WPP’s media investment group GroupM restructured its agency brands merging Essence and MediaCom to form EssenceMediacom, a new agency that fused the digital and data-driven DNA of Essence with MediaCom’s scaled multichannel audience planning and strategic media expertise. Nick Lawson, the Global CEO of MediaCom now leads this newly formed EssenceMediacom. India was the first market he visited after the merger. Storyboard 18 caught up with Lawson to have a candid conversation about the vision for this new entity, the India business and, with 10000 people and 120 offices around the world, how EssenceMediacom is close to becoming the largest media investment agency globally.
The first market that you are visiting after the merger is India. What is the goal that you have set out for Navin Khemka, CEO of EssenceMediacom South Asia, in the country?
I genuinely believe that in the next 3-4 years we can probably double in size. We launched as the third biggest agency in India and think the potential for us is exponential. We can also grow in share of what we do for clients as well. The part of the proposition of putting Essence and Mediacom together is that you don’t have to now choose between the traditional media agency and a performance agency. We are giving clients the best of both. So, I didn’t want to create a slightly better version of Mediacom or a slightly better version of Essence. I wanted to create something new. It is called EssenceMediacom. It is a bit of a mouthful. I think we can shorten it to ‘EM’.
Both brands have a global reputation and we wanted them to be associated together. And we want to really challenge the market, challenge the clients around some of the big questions that they are facing. Questions like ‘how can I get my creative and media to work more closely together’. We got a whole ecosystem which I call ‘new commerce economy’ building up and the clients are struggling to get right messaging on the platforms. With our experience especially with Google as our biggest client across the world, we can also answer some of those questions in some areas.
I also think a lot of clients are struggling with budget. How does my marketing budget really payback on my P&L, how do I justify the money that I spent to my CEOs. I am really more interested in becoming more central to a client’s ‘comms’ strategy.
It took 9 months to merge these two entities. What was the impact on the cultures? How did the cultures mesh together? Many say that the agency cultures were quite different and distinct.
Agencies are based on culture and I am great believer of ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’. If you haven’t got the right culture, you are never going to be successful. Culture has been the main focal point for me - how to build a common culture between those two agencies. We were both ‘people first’ agencies. Essence called their people ‘Essentials’ and we kept that, whereas Mediacom always said that ‘people first better results’. So now we have joined the two, people are always at the heart of our business.
EssenceMediacom is a place where people can grow their careers. If you look at my background, I have spent 30 years. I started off as somebody’s assistant in Mediacom in the early 90s and I worked my way up right through the company and I want everybody at EssenceMediacom, if they want that opportunity, then to have it. So the most important thing is that we are going to be ‘growth orientated’. And the I am also great believer in looking at personality types. If you look at Mediacom’s personality I would define as ‘drivers’ and very expressive in nature. We are very goal orientated, we are very competitive on new business. And then I define ‘Essence’s culture as more analytical and amiable. But we are a formidable combo. So kind of complete a fully rounded personality.
Is that working well?
That’s where magic happens, right? It has been an incredible journey. It has been humbling, getting to know the talent across. I know Mediacom inside out. But it has been humbling getting to know the Essence talent. And if you look at the global team that we recently announced, it has been really well balanced between Essence and Mediacom.
10000 people across 120 offices around the world. That makes you the largest agency under the new GroupM restructuring exercise. What are the goals that you have outlined for global leadership teams and teams from the other markets considering the current economic concerns globally?
We are pretty close to being the largest global agency. But I am not obsessed with size, I think scale is important in media companies for capability reasons. But I think for me now it is really positioning ourselves as crucial to client’s needs. What I want be is the most recommended agency in the world.
What has been the impact on clients post the merger. How are they looking at this new entity?
First, we certainly wouldn’t have gone ahead and done this merger without speaking to some of our key clients. The great thing about Essence and Mediacom is that we are pretty complimentary businesses. We have no major global conflicts. We did have some conflicts in the UK, there we are maintaining two separate offices. There we have got EM and EMx in UK. And we have talked to both set of clients and they are appreciating the fact that we have kept separation in teams. I think we have handled that very well. And we had to defend some clients along the way. And we did a big global defense of PlayStation and it has been very successful.
On that note, what does the new business pipeline look like? Any new businesses acquisitions in India and other markets?
Since I have been here, we have won 3 clients! I don’t know whether Navin just wanted to condense them all to my arrival. Navin has got a fantastic track record over here. I expect India market to become double really in the next 3-4 years. I think we will be super competitive in this market. I also think this is the best example of WPP. We are sitting in the WPP Campus. I think this is the best example in the world of the power of WPP
Three decades for you in advertising. You have seen the agency through all its life stages and the agency has seen you through all of yours. What has been the journey like and how have you seen the agency evolve over the past 30 years?
I can connect the old world with the new world in media agencies and there are very few of us still right now who can do that. When I joined the agency there were media departments within creative agencies. And I have seen the journey of the separation of media, making media really important and pure play. We are going to graduate to being all-rounders of the communications industry. Which is where I think media agencies will end up in the future.
I didn’t join a company with 10000 people, I joined a company of 34 people which was bought by Mediacom in the late 90s. So I have worked for small companies, I have done every job in between.
It has been 20 different jobs, even though essentially I have stayed within the agency. I come back to the point that the only reason that I stayed there was because I was given the opportunity to grow in the company and we were a growing company.
What made you stay for so long?
There hasn’t been a better time to be in media. When I joined in the first place, secretly I wanted to be a copy writer, I am so glad I didn’t. I was not so good at it. Because media has been the most dynamic and exciting place to work in the last 30 years. And more so today if you think about what’s happening in the market.
Your key advice to brands and marketers going forward?
Think differently, think about how you break through in the new communications economy because you cannot do exactly what you were doing before. Eyeballs are shifting and straight play advertising isn’t going to work in the future. So, you have to start thinking differently about how you go about getting across your messages.