‘Martin Sorrell doesn’t care who controls the message. It’s ridiculous’

‘Martin Sorrell doesn’t care who controls the message.It’s ridiculous’

McCann Worldgroup chairman and chief executive officer John J. Dooner Jr is in India with a global team and has ambitious plans for, what he terms, one of the company’s fastest growing markets in the Asia-Pacific.

McCann Worldgroup is part of the Interpublic Group of Companies Inc., a marketing communications conglomerate and has arms that operate in various areas of the industry. McCann Erickson, for instance, is McCann Worldgroup’s arm in the advertising business.

McCann Worldgroup’s clients include General Motors Corp., L’Oreal Group, Johnson & Johnson Inc., Nestle Inc., Coca-Cola Co. and Intel Inc.

Dooner has held the post of chairman and CEO at McCann Worldgroup since 1995, except for the three years he spent at the Interpublic Group, where he held the titles of president and later, chairman and CEO. He rejoined McCann, Interpublic’s largest operating company, in 2003. Dooner is credited with directing the McCann Worldgroup’s transformation from a leading global advertising agency to one of the world’s largest and fastest growing integrated marketing communications entities.

Dooner spoke to Mint on McCann Worldgroup’s global and India plans. Edited excerpts:

What is the immediate agenda for your visit? And what are your larger themes for the group?

We have planning sessions for major Asian countries that go into the next 18 months. We are here to review strategic planning that’s going on in the individual countries and some of the things we are seeing from the global point of view. Our intent is to examine the delivery of each discipline and ability to integrate items for seamless solutions. It’s a sort of planning programme where every country (operation) will review how they see their company growing.

Some focus areas emerging for McCann (are) digital (which) is all-pervasive and needs to be applied to all areas. Also, the physical space—entertainment, sports marketing, events and promotions are becoming increasingly more important. Everywhere, our clients are requiring us to give greater sense of account for performance..., which is why analytics, etc. is also important. Most importantly, we have to refocus on big ideas. Keeping other things aside, we need to have the most powerful ideas, distinct from our competition to build clients brands.

Do you intend to focus on acquisitions here and globally? Or will growth be largely organic?

McCann WorldGroup comprises disciplines (arms) such as MRM Worldwide (in the area of digital communications), Momentum Worldwide (event marketing), McCann Healthcare, etc. Each of these disciplines has been in development for many years. We have very little need for acquisitions. Competitors are aggressively buying agencies because they have not developed these disciplines from within.

Our main focus is organic growth. We need to make sure that these disciplines are managed in such a way where they continue to grow. Acquisitions can come in a part of the digital world that we require and haven’t developed. (One) example (is) search marketing, where we have some nuances right and some learnings to get. Also, in places like China, there is a need to get the complete portfolio of services. Acquisitions could come there, but in large part, for us, globally and in India, it’s organic growth.

Your competitors have been shopping for specialized communications agencies—Publicis Groupe has Digitas Inc., and WPP Group has 24/7 Real Media...

I sense there was a little bit of a catch-up game there with these companies. But going forward, these digital offerings are going to be suspect, because you cannot isolate digital and put it in a corner. Digital has to be in the circle of solutions. You cannot isolate it from a brand-building experience or the public relations experience. We are following a different route though.

We created the NewLab a couple of years ago in Los Angeles to study all that’s there in new media and to understand the different applications and methods involved and how we can use these in marketing communications. We allow MRM to spearhead our ventures, so that we are ahead of the curve.

We are also trying to study consumers better. The consumer is influencing the Internet and digital communications, as never before. We want to make sure that consumers become our eighth discipline in marketing communications. I am not going to reveal more on that score. But stay tuned.

Would you be looking at partnering with your sibling IPG agencies closer here? After the Lodestar-Universa merger, are you looking at a common media arm or merger with IPG’s Lintas Media Group?

We are not in the business of sibling love. We are in the business of building brands. The merging of FCB Ulka’s media brand Lodestar and then McCann brand Universal McCann was a unique case which worked for us in the long run. We are buying efficiently and to have two media agencies collaborating independently with Interpublic Group agencies makes more sense, than to have one.

Our belief is quite unlike a WPP where the media operations (companies) are in constant competition with brand agencies.

We believe in interdependence rather than a separation characterized by who wins and who doesn’t. He (Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO, WPP Group) doesn’t care who controls the message…whether it’s the media agency or the brand agency. I think it’s ridiculous. Clients today want integrated media solutions. There’s got to be a strong interdependence between media and brand agencies. I believe that marketing communications needs a lot more interdependence. Ten years ago, it was a divide. Today, it’s total communications solutions.

Would you say that without the clout of an added Lintas Media Group to add scale to your buying operations, you are buying efficiently?

If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be buying at all. It’s as simple as that.

If there was a perception that we were at a disadvantage because of scale, we would create a Magnum (media buying arm for IPG companies) rather than a merger. You simply find a cooperative way of buying. But we don’t have the need at the moment.

How big is India as a market for you? Are there any global companies (units) that you may bring in?

India is important for two reasons. The country is seeing a double-digit growth in all sectors, far exceeding global growth. Chairman and regional creative director Prasoon Joshi represents India in a 13-person group called Collectives, which is responsible for the total creative product of McCann. In the Intel pitch which we won, a major part of the contribution came from India. Exporting minds is the big thing for India. I can see India, as one among the top 20 countries in the world, in advertising communications and otherwise.

I can bet on anything that it would make it to the top 10 in the next few years, and Prasoon would take it there. All major global disciplines like MRM and Momentum are already present in India and are seeing gradual growth, as per market conditions. The only brand that is not here is FutureBrand, which we don’t plan to bring in right now.

Wieden & Kennedy is setting up shop in India and it handles Coca-Cola’s ad business globally. Observers say that the Coke business is in danger of moving out of McCann?

Their coming to India is good news. Competition keeps us sharp and we look forward to that challenge. But in view of the work we have done in India for Coke, I think the client would be supportive of us.

McCann India has seen a lot of exits recently, including that of president Santosh Desai. How do you plan to address the attrition levels?

In one way, it’s flattering that people are looking into your company for talent. On the other hand, it’s a pain in the arse that you have to hunt (for) and employ new talent. Santosh Desai’s departure was because he wanted to do something else. We have high regard for him. But we haven’t lost leadership because Prasoon Joshi is there.

While it would be wrong to say that I am not concerned about attrition, I can’t say that I am overtly challenged by it either.