“The agency’s job is to add that ad­di­tional layer of cre­ativ­ity to the scale that the net­work can bring.”

AJIT VARGHESE,

Campaign Middle East - - FRONT PAGE -

global pres­i­dent of mar­ket devel­op­ment at Wave­maker, on logic, magic and agility.

Ajit Varghese, the global pres­i­dent of mar­ket devel­op­ment at Wave­maker, was re­cently in Dubai to meet with the WPP me­dia agency’s new re­gional CEO, Rabe Iyer.

Cam­paign caught up with the two ex­ec­u­tives to see how the new agency is do­ing.

Wave­maker was an­nounced in June 2017, formed by the merger of MEC and Maxus, both agen­cies within WPP buy­ing con­sor­tium Group M. When this hap­pened, MEC’s re­gional head was Neil Hard­wick, who was CEO of the agency from June 2017 to June 2018. He had re­placed Mo­han Nam­biar, who ran MEC (and be­fore that its pre­de­ces­sor Me­di­aedge) for 23 years un­til 2016. Iyer took over from Hard­wick in June 2018.

Varghese says that now the lo­gis­ti­cal bumps of com­bin­ing two com­pa­nies are lev­el­ling out, there are “three dis­tinct ar­eas of dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion we are able to bring to the ta­ble”.

These are: an ob­ses­sion with con­sumers’ pur­chase jour­ney; what Wave­maker calls ‘Rapid Growth Plan­ning’ for clients; and the net­work’s data plat­forms.

At the core of all three of these fo­cuses is the con­cept of agility, which Varghese and Iyer come back to again and again, call­ing it “the new scale”. For ex­am­ple, when look­ing at the ques­tion of whether to com­pete or col­lab­o­rate with other agen­cies.

“If I be­lieve, or WPP be­lieves, that I can bring agility to a client by merg­ing then we will merge,” says Varghese. “If agility comes through col­lab­o­ra­tion then we will col­lab­o­rate; if agility comes through a di­verse set of spe­cialisms then we will keep a di­verse set of spe­cialisms.”

Wave­maker’s role as a me­dia agency is mov­ing from plac­ing mes­sages ef­fec­tively to chas­ing con­sumers, says Iyer. Busi­ness growth among clients, and there­fore agency rev­enues, will come from sim­pli­fy­ing that chase for Wave­maker’s ad­ver­tis­ers, a sub­tle shift from be­ing ef­fi­cient to be­ing ef­fec­tive.

The prin­ci­ple of lever­ag­ing me­dia buys through scale is still there at the Group M level, where Wave­maker’s pur­chas­ing abil­ity is pooled with that of sis­ter agen­cies Mind­share and Me­di­a­com. But at the agency level Wave­maker is now more at­ten­tive to the sub­tleties of clients’ needs beyond tra­di­tional plan­ning and buy­ing.

The com­bi­na­tion of Maxus and MEC into Wave­maker has also meant that Mo­men­tum, a con­sumer sur­vey that had fallen un­der MEC, has now been am­pli­fied through the pooled re­sources and client base of the two agen­cies. The tool has now been used to poll more than 500,000 con­sumers in about 60 mar­kets, in­clud­ing the UAE and Saudi Ara­bia. Mo­men­tum re­search is now be­ing ex­tended to Egypt and within the GCC.

The abil­ity to crunch data is to­day a given for me­dia agen­cies, in ad­di­tion to the buy­ing power that is their rai­son d’être. But Wave­maker’s clients are also call­ing for what Iyer and Varghese re­fer to as “magic”.

“The agency’s job is to add that ad­di­tional layer of cre­ativ­ity, that ad­di­tional layer of cus­tomi­sa­tion, to the scale that the net­work can bring,” says Varghese.

Iyer adds: “It’s a good bal­ance of magic and logic, of course, and in this world you have the ad­di­tional op­por­tu­nity of creat­ing more magic through logic. You have all the data that is giv­ing you more power to cre­ate more in­sights to give you the edge to be more cre­ative.”

The merger to form Wave­maker plays into this nar­ra­tive. “Maxus had a bit of a cre­ative and en­tre­pre­neur­ial cul­ture, MEC had more rigour and plan­ning process,” says Varghese. “So we are able to

bring the best of both worlds. We are able to keep the best of ta­lent from both agen­cies.”

With that magic comes a shift in the bal­ance of rev­enue streams from the tra­di­tional per­cent­ages of me­dia buys to billings for other ser­vices. In the re­gion that ra­tio is al­ready at about 60:40, paid me­dia ver­sus other ser­vices, and glob­ally Wave­maker is head­ing to­wards a 50:50 split.

The world­wide net­work has al­ready crossed 10 per cent of its to­tal busi­ness com­ing from con­tent gen­er­a­tion alone, and Varghese says he ex­pects that to rise to 20 per cent within the next two years.

