For an advertiser or industry observer, it can be difficult to pinpoint the difference between what the world’s largest media agencies offer. They all stake claim to preferential ecommerce partnerships, the biggest big data platforms, the most AI-driven proprietary tools. Campaign Asia-Pacific’s editorial team understands this homogeneity well from preparing Agency Report Cards each year.
Even for an insider, the differences can be “subtle”. Mark Heap has worked at three major media agencies and believes “there's a lot more similarities than differences”.
“We operate in a very narrow industry in the scheme of things," Heap says. "There's probably eight or nine credible global media networks. And we do what is quite a specialist job. We all do it very well, I think, in our different ways. But are any of us truly completely different? No, I honestly don't believe we are.”
The outgoing Asia-Pacific CEO of MediaCom is preparing to “move across the aisles” to return to sister agency Mindshare in an EMEA capacity. In an interview with Campaign Asia-Pacific, he talks about how he is “ready for a new challenge” at an “equally good agency”. So what is different about Mindshare, MediaCom, and the other major media agenices they compete with?
“It is quite subtle, and you get to feel the difference when you work either for or with the company," Heap says. "It manifests itself in the behaviour, the language, the actions that we foster.
“Imagine a mixing deck in a sound studio where you've got one of those control panels that's full of dials and sliders. All the agencies have got the same stuff to play with, it just depends on what you choose to dial up and what you choose to dial down. So for example, all agencies have got a talent strategy and a HR function. But not all agencies choose to have a chief people officer that sits next to the CEO and is right in the inner circle of the business. That’s because, as MediaCom, when we say ‘people first’ we mean it, and we invest a lot into our talent strategy.”
While these strategies are refined by leadership, the differences between agencies can be traced back to their origin and history, Heap suggests. Mindshare was born out of the media departments of Ogilvy and J. Walter Thompson, “two massive advertising agencies with a strong heritage, and they had amazing clients and a global footprint right from day one”, Heap says. MediaCom, on the other hand, started out as an independent media agency in the UK and had to build its international business “a bit more organically” after it came into the WPP fold, Heap says.
“MediaCom’s heritage comes out of a legacy of this being their money and their business. So there’s a massive push for new business, for growth and to just get on with it. Whereas arguably with Mindshare, it was created by WPP, so none of the management have ever been owners of the business, they've been in service to WPP to try and drive shareholder value.
“This creates differences in the internal culture. So I’d say where MediaCom tends to be a little bit more driven and hungry and commercial, Mindshare, because of their legacy, tends to be a bit more thorough and cerebral. They'll have a plan, know what everyone’s role is in that and then execute it. It's not that one is better or worse, but it's slightly different,” Heap says.
Heap speaks with 12 years of prior experience at Mindshare across the UK, Australia and China, most recently in a national strategy director role. In 2008 he moved to Omnicom Group to lead PHD in China for five-and-a-half years, before rejoining WPP as APAC CEO of MediaCom, a role he’s held for the past eight years.
There are several reasons he decided to move back to Mindshare. After 22 years living away from the UK, it was “time to get home and get a bit closer to my original family”. With his prior experience, Mindshare felt “very comfortable”. But more than that, Heap says global CEO Adam Gerhart’s ‘good growth’ vision for the agency “really appealed to me”.
“It might sound quite simple, just saying good growth, but I think that in the world that we're living at the moment, there’s so many reasons it's actually a really necessary, relevant and powerful platform,” he says.
So what does ‘good growth’ mean to Heap? The most obvious manifestation will be to deliver sustainable, long-term growth for clients, he says. This vision is relevant in the current environment, he believes, because an increased focus on demand generation and ecommerce can promote short-termism.
“As clients you're constantly trying to optimise and optimise and optimise and it's very much about action rather than emotion. So I think lots of clients have found that in the pursuit of sales, it's made them very reactive and very short-term. And in some ways, brands, if they're not careful, their brands and products can become a bit commoditised in the eyes of consumers because they're not doing as much brand advertising, or really building meaning with consumers.
