Maria Luisa Francoli, Global CEO of MPG, was chosen to create a digital agency within Havas Media in 1997; Media Contacts today is a leading global interactive media network with offices in 27 countries and 36 offices.
In 2003, Francoli was appointed CEO of what was then the Media Planning network, the largest division of MPG. She was appointed Global CEO of MPG in 2006 to concentrate on driving profitable and sustainable growth for clients and, as a result, MPG.
She began her professional career in the US in the travel industry. She then spent four years in banking, concentrating on mergers and acquisitions and project finance till the end of 1993 when she joined MPG.
MPG anchors Havas Media with more than 100 offices and 4,000 people worldwide. A leading global media agency, MPG was founded in Spain in 1978 and is currently celebrating its 30th year of leading new thinking in marketing communications.
Francoli, who was in India recently, is gung-ho about the India operations of MPG. In conversation with exchange4media’s Pallavi Goorha and Shruti Tripathi, she speaks at length about the media planning function and MPG’s plans for the country.
Q. Between traditional media and new media, which do you think will rule in the future?
A. Digital media will rule the future for sure. We will not only see the advent of digital media in terms of mobile and Internet, but also witness traditional media in a digital mode. TV, radio and outdoor will definitely be upgraded to the digital mode.
Q. What is your view on the changing role of agencies and the media industry’s business model?
This is a question that will take us quite some time. The business models that have defined our industry for the last 30-40 years are constantly changing now. The changes can be attributed to technology advancements. It has definitely changed people’s lives and even more so, the lives of people related to the media industry. The way people relate to each other and how they seek information has also undergone a sea change. This has made a profound change on the business models of the manufacturers and advertisers. But most importantly, it has changed for us and our industry; it helps us to relate to our present and prospective consumers. The technology has made a strong impact on the business model of the media.
Our consumers, manufacturers, advertisers and media companies are changing. The resources we needed 10 years ago are very different from the resources we need now. Today, we need powerful data analysis and management capabilities, managerial abilities and analytical skills to provide requisite data on return on investment (ROI). The need of the hour is for our people to use technology for delivery of services. And by technology I don’t mean knowing how to use a computer, but possess data analysis abilities to understand the link between the brands and the consumers.
The profound change makes our industry challenging yet interesting.
Q. There’s an ongoing debate whether for a client the creative agency should be the first vote of call or the media agency should be the first vote to call?
My view has different components. First component is that there are different types of clients who have different types of needs. For clients who are ideas, emotions and creativity-oriented and require less types of service, the creative agency should be the first point of encounter, while for numbers-oriented clients, who make accountability a mandate, the media agency should be the point of encounter. When it comes to the clients who require numbers, our duty as the media agency come to the forefront.
Traditionally, 20 years ago a creative agency like McCann Erickson or BBDO developed the networks of key planning for brands like P&G or Coke and then established throughout the world that the headquarters of clients should have a good distribution network for their communication. Then, a few years later, came the revelation of the distribution network of MPG. We realised that there were two distribution networks for the media agency. We pay twice, once to the creative agency to spread the word in the world and again to the advertising to communicate to the market. I don’t think it’s appropriate for advertisers to pay twice.
The solution to this problem is that the distribution networks or media strategies need to be localised. I don’t think that the creative agencies require such a large distribution network; they work in conformity with the old business model, which is somewhat inefficient today. And as we can see, some of the most successful creative conglomerates today like Wieden + Kennedy are not based on building, maintaining and managing large distribution networks. They are concentrating on nurturing creative talents and ideas instead of managing large geographies.
Finally, with all this media perforation, where there are so many touch points for the consumers, the working of communication networks can be understood. I think the roles and responsibilities of the media agency are growing. Also, the media agency and the creative agency should work in cohesion.
Q. What is the approach you’re adopting for the Indian market?
India is one of the key markets of the world. Firstly, India is potent with business opportunities, and secondly, if one wants to develop an understanding of the world, one should understand India.
