"It's in India and China, growing laterally or geographically, where we'll remain most focused" : (Part II)

Andre Nair, the man who has been the face of India's most powerful media independent for the last three years, is all set to move on. The chairman and CEO of Mediaedge:cia Asia Pacific, having handed over executive charge of GroupM in India to Ashutosh Srivastava, will be based out of Singapore from next week on.

In this the concluding instalment of a two part interview, Nair looks ahead to what his new portfolio will entail, what the challenges are and where the opportunities lie.

Let's talk about MEC. It looks as if just as Maxus, especially in its earlier and smaller avatar as Maximize, worked as a flanker agency to Mindshare as regards non-competing brands, smaller account pitches, etc now MEC will perform a similar role to both of them. Is that correct?

Totally incorrect. There has always been this misconception that all the second string accounts went to Maximize, that the second string talent went to Maximize. The other part of the misconception is that since Srini (CVL Srinivasan) has come on board, suddenly it's the real thing.

So what you're saying is that MEC will not be taking up the slack as it were off Mindshare and Maxus?

In fact, it is exactly the reverse. As I said earlier, Mediaedge:cia is independent of the other two GroupM operating companies. The fact of the matter is that when WPP acquired Zenith in India, as it was then, it was not a large shop at all. It was a medium sized agency with a collection of small accounts. Obviously, since we launched Mediaedge:cia India in May, we've been actively pursuing business. We've won a number of new pieces of business. And that will continue.

To be frank, Mediaedge:cia India still labours under the negative perception Zenith had previously. This is something we have to work on.

People say one similarity between you and Martin Sorrel is in the one-on-one personal pitches that you both set great store by. Is that a common feature of all the top execs of the group? And doesn't this at times confuse the lines of command with the people under you?

Let me just correct the first misconception, which is about Martin Sorrel. He is involved in some big pitches. But it is not as if he stands up and fronts himself as the man who is going to make the magic happen.

But that does happen.

No, he doesn't position himself as that. What he does is two things. He says look, your business is important to us to the extent that I am getting myself involved and secondly, my role in all of this is to facilitate and make sure that what you need is given to you from across the WPP Group.

Where he comes in is facilitating getting onto the pitch list, in having very high end contacts and therefore relationships with his counterparts on the client side.

And you also do that, and I say this not as a criticism. But my original question was really leading into the point that doesn't this at times confuse the lines of command with the people under you?

Not at all. Exactly what I said about Martin, my job is to make sure that our people are enabled with all the resources and the capabilities to deliver on whatever it is we promise, to the highest quality. That's my job. Are there clients that I'm more involved with in that? Of course.

So I have a reasonably clear role. As do the persons who run accounts, units, offices or companies within the group. There is no point in undercutting them or undermining their authority.

Another thing about Martin Sorrel has been his growth strategy based on acquisitions, the case of Grey being the latest in point. That is one growth route that WPP has not taken in India these last three years but that looks likely to change in 2005. The names of Madison, for which again Publicis Groupe is the other suitor, and Enterprise Nexus have cropped up in this regard. Your comment.

All I can say is that acquisitions is part of our plan for 2005. We are actively looking at some of the players in the market in this regard. Something that is substantial, something that doesn't duplicate what we're already doing. That's all I can say.

"All I can say is that acquisitions are part of our plan for 2005. We are actively looking at some of the players in the market in this regard"

Madison would seem to fit the bill on all counts. It is after all one agency that has gone toe to toe with Group M in 2004.

I'm not sure I'd call GroupM winning 65 pitches versus Madison's six "toe to toe".

Looking at WPP's performance in 2004 at a global level, one point that comes out in stark relief is that Asia Pacific, with nearly 30 per cent growth, is way ahead of the US, UK and Europe (between 8-12 per cent). Is this a function of the way media is exploding in this region?

Yes Asia is growing at a faster pace. One because of strong organic growth.

But it does have a lot to do with the way media is unbundling in Asia. And it grows apace every year. You've got to understand that there is a greater percentage of media in Europe that is already unbundled versus Asia.

Thirdly, I think that whatever have been the effects of the economic slowdown, Asia has either rebounded much faster or wasn't affected as much.

Economies here are growing much faster than the rest of the world. Is that it?

Yes. The third thing also, is that Asia, at least for the last ten years, has been an attractive destination for people to expand their business into. And I think that continues apace.

At least for us also, in the last two years, launching in new markets. Pakistan being a good example. Pakistan came online in the middle of 2003.

That's for Group M?


Coming to your imminent move out of India, your takeover of Mediaedge:cia seems to be starting off on a bit of a sour note what with the InterContinental Hotels Group account for the Asia Pacific having just gone to ZenithOptimedia. Has there been any good news from the region to report as regards the agency in the last three months.

There have been some big wins. One I can talk about is DHL. There was a huge global pitch for Deutsche Telecom recently after its acquisition for DHL. It basically boiled down to Carat and us. Carat kept Europe and MEC kept North America and Asia Pacific. That was a big deal for us.

Furthermore, Mediaedge:cia Asia Pacific won over 150 new clients last year across the region. And big ones like Wrigley in China, Noavartis globally, Canon in Australia, to name but a few.

What has been the expansion of Mediaedge:cia into new markets?

India came online this year, as you know. We already had operations in China, but we've launched our third office in China two months ago. We won Wrigleys in China about a month and a half ago, which is a $ 50 million account.

At the moment we are in ten countries, and we are looking activily at some others.

But within our business focus, both India and China remain our top priorities in terms of growth moving forward.

If you look at the top 100 spenders in China, less than 10 of them are multinationals. So there is huge growth potential in terms of really local business.

And looking at the Asia Pacific, outside of India and China which are your target markets.

Philippines has already come online as of this month. Mediaedge:cia has no presence in Japan as yet so that's obviously up there on our radar. Vietnam is another important market that we're immediately looking at.

Then there are the other countries in IndoChina, Laos, Cambodia but that is more long potential than anything immediate. South Korea is a huge market that is yet to be tapped by either GroupM or Mediaedge:cia.

But really it's in the large markets like India and China, either growing laterally in terms of services, or growing geographically penetrating the interior, where we'll remain most focused.

On a more personal note, one aspect of corporate life in India is how much longer hours top management put in than their counterparts in the West. But you still manage to find the time to do different things. You enjoy trekking, you're a keen squash player, and you're even into martial arts. What's the formula?

Where do I find the time? Well, you have to make the time. I and my wife by the way, are working towards our black belt in Tai Kwan Do. So I think it is a question of making time. Don't get me wrong on this, but sometimes we are a slave to our own bad time management. It really all boils down to working to manage your time.

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