Interview with Steve Blakeman, CEO, Asia-Pacific, OMD
MARYLOU ANDREW: As a relatively new CEO, what are you hoping to achieve in the next year or so?
STEVE BLAKEMAN: The reason I was brought into the organisation was to change it from within. We have been very successful in the last 12 years; you can see that from our new business performance and the RECMA (Research Company Evaluating the Media Agency Industry) data [RECMA ranks Omnicom Media as the top global media brand], so it is about moving to the next level. Lots of exciting things are going to happen for OMD in 2012, which I cannot share because they are embargoed.
MLA: If OMD has been so successful, what do you want to change?
SB: We are trying to change the culture to a certain extent. We are a renowned, big, strategic agency. Big is great, but equally, we want to be seen as smart, clever, forward-thinking and innovative. The analogy I would give you is that we are seen as an IBM and
I would prefer to be seen more as an Apple. I want that dynamism, that innovative feeling and strategic thought at the forefront of our offering. Big does not always necessarily mean better, so I want to put the two things together: big and clever is the perfect ticket.
MLA: How would you define OMD in terms of size in Asia-Pacific?
SB: Overall Omnicom Media is number one; if you look at the individual brands – OMD, PHD and M2M – I think we are number four according to RECMA. But size is not everything; we have scale and we leverage that as much as we possibly can. Biggest is not the best, and I think this is certainly the case if you look at it in Pakistan. We are not the biggest, but if you delve into the figures, more often than not, the people who are the biggest have got tenure on the big clients like Unilever, P&G and some of the telcos. If you take those clients out of the equation and put them into another agency, the number one agency slips very quickly to three or four.
MLA: What sets OMD apart from other media agencies?
SB: It is not about media anymore; arguably it never was. It is about all forms of communication and I think we are not just at the cutting edge, but at the bleeding edge of our business. Communications to us is not only about spots and dots on a schedule; it is about connecting with consumers. Going forward, it is about digital, about data and about understanding consumers better. There are components of our business that we have developed better and are launching throughout the region, which will enable us to be experts in all those fields. For example, we have a regional hub in Singapore and one of our strategic business units (SBUs) is called FUSE (for brand entertainment), and that is a skill set that we will be taking to every single country. In addition to FUSE we will be launching at least seven or eight more SBUs over the course of the next 12-18 months.
####Steve Blakeman was appointed CEO, Asia-Pacific, OMD in September 2011. Blakeman visited Pakistan in late December and spoke to Marylou Andrew about the agency’s plans for 2012.
MLA: Why is Asia-Pacific, and specifically Pakistan, becoming so important for media agencies?
SB: Countries such as China, India and Indonesia are of importance to every single communications agency because that is where the money is being channelled by our clients, and Pakistan is one of those countries. Everyone talks about the BRIC countries as important, but I think there are some additions to that, like Vietnam, Indonesia and Pakistan – you have a big population and anywhere else in the world that would be of significant importance. It is only because Pakistan is flanked by the likes of China and India which have even bigger populations that it does not seem quite so important.
MLA: What challenges do you face in the Asia-Pacific region?
SB: There are lots of challenges and talent is one of them. I tell our CEOs across the region that we want authenticity from people. We do not want a cookie cutter solution; I do not want people who are robots.
I am not a traditional CEO in the way I dress; I do not want to be a typical CEO. Do we need to be suited and booted? I don’t think so. It is what we deliver to the client that is important. I want people from diverse backgrounds, who can put themselves in the consumer’s shoes and get to the real reasons and motivations about why we buy brands.
MLA: What about challenges in terms of new media?
SB: The drive towards digital will continue to affect us. Do we generally understand the way people are consuming digital? No, I don’t think we do. There is one thing we certainly have not got a grip on yet and it is the mobile phone. Everyone uses them but do we really know how to market to people using them? The next phase is definitely going to be internet through mobile phones but it’s expensive and a bit slow.
So how can we exploit it? This is the opportunity and the future. We are launching an SBU dedicated to mobile in 2012.
MLA: What can we expect from OMD in the next 12 months?
SB: In the region, it will be a busy time for new business. It is well documented that we had a very good 2011, our new business record was second to none. We won $100 billion worth of new business last year. It was our best ever year in Asia-Pacific and I believe I am right in saying that it was the best ever year for new business that any agency has had in Asia-Pacific. Can we emulate that again in 2012? We are going to try.
We are also going to be refreshing the brand in 2012 and going for a new positioning.