Wavemaker is barely six months-old, the newest company within WPP to grow in what can be described as the post-Sorrell days at the network. Tim Castree of Wavemaker, in his maiden visit to India, talks to BrandWagon’s Shinmin Bali about the run so far, the ‘modern’ media agency, the evolving RoI conversation and more. Edited excerpts:
Wavemaker is nearing the half year mark in India. How does the run compare to other markets the company has recently launched in?
Things are going really well. If you look at the macro-economic picture, there is 13% advertising growth, maybe 35% digital growth, so the market is really robust.
Within Wavemaker, there are two factors that are really helping. The first is, we are being invited to a lot of business pitches and we are converting them really well. The second is, our efforts towards revenue diversity, which includes growing of the content, sports marketing and analytics practice or the e-commerce business. When you think about what a modern progressive media agency needs to look like, we are very much flourishing.
Has the restructuring come at an appropriate time?
When we think back over the last decade in terms of the amount of transformation that has been going on inside the media business — it has been immense. Nobody can accuse us of resting on our laurels while the world has been changing. We have been very aggressive in modernising our business. That said, the forces of change are quite intense. If our rate of change in the next five years remains the same as it was in the last five years we will fall behind. The rate of change needs to pick up. But I do believe that it is picking up.
What will boost the rate of change?
There is one thing I would like to say about digital transformation, I certainly do not underestimate consultancies. As it has been for the last 50 years or more, there are roles for consultants and agencies. So it is not a winner-take-all situation. But I do think one of the things that people underestimate is the value and knowledge that you generate by trading the commodity of media across every publisher, medium, every walled garden and across platforms — and when you do that across countries daily, it throws off a lot of knowledge and intelligence about how to create value for clients. That is one thing that is true about the media agency model that people do not estimate strongly enough. Many of our value added services are built on an understanding of how to drive success for clients that comes from the very act of working in the craft of trading media commodities on behalf of clients.
How have things changed in terms of pitching for new businesses?
There is nothing wrong with Maxus or MEC but the merger gave Wavemaker an opportunity to not only take the best of both agencies but also to reimagine what we wanted the modern media agency to look like, and take the opportunity to reconstruct what we have to offer. It has brought a sharp focus to the space we want to carve out in our client’s mind in terms of the role that we play. It has given us the opportunity to describe additional problems that clients have; that we like to be part of the solution for, in addition to taking the very best products and putting them together in a much focussed way.
Has this recalibrated the creative or the media planning aspect as well?
It has recalibrated the importance of both in a way. There is a huge opportunity to optimise the way paid media investment is made to get a better outcome. Furthermore, the importance of integrating that with what clients are doing across their channels — the owned and paid value proposition — is also growing. When you get those two things right together, you get better performance and access to a world of content where you get the right message to the right audience. The upside in terms of performance marketing and RoI is significant when you get all of those things right.
Is the potential of paid and earned media fully understood by clients?
The main thing behind that is that in many cases (but not all), clients’ systems for managing customers, CRM and the technology used is built around their billing system. So, many of those companies are structured differently and they have themselves bifurcated teams when it comes to managing customers and managing paid media. The paid media does an acquisition job and CRM sits within. But when you bring those two together and manage it holistically, there are two ways that it gets better.
One, all that first party data that exists from your direct customer relationship can be brought into your paid media and help optimise your paid media choices. The second thing, and this needs to move faster, are your own channels which are your most cost-efficient ones. So if I can optimise what I am doing for you and then optimising paid media around that, holistically it stands to reason that you get a better outcome. Increasingly, the operational work of bringing these things together needs to accelerate.
How do you see the impact of Martin Sorrell’s exit?
On a personal level, there is a sense of shock and sadness across the network. But equally, legacies Sorrell has left for us include very strong teams and operating companies. So even though it felt like the news around his departure came suddenly, we and our clients have adapted to the new normal, and there is a lot of confidence from our clients about where WPP is going.
We need to organise ourselves a bit more, going forward. There have been no ripple effects. Clients are supporting us. There is no news of restructuring at the WPP level for Wavemaker that has been communicated to us.