Interview with Marcus Peffers, Global CEO, M&C Saatchi World Services.
MAMUN M. ADIL: M&C World Services came into being in 2011; what prompted its establishment?
MARCUS PEFFERS: M&C Saatchi had an enormous amount of experience in behavioural and social change work in the UK and I thought there was opportunity to utilise the knowledge base I had built over the years and establish a dedicated social change agency. At that time, I was the COO of M&C Saatchi in the UK and wanted to set up my own business; M&C Saatchi liked my idea and as they encourage start-ups, we set up M&C Saatchi World Services. Their view is, if you have a good idea we will back you. Our model allows people to be entrepreneurial. I have a stake in the business and it is co-owned by M&C Saatchi.
MMA: Why was setting up a social change agency important to you?
MP: The power of effective communications and marketing can have a dramatic effect on many lives; for example, our campaigns for Change4Life in the UK. Furthermore, I saw a gap in the market – I did not think that a lot of creative agencies were doing particularly well in the development space and I wanted to take the thinking and learning I had acquired and export it into that space.
MMA: How did M&C World Services start? Did you have a few clients initially and then the business snowballed?
MP: Yes; it was a snowball effect. We knew how to win business in the sector because of the experience we had and this is important because bidding for business in the development sector can be a difficult process. We also knew the issues the sector faces and we have the creativity which is also important. We are more creative than the management consultants who traditionally work in this sector and we are more sector-like in our approach than creative agencies.
MMA: Is the development sector a profitable market?
MP: It is very varied although the margins are there. Some government clients pay good market rates (not as much as banks of course); as for NGOs or multilateral organisations, margins can sometimes be a challenge. Ultimately, it is what all agencies do, isn’t it? They will make more money with a client such as a bank and this then allows them to do a really cool ad for a trainer brand, or a charity. We do the same thing within the development sector.
MMA: How does M&C Saatchi World Services operate in relation to M&C Saatchi?
MP: In certain markets, we are embedded within the agency, as in London or Australia, or in emerging markets where we have an M&C Saatchi ‘hub’, as in Pakistan (we are part of the Pakistan offering). In other markets, we only have a World Services office. Either way, it is either embedded within the agency or acts as an independent one. We also partner up a lot with non M&C Saatchi companies, so if we do work in, let’s say Ethiopia, where we don’t have an M&C Saatchi office but want to do creative work there, we follow a strict methodology which requires us to ‘go to market’. Basically, we ask agencies to pitch to us and we choose them after a rigorous process.
MMA: So you effectively become the client?
MP: We are sort of a hybrid. Our clients like this approach because they benefit from high-quality strategic thinking and rigour from an organisation that looks globally at all of the issue sets and has high standards in terms of data, research, insight and creativity and then they also benefit from a good local partner and they like this blend. This is important because if they go to a local partner, they don’t get the quality we bring and if they just come to us they will not get that critical local influence. In fact, most of our clients don’t have marketing departments, so we are the marketers in such cases.
MMA: What are the major markets you operate in?
MP: Anywhere that is coming out of, or where there is, conflict and where a lot of money is spent on security. As soon as a conflict ends, a lot of money goes into that particular area to stabilise it such as Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria; Pakistan is a traditionally a big donor area, particularly for the UK and US governments, and Nigeria is important as well. We also track issues such as illegal migration, human trafficking and modern slavery, which are prevalent in many countries.
For example, 80% of the prostitutes in some parts of Europe come from a small region in Nigeria where it is considered to be a social norm because there are not many opportunities. We spend a lot of time with the UK and Nigerian governments trying to communicate the increasing opportunities in that region to encourage people to stay there or go somewhere else in Nigeria so they do not fall prey to prostitution.
MMA: Who are your major clients in Pakistan?
MP: They include DFID, UNICEF, USAID, UNODC and PTCL. ‘Seeing is Believing’ is one of the campaigns we did for USAID, and it was mould breaking. A lot of people have expressed scepticism on social media about the work that USAID has done, so we contacted them and introduced them to the beneficiaries and made an ad out of it. For example, we introduced them to truck drivers who had their driving hours significantly reduced due to the rehabilitation work USAID carried out on the Kalat-Quetta-Chaman Highway.
MMA: What about work outside Pakistan?
MP: Change4Life is a flagship programme that has been running for 12 years. It has won lots of awards and we are very proud that it has survived four prime ministers and four governments. Another would be a campaign we did for the UN, which required getting 10 million people to fill in the ‘My World Survey’. It was very influential in shaping the new UN Social Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We are also very proud of our work for LGBTQI+ human rights in sub-Saharan Africa. We build the capacity of LGBTQI+ organisations to help them push back against oppression and hateful environments and lobby with governments to soften legislation.
MMA: In your presentation at AdAsia 2019, you said that most of your work is done on digital. Does this also apply to countries like Pakistan where internet penetration is relatively low?
MP: Even in Pakistan, a lot of our work is done on digital. However, in regions with low internet penetration, we use other ways of communication, such as screening films, puppet and radio shows. For example, in eight sub-Saharan countries, we created a radio drama which was slightly different in each country, but with a common central theme which was that for every story of hate, there is a story of hope.
MMA: Do such communications require the same amount of creativity as commercial advertising?
MP: It’s interesting, the definition of creativity, isn’t it? Creativity has become a ‘super fat’ word and everyone uses it. I would say, creativity for us exists in two areas. The first is traditional creativity which revolves around execution and delivery, the other is thinking creatively and strategically to crack problems and for this, you need a good strategic brain to distil things – to cut the wheat from the chaff and think about the problem from a number of different angles.
For me, only people who have really good creative thinking skills can do this, even if the execution is not massively creative, perhaps because it is an outreach programme or a puppet show. I can guarantee that the thought that has gone into solving the problem that leads to the messaging is quite creative.
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