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Wavemaker opens for business in India replacing Maxus and MEC

With focus on content and technology, the agency will open with a team of 700+ professionals, led by new Managing Director Kartik Sharma

Alastair Aird

GroupM's Wavemaker, created from the merger of Maxus and MEC, has opened its doors for business in India and is banking on its content and technology play along with an exclusive 'customer purchase journey' tool to stand out from the crowd.

The newly formed global agency is number two in India in terms of size and has 700 plus employees on board with service portfolio of clients including FMCG giant ITC and L’Oréal.

The agency in India is being led by its South Asia Managing Director Kartik Sharma.  

Talking to BestMediaInfo.com, Global Chairman of Wavemaker Alastair Aird said that content along with technology and identifying right audience are the three parts that will lead the core of agency's business in India.

"To understand the right content to be served to the right audience at the right time is of prime importance. Content contributes about seven per cent to our revenues, and we expect this to go up to 20 per cent in 2020. 750 out of our 8,500 people are already working in the content space. In India, 100 out of 650 people work on content. Other than content, identifying the right audience and technology builds our core too," he said.

When the first announcement of merger Maxus and MEC was made, GroupM had said that brand Maxus India will be the last one to be dissolved and will stay on a little longer than its sister concerns in the rest of the world. But when Wavemaker’s worldwide rollout plan was announced, Maxus India was to be dissolved at the same time along with its global counterparts.   

Kartik Sharma

About the change of mind, Sharma said, “We made that statement but as we went along in the process of merger working closely with the teams globally and locally, we looked at the whole picture and realised that it is actually a correct time to move to Wavemaker. Hence the change in that plan. We spoke to the clients for feedback. This is an incredibly bigger and stronger proposition for them (clients), and it made all the sense for them. We always want to do what is right for the client. Maxus as a brand was a strong and successful one. But with Wavemaker, we are able to create a bigger and better organisation for clients and ourselves.”

Sharma will be a part of the global executive committee of Wavemaker. The company has decided to form a structure that keeps away the regional-level layering of the management. Aird explained, “Structurally, we are moving away from regional management. Instead, we are moving directly to global management by putting our best talent across the group at the global level who will work directly on the biggest and most important global markets. We have invited Sharma to join our global team.”

As the MD, South Asia, for Maxus India, Sharma was reporting to Ajit Varghese, CEO, Asia Pacific.

Speaking more about the role change, Sharma said, “In addition to being the MD, South Asia, Wavemaker, I become a part of the global executive committee which means to shape and give inputs and take feedback on all the policy matters of Wavemaker, not only as a South Asia region but the global brand. Many of the Indian agencies still have the regional structure and this is the first time we are seeing this big shift.”

Sharma said it will also change the way the Indian part of Wavemaker works.

"Apart from the accountability, what it gives is an opportunity to shape some of the products and thinking. While developing products like these, we will keep the local nuances in mind," Aird said.

“You can’t just develop something in one market and try to adapt it for other markets. India is seen as a very complex country and hence, how do you adapt those studies for the local market. A lot of inputs have gone into these studies from the Indian market. Momentum will hence be much India-centric,” said Sharma.

Varghese, who had moved to the Asia Pacific role in January 14, will now be a part of the ex-co as the President, Market Development.

Wavemaker grabs the title of the No. 2 agency of India and globally, No. 1 in EMEA, No. 3 in Asia pacific and No. 4 in North America. In India, Mindshare still remains the leading agency in terms of billings.

"Now Wavemaker will be the clear number 2. Maxus was number 2 in most rankings, barring a few, while MEC was in the top 10. More than billings, I would like to be number 2 in terms of quality of work that we produce. We are expecting a significant jump in the businesses and billings.”

Aird spoke about the unique selling point of the newly formed agency and how making the functions technically equipped is an important focus area for them. The one USP of brand Wavemaker is the obsession with the ‘purchase journey’ tool; this will sit at the heart of everything that it does. “There has been very low GDP growth in the world and relatively lower advertising growth. As we all know, to build brands, you need to spend money behind them, brands don't build themselves; you need to use all the tools. And what we are going to do to drive that is though our purchase journey tool.”

The agency has also got tools in place to churn, manage, analyse the data to make it usable for insights. According to Aird, the agency is passionate about understanding the purchase journey better than anyone else (media agency and any other business).

He also spoke about the tool called ‘momentum’ that worked at MEC and will now be brought to Wavemaker. “It is a proprietary research study that we have taken over the last three years that includes interviews with 3,75,000 people across 75 countries and is 3.5 times bigger than any research done for purchase journey. That’s the magnitude and the scale. We are going to accelerate our investment into growing momentum. Another is m-Platform – a global audience technology developed by GroupM to bring together client data, media partner data and the individual data. This gives the ability to activate the purchase journey.”

He said the agency is also going to invest in content, data, analytics and e-commerce practice and leverage these capabilities at scale.

Aird mentioned, “Agencies in future need to think themselves as the product business, and not just agencies. The third important part is leveraging GroupM’s strengths. We (GroupM) are looking at integrating all our agencies together and that is what Martin Sorrell is looking at WPP business for a better output for the clients.”

Contributing about 35 per cent to the total business of Wavemaker globally, digital is the germ that motivated the birth of Wavemaker. Digital disruption has created problems and confusions for everyone.

“The CMOs and CEOs’ roles have huge challenges and they don’t know which way to look at and who to ask. I believe that’s our opportunity. We created Wavemaker to create business that will be able to work with them through this period of digital disruption,” said Aird.

Wavemaker India will be headquartered in Mumbai with offices in Delhi, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Chennai, Thrissur and Cochin. The agency will have offices in 90 countries with over 8,500 employees. Major global clients include L’Oréal, Vodafone, Marriott, Colgate-Palmolive and Paramount.

Lastly, the merger of the two agencies will obviously bring the clients together. From an Indian context, we asked Sharma about any conflict of category. He answered, “We have excellent systems and audits which we and many of our clients’ conduct, where we ensure that full confidentiality of data and process on those clients are maintained. I have never seen us losing any client because of conflict reasons. We have never compromised on a client over other clients, irrespective of the size of the client. We provide the same level of service, confidentiality and data protection to all clients. We are successful in creating those ‘chinese’ walls and all system processes are driven. We are a Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) compliant agency.”

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