New Delhi: Andrew J. Swinand, president, global operations, at Starcom MediaVest Group, the media agency of the Publicis Groupe, loves India for its energy and entrepreneurial spirit. “Even when you land at one or two in the morning, there is stuff going on outside the airport,” he says. On his third visit to the country since he took charge as global operations’ president a year ago, he talks about the growing value of social network media in the digital space. Edited excerpts:
Has the economic slowdown affected different media markets differently?
Of course, it has. Western Europe has really been hit hard, so is Russia where the financial and oil money dried up. India continues to grow and has bounced back incredibly well. Ditto with China. So there’s been a lot of variability.
Transforming media: Starcom MediaVest Group president Andrew J. Swinand believes there is a high-margin and high-value market. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
There’s constant rhetoric on the importance of India and China. What steps have you taken to show your commitment to these markets?
In the old structure we had fewer people covering more markets. We now have dedicated leadership in China as well as in India. We have invested in talent and doubled our digital spends in these markets.
How important is digital media for Starcom?
Publicis acquired the holding company of Starcom MediaVest in 2002. In 2006, it acquired Digitas, the largest independent digital media company. Last year, it consolidated Digitas, ZenithOptimedia and Starcom MediaVest Group into a holding company called VivaKi. Viva meaning light and Ki meaning positive energy. The idea was to accelerate our investment in digital technology and leverage our scale. (Two months ago, Publicis acquired Razorfish, the digital media company of Microsoft). Earlier this year, Starcom launched a digital university in Asia in partnership with VivaKi. We want all Starcom employees to be digitally savvy and knowledgeable.
One of our key strategies is social media. VivaKi has created tools that allow us to track conversations on the Web in social media. It gets information on what people are talking about and how they are talking about it. We believe that India is a really big social media market. We have done programmes for Samsung and Aircel on Facebook. When Aircel was launched, we created a voice message application for Facebook users. It got huge traction.
But India is a traditional media market. Digital media must be hard to sell.
Yes. India and China are laggards in adopting digital media. One of the key purposes of my trip here is to tell people that though the digital penetration percentage may be low, there are 60 million digital consumers (Internet users). And this is not counting the 400 million mobile phone users, of which 10 million have GPRS activated phones. Clearly, there’s a huge audience utilizing digital technology.
Today, the digital market is around 4% of the total advertising spends. I believe it is way-way under-invested relative to consumer usage. We are actively encouraging our clients to increase their digital investment and take the leadership role. We like to think about digital as lead preference media where consumers learn about products. Clients (such as Samsung) in some other markets spend 80-90% of their budgets on digital.
Will social media be big for marketeers?
Definitely. The key with social media is understanding social influence. (For instance, viewers could send tweets from inside the theatre on the new film they are watching affecting the prospects of the film.). It affects the way you buy products and services. It is for us to see how we apply that learning.
Brands in India are frequently using roadblocks on television channels. Are more such clutter-breaking ideas in the offing?
Roadblock is not an idea. It is a tactic. It’s an 80s idea anyway. I would say there has always been a premium on ideas. The future of the industry lies in idea-led planning whether it is single channel or multichannel.
The future of media agencies is said to be bleak as the margins are squeezed.
I disagree. With standard buying services, you are in the commodity industry. I believe there is a high-margin and high-value market. We are investing in social behaviour and consumer track studies. We charge a premium and clients are willing to pay because it drives their bottomlines.