MPG hasn’t been in India for too long. We had set up our independent office here in 2004. We have made our share of mistakes here and we have learnt from them. Starting with Anita Nayyar, CEO, Havas Media, we have developed a strong management team for our India operations. The first phase was ‘watch and learn’, and this is the second phase for us, wherein we are reinforcing the right structure and approach for the success of the company in the coming years.
Q. What are your expansion plans for the future?
We as a group are unique in terms of the organic growth we exhibit. Unlike our competitors, we at MPG Global or Havas Media believe in entrepreneurship and building from scratch. We aren’t resorting to acquisitions like most of the players today. Having said that, we aren’t close to acquisitions, but we would be interested in a company built on the right philosophy and culture.
Our plan of action for India is to reinforce our services of entrepreneurship like the online portal and launching new services that are complementary to the core business of MPG Global. Sports marketing and sports entertainment are interesting arenas that we are looking at. Also, we would reinforce the traditional media front in the form of outdoor and more. We would also reinforce online, which is one of our key values. We have a strong impact vis-à-vis our online portal in the world, but we haven’t had an impact in India yet, so we shall definitely work in that direction.
Q. Last year, the Havas Group had introduced Havas Sports in India. What, according to you, is the scope for growth of sports marketing in the country, considering that India worships only one sport – cricket?
A. The number of opportunities around cricket is undoubtedly huge. The opportunities for Havas Sports are also huge. But building communication around sports is vital. Sports can be used to communicate effectively and this is an interesting mechanism. However, sports should not be seen in just in the light of competition, it also caters to children or to small cities and even more so as a tool to mobilise communities. If we create tournaments irrespective of the age groups or communities, the number of opportunities would be huge. Even if we look at sports that aren’t worshipped in India, brands will definitely seek association with them.
Q. How would you compare MPG India’s performance with the international outfit? How do you plan to leverage MPG International’s client list?
We are very proud of our operations in India and I attribute the success to Anita (Nayyar). We don’t have a big presence in Asia yet, but the India operation is our flagship in Asia. We don’t have too many offices here yet, nevertheless, the level of commitment and dedication that the Indian operations possess is commendable. It is a catalyst to bridge the gap that others might find.
We have brought our methodology here that we use across the world. Quite a few employees in the Indian office are trained to use the same methodology, tools and language as used in Paris, London or New York. I am confident that the Indian team can communicate at ease with our teams in any part of the world. The same MPG jargon is used by all employees. Hence, this facilitates the communication in sync with each other. We definitely plan to continue to bring our clients to India.
Q. What are the media planning and buying trends in India and globally?
A. I am not familiar with the key trends of the Indian market. However, owing to technology advancements and digitalisation, we can see a growing trend of media exchanges in the US. We are witnessing the digitalisation of the Internet. We are switching from buying an apparent impression which we can see on, for example, the Yahoo! homepage, to buying the actual impression. We have undergone a sea change in terms of our buying decisions, which are now influenced by planning and technology and economic implications. With this level of sophistication, speed or mathematical calculations that need to be applied have become incredibly efficient. We have good analytical skills and data interpretation prowess. Today, we are buying an impression regardless of the place. Also, the inventory with respect to print and TV has changed radically. So, in my purview, these are the most important trends that have emerged.
Q. What is the kind of investment that you are making in India?
A. We are investing in our people. We are training our employees to integrate themselves to the knowledge of the world. It is our constant endeavour to bring all sources of knowledge to the Indian contingent.
Q. Each company designates tools for its operations. Are there any tools that MPG Global makes use of?
Absolutely, with the complexity and data figures omnipresent in our industry, the tools are a basic essential. We use a tool called ‘Decision Support System Tool’. All companies have tools, but what gives us the competitive edge is that all the key strategic tools that we have devised for budget-allocation or media-mix allocation are built on the same principle and hence, work in conformity with each other. They are built around similar infrastructure and enable us to answer very basic questions like how much and in what brand should I invest.
Since we are a relatively young group, we had the advantage of launching all our tools at the same time in all markets. And dince there was no legacy, they were embraced unanimously. All our markets use the same strategic tools. Like Anita would have no difficulty in conversing with the team in Chile. The basic tools help us take stock of all market situations – from consumers to brand positioning and so on. The tools are not measured in terms of data, but originate from the basic grass roots.
