The rise of Essence in the face of WPP’s decision to merge MEC and Maxus is a “substantial investment” that the agency intends to take full advantage of, according to its global CEO.
Speaking to Campaign Asia-Pacific at Cannes Lions 2017, Christian Juhl said the move was a “progressive step” for Essence, and that further geographic expansion together with “new types of clients with a digital-first orientation” were high on the agency’s agenda.
“The thing I want to clarify—I’ve seen it written a couple of different ways—is what is digital first,” he said. “I wouldn’t necessarily say digital first, I’d actually probably say measurement first, data first. That’s really where we’ll be pushing further into.”
Does Juhl feel pressure to deliver now given WPP’s public vote of confidence and significant investment in Essence? Not so much, he said.
“I’m honestly just lucky to be in this job, to get the support from Martin [Sorrell] and Kelly Clark and the other GroupM CEOs,” he said. “Tim [Castree] at MEC, Lindsay [Pattison] at Maxus, they’re all supporting talent migration. They’re really helping us get stronger, infusing the right talent and eventually the right clients.”
The new direction for Essence, Juhl says, is to beef up its capabilities in offline media and measurement, data collection and processing, which the GroupM investment will help it to do.
“We’re in a unique place where we have the global scale and reach of GroupM, and all the buying power that will bring you, with an approach that’s data and measurement first,” he explained.
“[Such growth] would have been very difficult for us to do organically. We would have got there, but much slower than we can get there now.”
With the influx of new talent, Juhl said a cultural balance will need to be struck between “what’s core to Essence and what’s core to some of the people coming in”, which is “nothing too new to us”.
“We’ve evolved a lot, we’ve been going 13 years, we’re now close to 1,000 people, and we’ll do a billion dollars in our own right this year,” he said. “We’ve grown successfully.”
As far as Asia-Pacific growth goes, Juhl said markets being targeted for expansion include India, Australia and Korea.
“APAC is our highest growth market, it has been for three years in a row,” he said. “For a lot of our clients, we’re looking at where their next billion customers are coming from. The rapid adoption of technology in APAC is incredibly important to us.”