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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Optimism has now reached fast-moving consumer goods companies: Mark Patterson

Mark Patterson
This Q&A first appeared in DNA Money edition on Thursday, May 23, 2013.

Mark Patterson plays key roles in GroupM, the world’s No.1 media investment management operation which serves as the parent company to WPP’s media agencies.As CEO for Asia Pacific and chairman of China operations, Patterson oversees GroupM’s business across a humongous region. He tells why India and China are now growth-drivers in the region. Excerpts from the interview:

Could you share your views on the advertising industry in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region?
It’s really difficult to give an overall APAC situation. There is small single-digit growth in some markets, mega growth or high double-digit growth in a few other markets and everything else in between. That spectrum and diversity make it very difficult to identify what’s common between them because they are all so uncommon.

How do India and China compare with other regional markets?
India and China certainly fit in the scale of growth bucket. For our business and most other businesses, they are the engines or drivers of growth. It is like... the more we put in, the more we get from these markets. It’s a question of prioritising and there is no disrespect to other markets.

How does GroupM plan to grow in India?
We have been having a significant scale for some time. In India, we had to be braver, take more risks, be smarter about our growth strategy. When you have a certain scale, there is natural organic growth. We’ve reinvented ourselves several times over in the last few years. Being here for over a decade now, we have always had the ability to continue to challenge, develop and innovate, and to shape and lead the market. I think India is unique in that regard and we had to do a lot more differently here than in some other markets.

What were the focus areas of discussion during your India visit?
We spent time talking about MashUp (a joint venture with television production company Optimystix) which is a unique Indian proposition to deliver industrial-scale sustainable engagement online videos. Our mobile play with Madhouse, which is a Chinese company, is something that, in a way, brings China and India together, which is very unique.

Discussions largely focused on continuously diversifying and extending new services to other markets where they aren’t available.

Will you also be looking at some inorganic growth?
While we have been very acquisitive over the years, it doesn’t have to be that way always.

Our recent initiative MashUp is a great example of using partnerships as a strategy to deliver certain offerings in the market. In fact, we have another 4-5 such partnerships currently under discussion. We will work on delivering new services and continue to offer integrated broader solutions to clients.

You met top clients. What did they say?
Our discussion brought out one thing that’s common – cautious optimism. And that has now reached the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies. That’s sort of the key phrase across, something I would not really like to disagree with in most markets, to be honest.

I’ve spent a lot of time in China where the growth rate is still great, but it’s not what they were and there is still a degree of uncertainty. There is, sort of, this basic pessimism in Australia, while Japan seems to be gathering optimism.

Generally, people are getting to shorter-term outlook and clients are looking month to month, quarter to quarter, at best. Nobody is prepared to go beyond and make a prediction whether this is going to be a good year. The basic question is — how good will it be?

The risk with making a prediction is that you can always go wrong. But what I also found out is that the mood can change quite quickly; I could be in a particular market where four months hence things will have gone one way or the other for whatever reasons. It could be a 10-20% shift in sentiment rather than a 5%.

Any thoughts on agency-media relationships in the context of changing market dynamics in India?
The relationship we have with media partners is crucial on so many levels. The way we contract and work with media partners is changing as much as the way we contract and work with clients. If we have our people going on that side (media and clients), the circles all overlap and so can help down the line. One of the advantages of our network is the fact that we have scale, our people go out into other parts of business, but we always have that connection. In the end, it’s the relationship that works in this business.

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