The tools take into account both qualitative and quantitative data. This is not a magic tool which gives us a solution, but it helps us to sit with our advertisers and build the scenario and together we decide on the different perspectives of the advertiser’s brand with respect to knowledge, attitudes and behaviour.
Q. What about the image as Euro RSCG’s media agency, while it is a full Havas Group agency?
A. Euro RSCG and Havas Media are sister companies. We are grateful to Euro RSCG because it is because of them that we started our India operations. The fact that they were here before us made our work simpler. It is our sister company. Like in all families, the younger sister establishes a personality through its siblings. Similarly, Euro RSCG has enthused us to grow for the good. We share a very good equation with Euro RSCG.
Q. In times of economic downturn when companies are tightening their spendings, how best to utilise media to reach out to the TG?
A. We are definitely witnessing a period of economic uncertainty. A lot of advertisers are decreasing budgets in some parts of the world, while others in comparison are more stable. It is a time to exercise caution and look for return on investment. The pressure due to shifts in budget is increasing rapidly. The need of the hour is to facilitate a shift from less accountable media to more accountable media. Therefore, digital media is at an advantage as it has a larger premise of accountability than other media. We see a shift to low-risk media. Hence, media that have a vast experience are the most privileged.
Q. How can media agencies go a step beyond being mere media buying agencies?
That’s a good question. We need to stay ahead of the curve and keep ourselves updated about the latest happenings in every market related to media. Talking about buying trends, what we are learning is that the communication priority set for the coming years is data, research, voices of consumer, which are taking a new dimension. As with the advent of the Internet the general comment was that one could talk to advertisers and consumers by putting up a website. However, the reality was that consumers were not too interested in talking to brands or corporations, they would rather talk to each other about the brands. Technology plays a huge role in helping us do that. Another change that technology has spurred is transparency. So, now it is important for corporations to discuss with the consumers. Consumers now have a much bigger say in which corporations they want to deal with it. They would now just buy a bottle of water because of the company behind it. They will judge whether the company is in tune with the society.
Corporations need to be humane and understand that they have been established in communities and we should all ponder over the sustainability of our planet. Corporations need to involve consumers.
I had read somewhere that this works like a democracy. Consumers vote for the corporation of their choice. And as a responsible politician enquires about the need of his/her constituency, the corporation should cater to the needs of the consumers.
Instead of persuading the consumer, the corporation should focus on being the product of choice of the consumer. They should fulfill their corporate social responsibilities with utmost sincerity.
Q. At a recent session on Advertising Week, you had talked about considering social media when planning campaigns? How can Indian companies tap the potential of this media?
Corporations need to make judicious use of social media to understand the concerns of the people. This social media has being magnified by technology. In India, different types of social networking such as Facebook or MySpace can be used by an individual or an advertiser to create a social cobweb for a particular community.
We are also launching a new tool called ‘Resonance’ to take into account the effects of word-of-mouth or social networks. This is in the planning stage and will be introduced in India soon. We have launched it in key markets and have got good results. We will be launching it other markets before the year-end.
Q. Please tell us more about working in the Havas Group.
A. This is a group that has faith in individuals working in the Group. They are very entrepreneurial and multi-cultural. The main defining factor of this Group is that it gives you the creative freedom to do what you want. If you have a dream, desire or plan, it provides you ample opportunity to make it happen. Although we are a mid-sized Group, we have the agility and flexibility that is absent in bigger groups. Therefore, our mid-size is a blessing for us to prosper and grow. For example, launching of tools is much simpler owing to our size, because we can enforce the tool in all our key operations.
Q. What are your plans regarding Media Contacts?
A. In India, our plans are to reinforce Media Contacts. They are strong players in the digital world, but I don’t think you can feel the strength of Media Contacts in India. We plan to invest in developing our teams and be at par with other markets. So, I want to vest our energy in improving our teams and products.
7 months ago