How­ever, he is quick to point out that is a pre­dic­tion, not a plan. Go­ing back to that core prin­ci­ple of flex­i­bil­ity, Wave­maker is open to chang­ing its op­er­a­tions de­pend­ing on what its clients ask for.

While many agen­cies talk of stay­ing ahead of the curve, pre­dict­ing trends and get­ting there be­fore con­sumers and clients, the nar­ra­tive com­ing out of Wave­maker is more prag­matic and re­ac­tionary, about be­ing fast to re­spond to the mar­ket with­out try­ing to sec­ond-guess its va­garies.

Clients crave sim­plic­ity from their agen­cies, says Varghese.

“I don’t think it mat­ters to a client whether you are com­pet­ing for busi­ness or you are col­lab­o­rat­ing for busi­ness,” he says. “They are in­creas­ingly look­ing for more col­lab­o­ra­tion across mul­ti­ple part­ners, whether it is cre­ative agen­cies, whether it is pub­lish­ers, whether it is ven­dors. The client is say­ing you ei­ther com­pete or col­lab­o­rate, it doesn’t mat­ter. Bring me the ideas, bring me the cre­ativ­ity.”

This is lead­ing to a “democrati­sa­tion of cre­ativ­ity”, where rather than cre­ative agen­cies au­to­mat­i­cally tak­ing the lead, there is a race for that po­si­tion, al­beit one con­ducted with “mu­tual re­spect”.

“To­day with the race to own the client’s re­la­tion­ship with ev­ery­body, when these par­ties come to­gether there is a dif­fer­ent level of aware­ness to be able to con­trib­ute mu­tu­ally, re­spect each other’s ex­per­tise and come to­gether,” says Iyer.

There is now less com­pe­ti­tion be­tween agen­cies and more col­lab­o­ra­tion, whether that is within Wave­maker, with other WPP agen­cies or even with ex­ter­nal sup­pli­ers. As the need for skillsets grows, that ta­lent can grad­u­ally be brought into the agency.

An ex­am­ple of this is per­for­mance mar­ket­ing, says Varghese. Two or three years ago, per­for­mance made up only 3-4 per cent of client bud­gets, and the Group M net­work agen­cies were con­tent to let spe­cial­ist per­for­mance agen­cies han­dle that side of their clients’ busi­ness. But to­day it has risen to be­tween 10-15 per cent, and Wave­maker and Group M is now build­ing up its in-house ex­per­tise in the field.

E-com­merce is an area where Varghese and Iyer pre­dict growth in the re­gion. In mar­kets with a more ad­vanced on­line mar­ket­place, such as the UK and North Amer­ica, 20-30 per cent of Wave­maker clients’ sales come from e-com­merce, and for cos­met­ics gi­ant L’Oréal this is as high as 50-60 per cent.

As de­mand grows in the MENA re­gion, Iyer’s agency will be reach­ing out to tap into Wave­maker’s global ex­per­tise, and WPP sis­ter-agency sup­port in the re­gion un­til that tip­ping point is reached when it will be­gin build­ing up in-house ta­lent.

“Our busi­ness is we com­pletely go by what the client wants,” says Varghese.

Group M – and WPP as a whole – have been go­ing through a rough patch re­cently, hav­ing lost a num­ber of key global ac­counts and a CEO, Mar­tin Sor­rell, who in April left the hold­ing com­pany he had founded. How­ever, Varghese points out that be­tween 2009 and 2016, the group grew to five times its orig­i­nal size. Share prices may have taken a beat­ing, but the top-line loss has only been 1 per cent.

In the re­gion, says Iyer, for ev­ery dol­lar of busi­ness Wave­maker has lost, it has won back 85 cents in new busi­ness. Not all of the 15 per cent dif­fer­ence sits with the agency’s tra­di­tional ri­vals. Smaller shops have taken their share of mar­ket­ing spend as clients’ busi­ness mod­els adapt to new ways of work­ing.

Wave­maker’s growth plans in­clude re­gional ex­pan­sion, with the Egypt of­fice show­ing “huge growth” among lo­cal clients, says Iyer. If Wave­maker’s lead­er­ship man­ages to stick by its ded­i­ca­tion to agility, rather than get­ting stuck in a rut, its fu­ture should be shaped by its clients re­act­ing to their con­sumers, and the agency re­act­ing nim­bly to the mar­ket – which­ever di­rec­tion the mar­ket takes it.

“IN THIS WORLD YOU HAVE THE AD­DI­TIONAL OP­POR­TU­NITY OF CREAT­ING MORE MAGIC THROUGH LOGIC.” “THE AGENCY’S JOB IS TO ADD THAT AD­DI­TIONAL LAYER OF CRE­ATIV­ITY, THAT AD­DI­TIONAL LAYER OF CUS­TOMI­SA­TION, TO THE SCALE THAT THE NET­WORK CAN BRING.”

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