“All clients need to deliver top line and bottom line growth, but there are different ways to do it. And I think what Mindshare are talking about is being more sustainable, not just pivoting constantly to chase short-term gains that might only be there for 15 minutes.”
‘Good growth’ also means ethical growth, Heap says, which could mean making sure clients’ marketing budgets are being invested in ethical partners, or calculating the carbon footprint of media plans. These concerns are “more prevalent” among clients in Europe and America than they are in Asia, Heap suggests.
“That’s a perception that I've got based on corporate culture and societal culture. It’s much higher up the agenda, generally, in Europe to talk about ethics and people's rights and the environment,” Heap says. “What I don't feel is overly common in Asia is a boardroom saying that there is a need to focus on these areas, and really being that bothered about the fact that it might impact their business health if they don't.”
Lastly, ‘good growth’ is about providing opportunities for the people in the agency to make it a “more rewarding and fulfilling experience”, whether that's through promotions or new roles, or the chance for people to get more involved with what's going on in society.
“I think there's going to be an increase in people wanting to—and hopefully companies making it easier for people to—contribute to their local communities in a meaningful way, and that's certainly something that I'm keen to explore in this new role,” Heap says.
The benefits of being broad
These are Heap’s interpretations of ‘good growth’, but it could be interpreted in many different ways. This can make it challenging for advertisers to understand how propositions impact the way one agency works versus another, especially when the differences are “subtle”, as discussed. But it is Heap’s belief that being broad is powerful, and being too specific comes with risks.
“Years ago, Zenith were positioned as the ROI agency, which was putting a stake in the sand that it is all about value and return on investment. It gives you an idea from the outside what their management decision-making would be around, the things that they would focus on. So it does offer some clarity, but it's quite narrow," Heap says.
“I think what's powerful about MediaCom’s ‘seeing the bigger picture’ and Mindshare’s ‘good growth’ is they are quite broad, they are both about having a holistic view. It's quite easy to get a bit of tunnel vision within our industry at the moment, and I think a lot of clients have come a bit unstuck with that. They've become in the last five or 10 years too obsessed with, 'What's our data strategy?' and 'Have we got the right tech stack or not?' There's a much broader perspective that you need to have. At the end of the day, all of our clients are trying to deliver shareholder value, and there’s so many ways you can do that.”
From APAC to EMEA
It will be Heap’s first time leading the EMEA region when he rejoins Mindshare. He plans to approach the vast and diverse region as he did APAC, by spending time understanding the culture and unique value of each market, and ensuring none are overlooked.
“Working in Asia has really made me appreciate that in every single market, no matter how big or small it is, there are fantastic opportunities and they're all really important parts of the network,” Heap says.
Europe is “also very disproportionate” which can result in regional leadership focusing too heavily on the major markets, Heap says. “You've got the UK and Germany as these absolute titans, which are like China and India. Then you've got France and Italy, which you’re probably getting to an Australia kind of size. And then you've got an awful lot of countries that are a bit smaller. Now because it is so fragmented, from what I’ve heard, it becomes very difficult to really give focus and attention beyond the obvious five, because it’s not going to be their new business pitch that actually shifts the needle at a regional level.”
He cites Turkey as an example of a market that “is easy to overlook because the economy is a bit of a mess”, despite having good talent and infrastructure. He is eyeing Turkey as an EMEA centre for innovation, where Mindshare could build proof of concepts that it can scale to other markets.
From China to APAC
Heap passes the MediaCom APAC mantle to Greater China CEO Rupert McPetrie, who will take on the regional remit in mid-February. McPetrie takes a similar path to Heap, who transitioned from leading PHD China to the APAC region. Having experience in the biggest “and arguably the most complex” market in the region is becoming even more of a necessity, Heap says.
“It's getting more difficult [to understand], not less, particularly in these Covid times when people can't travel there. It could also quite quickly become quite cut off. Faced with that, I think it makes it more challenging for regional CEOs that haven't got first-hand experience of China to navigate it. It puts more pressure on the people inside China to be outstanding at both running the local business but also being able to work externally and be part of the network,” Heap says.