Com­pa­nies and brands ‘should have pur­pose be­yond profit’

Me­dia, mar­ket­ing and COVID-19: Q&A with Ravi Rao, CEO, GroupM MENA

Arab News - - Media - Zaira Lakh­pat­wala Dubai

In May 2019, Ravi Rao took over as the CEO of WPP’s me­dia in­vest­ment net­work, GroupM MENA. We caught up with him a year and a pan­demic later to dis­cuss me­dia, clients and COVID-19.

When you joined GroupM as CEO, what were the ini­tial set of chal­lenges and ob­jec­tives?

It was a sim­ple goal to re­struc­ture, re-en­er­gize and put the group on a growth path with a clearly de­fined fo­cus on clients’ growth and de­vel­op­ment. So, stream­lin­ing dig­i­tal, trad­ing and data and tech­nol­ogy of­fer­ings was fo­cused around what the client is ex­pect­ing through a co­he­sive; of­fer­ing e-com­merce so­lu­tions to bring­ing about ef­fi­cien­cies and driv­ing re­turn on mar­ket­ing in­vest­ment. Part of my re­mit was to also bring agen­cies more to­gether while al­low­ing their con­tin­ued au­ton­omy.

To­day, we are more lean and ag­ile with all new ini­tia­tives and drive that in­cluded a new lead­er­ship team for Mind­share re­sult­ing in adding more clients while re­tain­ing al­most all ex­ist­ing clients in a highly com­pet­i­tive mar­ket. Saudi Ara­bia came back and took its usual po­si­tion with sev­eral clients and projects for the gov­ern­ment-led ini­tia­tives that also led to or­ganic growth in lo­cal busi­ness. We have a con­sid­er­able growth in vol­umes de­spite the in­dus­try hav­ing re­gressed in ad spends.

The chal­lenge is sim­ply how to drive growth in a stag­nat­ing econ­omy in an un­usual sit­u­a­tion that the en­tire world is fac­ing. We had to cre­ate mean­ing­ful brand strate­gies that quickly adapt and bring value to con­sumers and cus­tomers of our clients. Com­pa­nies and brands should have pur­pose be­yond profit in th­ese try­ing times.

The Adex (GroupM

TYNY) will drop by 25 per­cent in 2020, but will wit­ness a 13 per­cent growth next year, pri­mar­ily on the back of a re­bound from Saudi Ara­bia and the UAE. The gov­ern­ments of both coun­tries have ini­ti­ated a lot of mea­sures to re­vive the econ­omy rapidly, and with oil prices sta­bi­liz­ing at around $40 this is quite a pos­si­bil­ity.

Eco­nomic and emo­tional anx­i­ety re­mains high, but the eas­ing of lock­down is open­ing up new vis­tas for a re­vival. Kan­tar has iden­ti­fied three ma­jor trends that will re­main sticky to shape con­sumers’ post-pan­demic be­hav­ior — a new wave of eco­nomic shop­pers, an era of value-con­scious­ness and a move to­ward lo­cal con­sump­tion.

So, brands that are em­pa­thetic and pro­vid­ing value to con­sumers, as well as lo­cal brands in Saudi Ara­bia, can ac­tu­ally ben­e­fit if they ride this wave. Rosie Hawkins, chief in­no­va­tion of­fi­cer, Kan­tar, ob­served: “Brand strate­gists will need to more closely eval­u­ate their re­sourc­ing strate­gies and ex­plore the op­por­tu­ni­ties that strong prove­nance cre­ates.”

How are you han­dling th­ese chal­lenges?

As a group, we had to bring syn­er­gies and re­move du­pli­ca­tion that ex­ists in cer­tain ge­ogra­phies and func­tions. We sim­ply re­grouped mar­kets that col­lec­tively could use re­sources from one low ad spend mar­ket to an­other and in­vested more in Saudi Ara­bia where we see the big­gest po­ten­tial. In fact, in an­other two to three years we are think­ing of mov­ing the head­quar­ters to Riyadh be­cause that is where the con­sumers are and that is the sin­gle largest mar­ket for us from all an­gles and to our clients. This is a tem­po­rary slack­ness that will only re­bound soon. Clients such as Mo­bily and the Olayan Group have taken the lead in re­shap­ing their prod­uct of­fer­ing and mak­ing it con­sumer rel­e­vant. NCB and Al-Safi Danone are rein­vig­o­rat­ing via busi­ness trans­for­ma­tion aim­ing to fur­ther sup­port the Saudi con­sumers in times of need. Self-suf­fi­ciency is the need of the hour. We are united in the vi­sion set out by Chris­tian Joules, CEO GroupM Worldwide, “to be re­spon­si­ble for shap­ing the next era of me­dia that makes ad­ver­tis­ing work bet­ter for peo­ple.”

QAre clients cutting me­dia bud­gets or halt­ing any up­com­ing ini­tia­tives due to the cri­sis? How are you deal­ing with that?

The first month did not wit­ness any cut in bud­gets, but then de­pend­ing on the cat­e­gories that a client op­er­ates in, we did see a drop from the sec­ond month. There was a “wait and see” ap­proach that most clients adopted, but where the sup­ply chain was bro­ken, the slashes were more im­mi­nent. On the other hand, a few clients did up the game and in­vested more to give an op­por­tu­nity and ser­vice to its con­sumers.

An ex­cel­lent ex­am­ple is Fine Hy­gienic Hold­ing, tis­sues and di­a­pers. It quickly got into man­u­fac­tur­ing Fine Guard re­us­able N95 masks with Livin­guard Tech­nol­ogy that was the

Aneed of the hour. In less than three weeks, the masks were dis­trib­uted across all mar­kets as well as e-com­merce plat­forms to con­trib­ute to the peo­ple and so­ci­ety at large. Fine re­ally showed an em­pa­thetic be­hav­ior by cater­ing to the real needs of con­sumers dur­ing this pe­riod. Unilever also be­lieves that “brands must avoid ‘op­por­tunis­tic’ be­hav­ior dur­ing tragedy and ex­ploit con­sumers.”

What would your ad­vice be to mar­keters right now?

Re­flect re­al­ity! Get your com­mu­ni­ca­tion changed to re­flect and con­sider the con­sumer as they pay at­ten­tion to brands that are hu­mane and con­sid­er­ate to their plight. Value ad­di­tion is a must. Not just per­ceived value, but real value ben­e­fit.


Ravi Rao took over as the CEO of WPP’s me­dia in­vest­ment net­work, GroupM MENA, in May 2019.

We be­lieve in telling our own sto­ries; bring­ing them to the rest of the world. Waleed Al-Ibrahim MBC Group chair­man

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