a number of sessions to help us develop this understanding.

Recently we hosted a two-day session on how men and women view creativity and how to foster better relationships in the workplace. At IPG we have a number of women in very high profile positions.

The reality is that media are now global, but we must not disregard the local impact. It all depends on the brand. When looking at certain clients their campaigns have to be branded locally.

It is essential to have an understanding of what works and what doesn't in each region. It is essential the media understand the culture and the language of the areas you are operating in, whether it is the emerging markets in Latin America or Asia, or the more traditional markets in Europe and the UK.

Social media and CSR
Social media are very important and the relationship between the consumer and the brand has become critical. Brands have to build up that trust with consumers but must be careful over privacy issues. Consumers take this very seriously.

If a brand violates its trust the implications are huge. We are seeing vigilante consumers, which can create a negative brand. This is why it can be dangerous to chase users via social media and why clients need expertise to help them develop.

Sir Martin Sorrell
Chief executive, WPP
Interview by Arif Durrani, group news editor, Brand

Digital media
Paywalls are essential because giving away content for free, particularly if consumers value that content, makes no sense. Clients are interested in targeted and focused comms, and marketing messages surrounding those that are going to be more effective. If targeting is more effective they will buy into it, if it's not they won't.

Thirty percent of WPP's business is already digital. There's a definition issue in where does digital begin and where does it end, in that it now enthuses everything.

Brand management
Brand management is more and more complex. That's what our lives are about. The more complex it becomes, the more value we can add– ask Millward Brown, a $5bn analytics business.

As it gets more fragmented, with consumers and customers getting all sorts of impressions from different sources, it has become much more important. You see companies increasingly doing corporate branding as well as product and service branding and it's becoming more and more difficult to deal with. That's a big advantage for us.

Hiring and developing talent
Our industry is notorious for not developing talent but nicking it. When I look at the WPP Fellowship scheme when we started it 12 years ago, my biggest fear was people would copy it – they haven't. And it tells you what people are about.

We don't recruit people very well, we don't assess them very well, we don't give them feedback very well. We're trying harder than we did a year ago or ten years ago, but there is such a long way to go.

Our focus is new markets, the BRICs and next 11, which now make up about 30 per cent of our business. The world is moving not just east but to the south. The areas that are growing faster are Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East (even with its problems) and Central and Eastern Europe.

The only places that are disappointing at the moment are Japan, for understandable reasons, and that has been the case from a secular point of view for about 20 years; and then the Middle East, because it is under pressure for obvious reasons also.

Social media and CSR
The risk of social media is you invade people's social space and they object. So having commercial messages in the middle of social relationships is somewhat dangerous. Even the experts make mistakes in that area and underestimate the impact of commercial messages when people are exchanging socially. It's very powerful but you have to be cautious.

PR has been impacted positively by social networks, both in the development of data and the application of data and technology to the business.

John Wren
President and CEO, Omnicom
Interview by Ian Darby, deputy editor, Campaign

Digital media
For as long as I can remember, we have been coping with a changing media landscape. If I let that keep me awake at night I would have collapsed long ago. The big difference now is the pace of change; but that's exciting.

I expect the word ‘digital' to disappear in the next few years. Almost all media will be digital. We are going to have more and more opportunities to target more precisely, to create experiences that consumers engage in more fully, and to analyze, and then optimize, the efficacy of our campaigns.

Brand management
This is becoming more complex every day. Part of our role is to simplify things for our clients. To help them focus on the things they should be doing well, and to simplify the process of managing it.

There is a big difference between simplifying and being simplistic. The former requires hard work. The latter sometimes pretends to be insight. It seldom is.

I do wish there was a way to create greater continuity in brand management – people who own, live and breathe a brand for several years, rather than simply using it as a stepping stone.

Hiring and developing talent
Omnicom is in the business of talent. At some point you come to terms with the fact that you are never going to have as much brilliant talent as you'd like. But you can have more than your natural share. To do this you need to have a really clear picture of what kind of talent you want and then create an environment in which what they do best is valued.

Paying competitively is necessary, but creating the environment I have described is the differentiator. That's why we have Omnicom University.

Our clients are expanding in all corners of the globe. As a consequence, we have invested heavily in our own global resources. The challenge is how to have the necessary capabilities in all the places that matter to our clients; and to have a culture, and the processes, that will enable us to deliver against the differing, and constantly evolving, requirements of our clients.

As we teach at Omnicom University: ‘In the war between strategy and culture, culture eats strategy for breakfast.' The needs of the brand come first, then the agency, then the individual.

Social media and CSR
Crowd-sourcing is an acceptable way of soliciting ideas. It does not, however, replace the creative inventiveness of teams working every day on a brand.

Crowd-sourcing, of one sort or another, has proven to be a good way of generating consumer engagement. Walkers' ‘Do us a flavor' campaign [by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO] is a world class example of this.

As a way of generating brilliant ideas, it has so far proven to be somewhat less reliable.

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