David Mayo, CEO, Asia Pacific, Bates CHI & Partners, speaks to Mariam Ali Baig about the launch of Bates & Interflow in Pakistan.
MARIAM ALI BAIG: What brings you to Pakistan this time?
DAVID MAYO: We are here to launch the start of an agency called Bates & Interflow. Interflow is one of Pakistan’s most established agencies and we agreed that as the advertising industry evolves and Pakistan’s mediascape matures, agencies need to change and Interflow is an agency that, like the rest of the marketing community, needed a shot in the arm. At the moment consumers are leading and we need to make sure that we are at least running alongside them.
MAB: What is the background to Bates CHI & Partners?
DM: In 2013 I formed a joint venture between Bates, one of Asia’s oldest agencies and CHI, one of London’s most respected independent agencies. We did this because, a bit like Interflow, Bates needed a shot in the arm. It was a very traditional agency network consisting of 560 employees, nine offices in seven markets and about 190 clients. To turn the fortunes of Bates CHI & Partners around I created an open source agency – and open source means that you collaborate. Clients need agencies to collaborate with each other, so that they can cherry-pick. We are hoping to bring to Pakistan the behaviour and learnings we picked up over the last three years with our turnaround in the region, and create a thoroughly modern agency. We are here to build a business around a new model which is about collaboration, about spreading the net and helping clients get the best out of their strategic briefs.
MAB: What changes in practical terms for Interflow?
SAHAR TAHER KHAN (Business Director, Bates & Interflow): We have a dynamic new structure and we have hired almost an entirely new team in the top management. This team has not been picked from one place; it is a young team selected from multiple fields. The idea is to bring in talent from different pools from the region and within Pakistan and use these resources in ways we have not done before.
MAB: What happens to the old team?
STK: It is very much there. We revamped the management; that is where we brought in new blood.
DM: You cannot just bring in a new model and say to people who have been working with a company for 25 years or more, ‘you are now going to behave like this, so go and do it’. However, nothing is going to be different unless you put your money where your mouth is. So, we will go through a transition. Bigger clients need collaborations and they need bigger agencies to handle this. You have to start with an agency that has critical mass; good management skills, excellent end-to-end delivery skills – all of which Interflow has. Interflow has recognised what is happening out there in the world and they are ready for change. The question was how can they do it in a way that includes the people who took them to where they are now and give them a shot in the arm that will enable them to move forward in a new direction.
“We are here to build a business around a new model which is about collaboration, about spreading the net and helping clients get the best out of their strategic briefs”
MAB: The concept of collaboration is central to the current global agency debate about how to retain specialisation yet break out of the silos this often creates. Is this what we are talking about here?
DM: Agencies build their competencies through the development of skills, and to keep on top of those skills, they have a PNL attached to them to ensure they get better and better at growing that PNL; some agencies end up silo-ed and we have to bust through them and cherry-pick not only skills for delivery, but individuals as well. This is also about identifying a client’s business objectives and what they want to achieve. Our outcome doesn’t necessarily have to be a creative one; in fact, it is media which enables the creative discussions that will eventually lead to whatever outcome you end up with. What you look for is the connection between the consumer and the media interface – the moment when they are checking their screens or looking at a poster, or whatever. The future is not all about new media; TV spend in Pakistan is growing, so it is probably about new media and new combinations of old media. Our job is to engage consumers so that they are more inclined towards our brand and as markets develop and mature, brands are not always necessarily built on rational triggers. Brands need to live inside our minds and for this to happen you need to put the consumer in the action and not just in front of the action. Our job is to be more immersive and not be restricted by the skills we have in-house.
MAB: Isn’t one of the problems the fact that a new range of skill sets are required to deal with the new world out there; skills that are hard to find even in markets where the communication industry is much further ahead. How will you find them in Pakistan?
DM: An affiliation with a world facing network will help bring those skills to this market and we are hoping to attract new young talent by displaying what is going on here and showing them that if they want to build a career (which we hope millennials will start to do once they settle down and stop job hopping) they could come here as part of hopping around within our network and become the means to carry that information and those skills forward. This is the time for Pakistan. Hot young folks from top universities and business schools are asking me whether they can work in breakout or velocity markets; I want people of this calibre to tell me they want to work in Pakistan.
MAB: Are Bates CHI & Partners planning to induct people from the region to work at Bates & Interflow?
DM: No permanent moves are planned at the moment, but this is definitely on our to-do list. In the meantime, we will bring people in the next six to 10 weeks to help with training. We will do a talent audit, because if all you have done until now is make TV ads, how do you know that you are not brilliant at social or content marketing? We will bring in training based on the success stories of this new approach and try to apply them to individual client projects here. Of course, we have to keep doing what we are doing for our existing clients; they have hired us for a reason and we will continue to deliver on that, but over time we will slowly move our clients in this new direction.
MAB: In practical terms how does this pan out for clients?
DM: Look at the rise of smartphone ownership in Pakistan over the last 24 months. It was one of the first countries to go straight to 4G and the market is flooded with smartphones. If you want to do a mobile campaign, you have to go to an agency which understands mobile. What we are saying is that everyone has a screen in their pockets; it has become the interface between the consumer and the brand. According to the stats there are 1.9 smartphones for every head of population in Pakistan and our clients have to be right there, but not with a TV ad they have shrunk down to work on mobile. You have to do stuff that works on the mobile screen and if we don’t get how to do this, we will become extinct. How can the mobile tail wag the media dog? This goes back to the point I made that everything has got to be media up and not creative down. Of course, nothing negates the need for a brilliant idea, but everyone in this new collaboration model has to be involved in the development of great work. Ideas have to become everybody’s responsibility because we need more of them, more frequently and in more media touch points – and this is not one person’s job.
MAB: What becomes of the role of the creative directors?
DM: They are in charge of the one thing only agencies do – the idea. Brilliant, actionable ideas. There is no substitute for that.
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