Q&A: Kelly Clark, CEO, Maxus

Last Updated: Thu, Nov 03, 2011 19:43 hrs

With the third highest billings in the country, Maxus India has been one of WPP’s star media agencies in the country, apart from Mindshare. In fact, it has charted a way that is unlike most agencies. It became a top performer in India before it gained traction in global markets. Kelly Clark, CEO, Maxus, tells Sayantani Kar that this is one of its differentiators.

How does Maxus compare with the rest of Group M’s agencies? Till 2008, it was the smallest of WPP’s media firms worldwide?

Yes, indeed. Until 2008, we never had a global management structure. Maxus existed as local agencies in several countries across the world. In some cases, we grew very strong like, here in India. Maxus is the number three (media) agency in the marketplace.

WPP decided to develop Maxus into a new global agency network. Three years later, we doubled the size of the company in terms of client billings and workforce. By the end of 2011, we will be at about $6 billion, globally. Over the next three years, we aspire to double the size of the company, again.

How does it differentiate itself from the rest of Group M agencies?
We offer our clients the entrepreneurial culture of a small agency, along with the buying power, resources and technology of GroupM. We are different from most global agencies in our earnings as well. A third of our revenue comes from Asia Pacific, a third from Europe and a third from the Americas. While Asia Pacific is a big market for us, for most other, it is still small, albeit fast-growing. Our global CFO just moved to Singapore.

How do you cross-leverage Group M’s network?
Group M incubates new services, emerging media technologies. As these become more mainstream and commercially sustainable, we build up those resources within each agency.

What has led to your growth?
One major area is growing into new markets with current clients. So, Loreal, for example, has been a client in Indonesia for a number of years. This year, we won its business in India, Thailand and Malaysia. I am hopeful of winning it in other markets, too. New business is of course, the other factor. In India, we focus primarily on increasing market share by winning new clients.

Maxus India was recently wary about the Nokia account moving to its global agency Carat, which is also present in India. So, global account movements can also be a threat?
We are very fortunate in the situation you pointed. Nokia consolidated globally but chose to stay with Maxus in India, because of our track record with them. Vodafone held a global review about two years ago, and also consolidated with another agency, except in India. It stayed with our team in Mumbai. We have to work really hard to earn the clients’ business every single day. At the same time, as we win more global business, there will be opportunities for us to work with them here, in India as well.

How did Maxus retain these business?
They are great clients and treat us as business partners. If you look at the awards performance and recognition of our Vodafone and Nokia teams in India, they are some of the best in the world, with global and regional awards. Three years ago, the Maxus team set a strategy called ‘Creativitis’ and anyone who works at Maxus has to suffer from it. They have to challenge clients and media owners to find the first use of new media channels. I will put the work done by Maxus India against any agency in the world, it is as good as anything I see around the world. When I talk about case studies on innovation and business results, more often than not I’m talking about our work in India.

What challenges do you face in India?
India is among the top five markets for us globally, in terms of revenue and profit contribution. We expect double digit growth rates in both. Our billing was $ 525 million in India in 2010, the third highest among media agencies in India.My challenge is that I can provide enough investment in the market to keep our rate of growth and smart workforce intact. India and China are taking a disproportionate share of our global investments.

Where will the investments go?
We will grow our teams in all offices. Our drive to innovate in new channels will require bringing in talent with experience on the client-side or, as a media-owner or research-head, outside a traditional media agency. We are begining to do that in India, having just brought in Karthik Nagarajan as our technology leader. That will be our focus for the next three years. Our competition is coming from not just media agencies but web companies, digital agencies etc.

How do you measure the business results you bring in for advertisers?
Digital media, of course, is easier to measure than traditional media. When you look at the types of clients who’ve moved larger shares of their media budgets to digital channels, they tend to be more response-oriented in their business models, too. They track consumer response to offers online, to search campaigns, to social campaigns. They have been the first ones in and have helped us invest in software in different markets.

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