"We are quite anti-establishment"

Written by Pritha Mitra Dasgupta | Updated: Jun 29 2010, 06:43am hrs
Nick Waters had always been a WPP man. He joined Ogilvy & Mather UK in 1992 as an executive and worked with the agency till 1996. Following which he joined the media buying arm of WPP, MindShare, and headed its businesses in Europe, South East Asia, Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa. But after more than 18 years in WPP, Waters decided to join Aegis as its chief executive for the Asia Pacific region. In a freewheeling conversation with FEs Pritha Mitra Dasgupta, Waters talks about his future plans and revising Aegis in the Asia Pacific region. Edited excerpts.

Your first stint in Asia was in 2001. Tell us the difference you see now.

Within our industry I think its quite different actually. I think its much more competitive than it was in 2001 and standards have gone up considerably. So its a stronger industry, much more competitive than it was 10 years ago. Even 10 years ago there was a good sense of optimism that Asias time had come economically. I think thats now firmly embedded. Back at that time, much of Asia was still recovering from the aftermath of the financial crisis in Thailand and Indonesia. Even now during the recession last year when it was painful for some countries, Asia seemed to have bounced back very quickly. So the confidence is there and I feel some things remain absolutely consistent. The energy, the dynamism and the vibrancy of the Asian markets are a stark contrast to western Europe.

What triggered the move from MindShare to Aegis

I have been with WPP for 18 years, which is a long time. And I think its quite easy to become institutionalised in a company if you stay that long. And there is a danger that you might become intellectually lazy. You will know how to get things done and you might fall into the trap of taking the shortcuts. And I felt that I needed to challenge myself. I had achieved a degree of success with WPP. I also think that I was fortunate to have been a part of the MindShare story from day one. Chapter one was already over and it was getting into chapter two which is not fun. Incidentally and fortunately I got a call from Aegis. I think the portfolio and the agencys assets are well defined and narrow and are in the right place.

Carat is a powerful organisation in Europe. Isobar is a very interesting collection of digital assets. Posterscope is a global leader in outdoor advertising. So there was an opportunity to be part of two things. One, developing these assets and two, I was specifically interested in the geographic challenges because Aegis has been underweight in Asia.

What are the differences you see in GroupM and Aegis

I think the first obvious cultural difference is atmosphere and spirit. GroupM is very bureaucratic. And Aegis is free of that. Its very nimble, agile and quick probably because its smaller. But its also in its DNA. If MindShare, GroupM are very much the establishment, I think Aegis is quite anti-establishment.

You just mentioned that Aegis in Asia is underweight. Why

I cant answer that with certainty. I wasnt here. But my observation is that they didnt really understand Asia very well. I think probably they had the wrong regional leaderships.

As the chief of the Asia Pacific region, whats your primary mandate

Growth. As a global company Aegis is very big in Europe, particularly in western Europe. But no global company has a bright future if they rely on western Europe for growth because its not going to happen. And Aegis is very big there. We are a relatively small player in North America, a relatively small player in the Asia Pacific. So to gain global growth for the company we have got to accelerate growth rate in North America and Asia Pacific. We see all markets in Asia growing except for Japan, which will continue to contract this year.

Is it China and Australia which are the largest contributors in Asia Pacific

Yes, we are one of the market leaders in China. In Australia, we have a broad footprint as far as our businesses are concerned. So, although we might not be in the top five in media volume terms we have a wonderfully broad spectrum of businesses there. I look at the continent like a little bit of a triangle. So at the top of the triangle is China which is big and important and we are strong and growing and doing well. Australia is a relatively big and matured market and is growing. And then to the west of the triangle is India, where the history of this company is chequered.

Tell us whats happening with the Nokia account. While globally the account moved to Aegis, in India it is still with Maxus.

Because India is such an important market for Nokia and Maxus is such a large, established organisation and we are still in very early days. Nokia has expressed some concerns, which is perfectly understandable. The Nokia deal is a global appointment and therefore we have agreed that we will bring similar capabilities in India and then try and win Nokia here. Now, there is no written commitment on that from Nokia. But the Aegis team here is making all the progress they need to make to reassure Nokia. We still have very high aspirations.