Emily Tan
Feb 16, 2015

Inside MEC's 'digital and data seismic shift' with Carl Fremont

HONG KONG - Just over a year ago, MEC announced that it was embarking on a 'digital and data shift'. To turn words into action, the agency hired Carl Fremont from Digitas as global chief digital officer and asked him to head the change.

Inside MEC's 'digital and data seismic shift' with Carl Fremont

While many agencies have made similar claims, Fremont believe MEC's dedication to shifting the agency's mindset away from traditional mass media roots is unique. He sat down with Campaign Asia-Pacific during a recent visit to Hong Kong to explain MEC's roadmap of change and its goals. 

You were with Digitas for 13 years as its global media director. What convinced you to join MEC?

First, there was the position they were hiring me for. It was a newly created position aimed at showing their focus and dedication to becoming a digitally and data-centric agency. I wouldn't have left my role at Digitas if I didn't believe they were truly committed to this vision. I also joined because it is such a large and advanced-thinking agency. Their vision was and always has been to be our client's most valued business partner with the aim of closing the loop on the impact that communications has on business outcomes.

You are just one man though. How have you affected change in a large global network? 

The first thing was to establish a digital exco with a representative from every region. Now, every region has a digital leader focused on infusing digital and data into the work. In Asia-Pacific, that person is Ben Pool. He in turn has teams in each market—a hub and spoke model. Each of these markets in turn has a leader. 

What about adoption and championship in local markets? How do you ensure it's not isolated to global headquarters?

We believe in top-down, bottom-up deployment. We asked ourselves, what does the company stand for? What does our mission stand for? Then we worked to make that consistent across all regions in all markets. To support that ambition, we developed a series of solutions in part powered by the resources of GroupM. We also brought in someone last year (Josh Berman) to lead our digital and product development so we have a series of solutions that are global but customised for each market. This also ensures we have consistency in the solutions we offer. 

How does GroupM share tech? What part is proprietary to each agency? 

Tech is transferable to every single market. It's the language and service part that needs to be figured out. Each region and office can customise for that market based on availability.

We (the agencies) all share in the development of our tech stacks. It's the strategy part that sits on top of the tech stack that is developed by individual agencies. Because clients hire you for your strategy and because they believe your approach is the right approach. 

MEC for one builds its tech strategy around targeted and reach-based marketing. To see how we can affect different audiences on a mass scale. 

We also believe that with so many tech solutions out there, clients need a partner to decipher all the solutions out there and build a stack they can plug into. 

How does this tech fit into your business? Do you charge clients to license your tech solutions?

No. Where we create the greatest value is in the analysis, strategy and the way we use data. We've already come up with the tech solutions. Clients are engaging us for the strategy and the time and effort it takes to deploy the work and optimise on it. We charge clients for the output that comes from it, for the customisation and intelligence that comes from managing the platform and its outputs. 

Can you afford to do this largely because you have the joined resources of GroupM?

GroupM pulls this off because it's more collaborative. Take the way in which we're approaching our publishers as one voice. Other holding groups don't do this. 

We will go to the publishing community and ensure that all the publishers GroupM is working with meet the standards that we believe in, such as 100 per cent viewability of ads. This allows us to make certain guarantees with clients.

Where does Asia-Pacific as a market stand in terms of tech adoption and appreciation of global standards? 

The region is coming into its own. It's not exactly on pace with North America or the UK though. This is largely due to a mindset issue where broadcast and mass-approach is still [considered] the way to go despite consumer behaviour indicating otherwise. 

Since you've joined MEC, what would you say are the top three initiatives you've developed or led that have made the biggest difference?

First there are the solutions we use in daily work, which we've gone over. Then there's the work we put into data in terms of sources and in analytics. We emphasise that our teams need to be all thinking about and being data strategists. How do you think about your clients own data. What are they tracking? What do they have access to? What should they? How do we leverage second-party or third-party info so we can develop audience profiles. Part of this was the launch of our global planning process, T5, which helps our teams ask the right questions of the data. 

Finally, we have advanced our view that it's not about paid media, but about engaging with a clients' own customers first. We say it's about owned, earned and paid media—in that order—rather than always placing paid media first. We were talking about this when I was at Digitas and I brought this thinking to MEC. 

Where will MEC be, in thinking, two years from now? 

We're building toward a mindset where there's not distinguishing between digital and offline. Everything will be digitised, everything will carry the principles of one-to-one personalised marketing. What we're doing now is ensuring our team is set up for that sort of future.

What will the talent profile be like?

We have had to evolve and shift the type of talent we have in the company. We need people who are technologists, programmers or great storytellers. MEC will look different because we will have a myriad of people and skills that we may not have today. Media will be at our core but we will be doing things that are more upstream. 

What are your KPIs to achieve these goals?

We're asking ourselves if we've brought on and integrated the right talent and skillsets we need. That's a key metric. Are we changing the nature of our business? Have you changed the nature of our work toward going from a paid-centric view toward an owned-centric view. Is our work impacting business outcomes? What kind of impact? Are our teams thriving from a personal side? Are we keeping and retaining the best talent and actively looking for the best talent and recruiting the best talent? 

What are the key characteristics you'll be looking for in this talent? 

Someone who doesn't like the ordinary, doesn't want the sameness. Someone who wants to step outside the box and colour outside the box. Doesn't stand for the ordinary. Coupled, of course, with specific skill sets. We want people who challenge us. If you want the ordinary, go work somewhere else.


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