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Interview: Anthony Rhind, Co-CEO & Marketing Director, Havas Digital

'It’s a shame that the acronym ROI has come to mean a short-term transaction because return on investment can be brand equity or good corporate reputation rather than a quarterly sales number'

Interview: Anthony Rhind, Co-CEO & Marketing Director, Havas Digital

“It’s a shame that the acronym ROI has come to mean a short-term transaction because return on investment can be brand equity or good corporate reputation rather than a quarterly sales number”

Neha Saraiya | Delhi | February 9, 2012

Like many foreign heads of agencies, he too loves Indian food and its architecture. But what connects him in a special way to India is that it is also the birthplace of his father. The first thing you notice about him is his big smile and his humble demeanour. And the next trait in him that comes to the fore is his passion for the digital space! After being involved with the digital medium for the last six years, he truly believes that marketers today need to find ways to marry traditional media with the digital medium in an effective manner.

At Havas, he looks after the holding agency that has the company’s media interactive arms under its umbrella. In an exclusive conversation with Best Media Info, Anthony Rhind, Co-CEO & Marketing Director, Havas Digital, talks about his journey at the agency, nuances of the digital industry and his love for India. Excerpts:

Havas Digital has transformed from being a single brand agency to a group of agency brands including Latittud, iGlue, Mobext and more. Is the proliferation of agencies primarily to take on competing businesses or develop speclisation across the digital space?

Historically, there was a media agency and a creative agency. The reason for brand multiplication or brand mutilation is twofold. Firstly, we might have a client relationship and we might have the opportunity to work with a client that is a competitor. So, the only way to work is when both the clients are happy – with two different setups. That’s one of the reasons for brand proliferation in our agency structure. The second is to enable the development of new capabilities. The best way to accelerate development is to set up a separate organisational structure, give it autonomy, fund it and allow it to grow. Those predominantly are the two reasons that led us to launch different brands.

In the digital space particularly, for which I am responsible, we started as Media Contact. We ran as Media Contact in some markets as we had strong market share there. But we realised that there were a lot of competitors’ work. So we launched Latittud and iGlue that allowed us to have multiple clients. At the same time, the client was asking us to prove our capabilities in data analytics, mobile, performance management or social. That required us to put on the table a team of experts. It is necessary to put out a brand name to be good at something, but to be meaningful you have to be able to say what you are for someone to consider you. Often we were in situations when we were not invited to pitch for some of the emerging businesses, even by existing clients! They thought that it was not our area of specialization!

Has the growth route for Havas Digital been mainly organic or inorganic?

The attitude of Havas is always to try building a stable organisation. We have been less active in terms of acquisitions compared to other global holding companies. There are many companies that are to be respected and admired, with professionals leading them. What happens too often is that big holding companies acquire companies and then the management leaves the organisation to be on its own. So, what you are left with is not what you admired at the time of the acquisition. We have recently acquired a mobile specialist company in the Philippines called Snapworx. The reason they joined us is that they see a huge opportunity and are impressed with our attitude digitally. They will be at centre of what Havas has seen developing for its clients. That’s how we approach our acquisitions. It’s about buyouts and not sellouts.

What is role of an integrated marketing agency like Havas Digital today?

We are by identity an integrated agency group. Because we are smaller than WPP means we can operate in a more integrated fashion because we know each other and have a good relationship. We are integrated but what we need to realise is that we are also specialised. The perception is that you are one or the other. But consumers are not one or the other. They lead an integrated life and rely on search channels. We have to be integrated but have to be specialists also. It’s about having smart people who know how to bring changes, how to interpret what they say and having systems to give guidance as well. That means research plans, channel planning tools, etc.

How does India fit into your global network?

If we are looking at relative scale, the largest markets will probably have head counts of 100-200. The largest markets are in that order of size. In India it will be around 80 people. We have outsourced operations in Hyderabad and have teams in Mumbai and Delhi. But if we just look at where we just had lots of billing revenues and headcount, we can never grow ahead of the market. The growth that we are seeing here, especially in the current economic environment, is not like that in Latin Amercia or South-East Asian markets. In India there is another reflection point that we are looking forward to.

In your view, what kind of balance should a marketer strike between search, display and social when planning to leverage digital media?

The key is to rely on data. If you don’t track all of the channels, you don’t know what each one is contributing. It’s not easy to track everything, and in the worst cases you track everything! You got lots of data but you have no way of managing it and interpreting it. That’s why we have invested so much in a data management platform. Firstly, it allows integrating different data that tells what the user has done in different spaces. Then we have business intelligence that allows us to interpret and give us the information to manage the medium. But even for this, you don’t have to have any attribution protocol.

Talking about Indian market, what are your key thrust areas?

In India, mobile, search and social are critical as more people are brought up in a situation where the economic condition allows them to be consumers. They would want to have relation with brands and if they have access to computers, they would find it though search. And mobile is increasing. The web is mobile and people are finding relationships through search and social media. If we understand the relationships with all of these, we should have an analytics as the key. We can’t operate in a bubble, so we need to have a strategy that links traditional and digital market positioning credibility.

While you say that digital medium is evolving like never before in certain markets, we also have large numbers of marketers who still rely on the ‘last click’ or ‘last impression’…

A lot of markets are still relying on it. You must understand that frequency is a positive and click rate declines as frequency grows. Click isn’t the best indicator for liking potency. If you optimise against click, you are reducing performance. Thus, the first point is to be able to see the linear journey and understand the performance. Marketers need to move away from last click. It’s true that the mathematics is complicated; gathering data at user level is complicated. But a simple start from a touch point and application of common sense will make the industry move forward, and help recognise the problem and find out an effective solution, not necessarily a perfect solution.

Traditionally, advertising on digital medium was all about ROI as it can be measured more accurately. But of late, companies have understood the need for building trust through the platform. How do you view this?

It’s a shame that the acronym ROI has come to mean a short-term transaction because return on investment can be in terms of brand equity or good corporate reputation rather than a quarterly sales number. So the first thing that needs to be clarified is that we can’t set KPAs against brand or non-online transactional marketers. Digital is about relationship and that relationship can be used to make a transaction or to build an emotional connection between a consumer and a brand. The measurability of digital should make it the first reliable stock for brand marketers just as how it is increasingly for the e-commerce marketer. I think we need to change the way we talk about digital and qualify what we mean by ROI.

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