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Local businesses are real focus for us: Torie Henderson, CEO, South East Asia and India, Omnicom Media Group

In an interview with BestMediaInfo, Henderson speaks about the value agencies need to demonstrate for their clients and reveals the growth plan for the group’s OMD brand. She explains how the agency is focusing on getting more local clients on board and not just MNCs

Torie Henderson

"Our focus is to build more local businesses. Along with our multinational heavyweights, together this can take it to the next level, which will help us in building a sustainable long-term business that can outlive all of us,” Torie Henderson, CEO, South East Asia and India, Omnicom Media Group, told BestMediaInfo in an interview on the sidelines of the open jury session of Kyoorius Creative awards. Henderson is the jury Foreman for the media category at Kyoorius Creative Awards.

Henderson said that despite pressure on the business, clients were willing to pay for good talent.

Talking about the rise of digital media, the advertising veteran with 27 years of experience said consumers don't care on what screen they were consuming the content. All that mattered was the quality of content.

Henderson, who took over from Jasmin Sohrabji in her current role last year, strongly feels customer acquisition and brand recall has to be built simultaneously and choosing one of the two can do more harm than good to a brand.


South East Asia is a challenging market with too much diversity. For that matter, India itself is said to be incubating multiple lifestyles, cultures and behaviours. How challenging was it to step into Jasmin Sohrabji’s shoes for the Indian market?

Of course it is a challenging market. But I have been in the Asia Pacific industry for about 20 years now, and with all this experience, one is expected to have a level of adaptability with the new skill sets. You have to go to the market with eyes and ears open and you have to listen and learn and really work out the way in which you can add value to that organisation. This is essentially what I do. I do different sets of things in different markets such as building the new leadership team in India, which is doing a phenomenal job. I really enjoy working with them.

So, it is looked at as a very diverse country and for somebody like me just trying to peel the layers of the onion is really fascinating, because every time I come here, I learn something new – be it a bit of a language. It is an interesting marketplace and for us, as a business, we are only 11 years old here. Jas (Jasmin Sohrabji) and the team have built a really strong business and now, our challenge is to take it to the next level and make sure that we drive a long-term sustainable business.

What is this next level for you? What are your plans about the size of the business, clientele and other aspects in the near future for the group?

We don’t intend to be small. We are winning good local businesses. We have done very well in establishing our footprint, with four offices in India. We are not necessarily going to expand our geographical footprint but we will expand our capabilities and try to infiltrate much more to the local marketplace with brands both in India and India exports. That’s the real focus for us, because we have many multinational heavyweights today, and together this can take it to the next level, which will help us in building a sustainable long-term business that can outlive all of us.

While you were given this position from within the network, Prithy Murthy has joined to head the Indian market from outside. Do you think it is better to have a fresh outlook from outside the company?

There are a couple of parts to this question – one is growing our existing talent. Harish (Shriyan) is a very good example of somebody who has worked with us for a very long time. Him and Jas (Jasmine Sohrabji) were the founding partners for our business here. Appointing Harish (Shriyan) as the CEO was a really good step because it has allowed him to grow and demonstrate his capabilities. So, we always try to look for people from within the network.

At the same time, bringing someone from outside is also equally important for any business. When you become too myopic, it becomes a very dangerous place and we need to make sure that we have the best talent that the marketplace can offer whether through growth of individuals or bringing people from outside. We have to make sure that we don’t lose our relevance and our competitive edge.

Do you think there is a need to differentiate the company name Omnicom Media Group from the brand name OMD?

We have a little bit of work that we have to do around positioning of Omnicom Media Group versus where the brand OMD sits. We have a very client-first brand-led-group-powered approach to our business and our clients buy into our brands, which means that our brands need to be really important and if the brands are successful, the group is successful.

What’s the one core strength of OMD to ensure your plans and solutions for the brands are not compromised? Considering that the brands increasingly want to become cost-efficient.

I think it’s incumbent on any agency – regardless of whether you are an independent agency or a part of the huge network – to demonstrate value for your client. Ultimately, the clients get into cost-cutting for a reason – cost-cutting to fuel some other things inside their business; or because they feel they to compensate some other shortfalls in their business. I think it is incumbent upon any business to make sure that they offer great value to their customers. So, regardless of whether you are in communications field (like ours) or in the education, you have to offer great value. That is really what each agency has to make sure.

For a long time now, there is a lot of focus on the cost, and you really have to find the different ways to deliver creative value and you can never get to ‘zero’. One thing that some clients are perhaps expecting is the drive to zero, but we all have to put food on the table for our families. We all have to provide stakeholders the value, it won’t navigate to zero. Also, there is an emerging breed of client organisations that have focused on these things in the past, but are now focusing on how to get the best talent to deliver them the best business results. Many clients are willing to pay for this, rather than just driving engagement.

Is the media agency business still under pressure?

All businesses are under pressure, with increasing labour cost, product cost. If you are a manufacturer, you’ve got increasing costs of raw material. I think it’s a huge challenge for the society and the governments in terms of how you manage costs and in a world where particularly rising middle-classes are keeping pace between their own salary inflation and market inflation. It is not a problem that is exclusive to this part of the world, it is a global problem. We are all reading headlines about the rich getting richer and poor getting poorer. It’s a global issue and the governments have to take it in their hands.

Since traditional is seamlessly integrated into new media nowadays, is there any distinction left between traditional and new media platforms except the cost factor?

There shouldn’t be any difference, not even the cost factor. I think if you think about the consumers who, while consuming different content through different media channels, are not necessarily differentiating between what we see on phone through Jio and what we see on the big box in the corner of the room that was called television, to maybe a tablet. We are looking at the fact that our consumers are looking at video content or print content in the same context. There are some really interesting things going on in India, particularly with Jio. Getting to understand what they are doing, it is a phenomenal marketing story and at the same time, the democratisation of data and technology is just going to explode in this country. I have found it extremely exciting, the Jio story of digitising rural India and the way they have built the whole platform is just phenomenal. It is going to change the way people access information and entertainment as well as many other products and services. I don’t think consumers now choose the screen where they are looking at the video content, they choose the content. It is more important that we are more focusing on the clients’ customers in order to get our messaging across to them. What Jio is allowing us to do is to focus on individuals and work on a much more addressable world than the dumb box (TV) in the house.

These days, there is a lot of focus on consumer acquisition, but then how do brands focus on brand building and brand recall?

I think you have to balance those two things, focusing on any one of them is single-minded. In the world where we operate today, there is freedom of information flowing around brands and customer acquisition. One bad experience can push the customer away from the business, so a brand must use messaging and bring them back. Those two things have to work in synchronised environment to make sure they connect. Some of the things that we learn from a lot of the e-commerce players. E-commerce is just exploding here, but what we can learn from them is the way they deal with customers. For people who don’t have that direct interaction with the customer is something really important to learn, but we have to also see brands wanting to take that relationship with customers more seriously and there is a big challenge as to who owns the customer. So, for example, if a consumer buys a J&J product on Amazon, whether Amazon owns the customer or J&J does?


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