Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

The new rules of business

Published in May-Jun 2014
In conversation with Bob Hekkelman, CEO, JWT Bangkok and Southeast Asia.

MARIAM ALI BAIG: How is the JWT network organised within Asia and where does JWT Pakistan fit in?

BOB HEKKELMAN: We have three leadership teams in Asia-Pacific reporting to Tom Doctoroff. Australia and New Zealand, headed by John Gutteridge; North Asia which is still led by Tom, and includes China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea and Taiwan; the Southeast Asian market headed by me which includes new emerging markets such as like Cambodia, Myanmar, and Pakistan. Although Pakistan has been part of the Asia- Pacific reporting line, it didn’t belong to any region. However, we have now set up more concrete leadership structures, and since I have known Mansoor for quite a while because a lot of the shoots for Pakistan are done in Bangkok, I said to him why don’t you join our Southeast Asia team because otherwise you are isolated, and this is what we did.

MAB: Where do India and the rest of the South Asian countries fit?

BH: South Asia reports straight into New York.

MAB: Why is Pakistan the exception?

BH: Because it is more complicated to organise and travel and we felt – even relationship-wise, given that I know Mansoor – that it was better to have Pakistan report into our team.

MAB: One of the debates within the industry in Pakistan is a trend whereby most of the creative work done by network agencies for multinational clients originates outside the country, which de-motivates creatives from generating their own ideas. What is your view of this?

BH: It’s partly inevitable. It is the way global clients are organised and it happens across all network agencies. I don’t think it is necessarily a problem. It creates financial stability for agencies by allowing us to hire people and generate revenue on these clients. Certain clients do provide more freedom. Unilever, for instance, although some of the innovations will come from the centre and there is a need to stay true to the idea, the idea can be re-shot using local talent, locations and props, which then, I would say, becomes an adaptation plus, plus. There is also a lot of BTL work, where the local Unilever client and agency work together on activation-based projects. So there are opportunities to do a spectacular activation or a digital piece, or an application. However, although some clients provide flexibility, the bottom line is that this is a fact we cannot change and it is okay. We encourage our offices to create strong relationships with local clients. This is where the vibrancy and the creative potential of an agency can find its real value. The healthier agencies across the region are those where the ratio between global and local clients is 50:50 or 40:60 and as long as we have that balance, we are fine.

MAB: Fair enough, but this trend seems to have led to another thread whereby local companies are moving their accounts from a network-based agency in their country to another network agency based in another country. This is what recently happened when two local accounts moved their business to two agencies based in India. How do you think this is going to pan out?

BH: I cannot answer your question on the cross border setups between Pakistan and India as I don’t have enough information about this. However, if the economic pressures increase and consequently the role of procurement, clients will look for efficiencies and the most optimal way to use their budgets to get the best value from their investment in their brands. So if there is a piece of communication which can travel across different markets, I am sure clients will look into repurposing that material across those markets, and if that means consolidating their activities under one agency in one particular market for a cross regional roll out, I think they would do it. JWT recently conducted a study among six Southeast Asian markets. They interviewed 50 CEOs about how confident they were that their companies and brands would play a meaningful role across the different Asian markets once the ASEAN Economic Community comes into play in 2015. What we saw was that clients are increasingly thinking that there is a massive opportunity to synchronise their brand communication across these markets. Now what this will mean, I don’t exactly know, but I believe that in future clients will increasingly brief agencies on work that travels across different markets and this will have an impact on our business.

MAB: A recent development in Pakistan has been the entry of GolinHarris Pakistan, under the Lowe umbrella. The objective is to roll out state-of-the-art PR practices to support clients’ advertising activities across different media platforms. Does JWT intend to follow suit here in Pakistan?

BH: I am a great believer in diversification and collaboration. As agencies we need to define what our core is and this will always be ideas. We are in the business of ideas and we need to build capabilities within our agencies to let these ideas come out and then amplify them in the relevant media. In the region, we have markets where we have a strong digital arm inside the agency; in other markets we have an activation team inside the agency and in others, although not that many, PR is integrated inside the agency. I believe that every office, at least for now, should have, in addition to mainstream creative advertising capabilities, digital and activation capabilities as well – and with activation you usually get your PR. If Pakistan is able to produce strong creative idea-led advertising, great digital creative ideas to support the brand idea and activation that can carry the brand idea in a consistent way throughout the country, I would be very, very pleased.

MAB: Digital capabilities opens up another debate; with mainstream agencies it is very clear that as brand custodians they are best equipped to handle their client’s digital requirements, while the specialist digital agencies differ on the basis that mainstream agencies do not have the mindset to handle digital effectively. What is your take?

BH: Ultimately it is the agency that understands the brand; this is our core strength. Digital agencies don’t necessarily have a good take on brands and how to develop and drive reputation for brands on a sustainable basis. I think the word digital is intimidating to many people, but it shouldn’t be, because it is something we do every day. Digital is not rocket science, particularly if you don’t go into the hardcore technology part of the business. It does not require much investment or effort to build basic digital capability in every office. If we have a project manager, a digital creative person and a digital planner this becomes a healthy starting point. The problem is – and we see this across markets – that usually the better digital creatives and planners do not necessarily want to work in an advertising agency; they prefer to work with digital natives in a digital agency. And this is usually where the mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures come in. We should not be intimidated by digital. We should experiment and explore it. Nobody knows exactly how it works, otherwise everyone would be doing it right.

MAB: Given the importance given to Big Data, what are the chances that in future companies like Google will be able to challenge ad agencies simply because they are best placed to mine and leverage such data?

BH: Big Data has become the new buzzword in the last two years. WPP is not looking at Google as an enemy, they are looking at it as a ‘frenemy’ and there is a strategic partnership between Google and WPP. Are advertising agencies going to be in the game of Big Data in the future? I don’t see this happening soon. I think agencies are organising themselves to work with the necessary partners, whether they are the Googles of this world or the big CRM companies. It is all about having the right access to the right partners in the right market for the right client. All the network agencies have that capability.