We are shifting to a much more digital world: Maxus Global CEO Lindsay Pattison

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Lindsay Pattison, who took charge as CEO at Maxus Global a year-and-a-half ago, feels the agency is more than ready to guide clients through the digital and social media maze, with its recently-launched technology consultancy business. But when it comes to universal concerns about ad blocking and ad fraud…

Lindsay Pattison, who took charge as CEO at Maxus Global a year-and-a-half ago, feels the agency is more than ready to guide clients through the digital and social media maze, with its recently-launched technology consultancy business. But when it comes to universal concerns about ad blocking and ad fraud in the online world, the media services industry will have to close ranks to tackle these issues, she tells P Karunya Rao.

It's been a year-and-a-half since you took charge as Global CEO at Maxus. And while you are familiar with the Maxus system, and are a media service business veteran, could you tell us about some of the milestones in the journey so far?

The word 'veteran' makes me sound really old. As a global network, we were only formed in 2008, and I was the first UK CEO. It was a really exciting time – [we were] beginning to put CEOs in place in markets all over the world. It was the start of new network for WPP and for GroupM. We started with a strength of 30, which went on to become 250 – all by leaning in to the results of GroupM, WPP and winning some fantastic clients. And then the step up to a global CEO was a huge honour, [since I am] surrounded by brilliant, expert teams.

You changed the agency’s mission from 'lean in to change' to 'leading change'. Is it just a shift in linguistic gears, or should we expect something more from Maxus?

'Leaning' or 'lean in' makes sense to native English speakers. In some markets, it translates to ‘tilting’, and tilting isn’t particularly a great word. It sounds a bit unsteady. In China, I think, it translates as ‘falling downstairs’ which is not very good. So that was an issue. I think leaning in to change is great, but leading change is much more powerful and impactful.

Given the current scenario, you now have data and technology choices, in addition to the media choices that already existed, that you could advise your clients on. How do you think the media business – and Maxus in particular -- is coping with this transition?

We are thinking about technology from two perspectives. First, we should take a good, long look at our own business, internally, in terms of what technology we need and how to make sure we are systemised, automated and sharing best practices. The second is, how we can use these technologies for our clients: How do we provide technology consultancy, a business which we launched just last month, and how we can provide expertise across platforms, across ad services, across TSPs and DMPs and the world of programmatics.

While most people think that technology is responsible for the biggest impact on your industry, a very small percentage thinks industry is ready to cope with it. Where do you think the problems lie?

Most clients have tons of data in different systems, and they find it hard to join things up. Actually, it is much more complex, which is why the technology consulting business we have launched, is helping clients understand where all their data sits, and in what sort of systems, and how to make it count.

What do you think is the biggest concern for the industry’s future?

That’s a big question. We are shifting to a much more digital world, and across so many mature markets, digital accounts for 50 per cent of the media expenditure [for many clients]. Here in India, it is only about 13 per cent, so it has some way to go. There is increasing noise, and concerns, in the world of digital around ad blocking, ad fraud, and we as an industry, have to work out how we can tackle all these issues.

How would you rate India’s performance in the last year? 2015 saw Maxus lose its numero uno status to Mindshare at the Emvies. And even according to the RECMA roster, Mindshare has toppled Maxus. Will 2016 see the return of Maxus India?

Of course. We are the only agency to win many different awards, and that includes our sister agency Mindshare. So we’ve got two super-strong GroupM agencies [Maxus and Mindshare], and we even have healthy competition among the sister agencies. As long as we keep everyone else down, that’s ok. But I think Maxus India is a star market for us. It’s among our Top Five markets. We look at India for two things -- innovation and being entrepreneurial -- with tons of new products and new research initiatives taking place all the time. And we also look at India for creativity and effectiveness.

Do you have specific targets for Maxus India? While digital may be the way forward, according to a Group M report, print is still going strong in India…

TV and newspapers are still surprisingly strong if you come from a UK or a US background. But digital is the area of greater opportunity. I think we are strong digitally. I think we have had some great initiatives like tying up with the Internet of Things in Bangalore, and some new research which looks at co-relating traditional media, for instance, TV with a social buzz. And we are also looking at how you tie up TV with search results as well.

We just read about Mindshare setting up a full-service agency for Nippon paints in Malaysia, and there are other units like Mindshare Fulcrum and MEC Red Fuse. Obviously this is a very profitable route to take to maximise revenues. What is Maxus’ gambit on that front?

We’ve always had a very strong content division at Maxus India. But now Ajit Varghese, who used to run India, and now runs our Asia-Pacific region, has taken the model to Singapore and is spreading it across. We create content by ourselves, and in partnership with media vendors. It is a very successful model. We also create content continuously in SEOs through our social teams because we’re quite content serving with dynamic optimisation all the time. We are not setting ourselves up as competitors to a JWT or Ogilvy because at heart, we are a media agency.

So what gives Lindsay Pattison sleepless nights?

It’ll have to be the data budget meetings. I sleep pretty well. I think I’ve had five great years at Maxus in the UK, and a year-and-a-half now in my global role. And we’ve seen growth in every single year. If I feel that I am setting conditions for success, then hopefully I am empowering and enabling everyone to deliver it as well. As long as I am true to myself and try and do my best job, I sleep well.

Maxus' website boasts the fact that the agency has WPP’s first female media agency global CEO. Is that a really a big deal?

Sadly, it is a big deal, because I am the only global media CEO. Full stop… We have a couple [of women in leadership roles] in WPP in the area of PR and Health. But there aren’t too many senior women at the top of the business. We are very good locally, and we are very good regionally, but in terms of global leaders, there are far too few of us. So, as the statistics bear out, in every market, in every industry, there are not just enough senior women in top positions, and I think we need to do something about it.

Your website says that 40 per cent of the senior leadership around the world is women, and that the gender pay gap is only four per cent…

Yes, we started by looking at who we consider as our most senior leaders around the world and what percentage do they comprise, and found that 40 per cent are senior leaders, which is great. But when I look at our global and regional boards, it drops to 24 per cent, which is less good. We conducted a survey in our top 12 markets and looked at the pay gap between men and women at the senior, middle and junior levels and it was four per cent, which is bearable by market and level. But at least now I know what our start point is, and we can begin to work and understand why there is a gap, and try to close it. Globally, the gap is 23 per cent, so we are much better than the global average. But here in India, I think Maxus is ok. When we did the ranking for gender gap, I think India ranked 99, and that’s not great.

The Lindsay Pattison interview appeared in BrandStand on Zee Business on March 5 and 6. Catch it on YouTube here


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