Just 10 days into his new role, and less than a month after the Publicis-Omnicom Group deal, Gerry Boyle, ZenithOptimedia’s chairman of Asia-Pacific, probably wonders why he agreed to an interview as early as August 12.
“Before we start, I have to make it clear I’m not in a position to discuss the Publicis-Omnicom Group deal. I can’t comment about it at all,” he says cautiously. “I’m really quite a straightforward person, so not being able to just tell you what you want makes me uncomfortable.”
With this off his chest his voice relaxes and he chats about his family’s move to Singapore and how much he liked the photographer’s ironic ‘No photos please’ T-shirt.
“The entire family was on board from the day I said ‘yes’ to Steve King [worldwide chief executive of ZenithOptimedia] and Singapore’s quite an easy place to move to, things just seem to work,” he says on his move from the UK, where he had headed ZenithOptimedia’s (ZO) operations since 2003.
In the UK, Boyle has earned a reputation for affable Glaswegian charm, which should set him apart from his rather aloof predecessor in Asia-Pacific, former-chief executive Phil Talbot. Another point of difference to note is that Boyle is a newcomer to Asia while Talbot has helmed ZO in the region for the past nine years.
“The business is really very strong in the region, we have great talent working for us and a client list to be proud of, but it’s true we may have been a little quieter than we should be,” acknowledges Boyle, adding that a stronger regional communications team might be on the cards for the agency.
Recent wins for the network in Asia-Pacific include Merck and Maybank.
The network will also be stepping up investments in key areas, he adds, starting with building centres of excellence around its content marketing arm, Newcast. Although Newcast has been in India since 2009, the arm was only launched in Australia two years ago and in Singapore early last year.
“We launched the business because customers now expect intelligent content from the brands that they interact with, not just as an added extra,” he says.
Another major part of ZenithOptimedia’s strategic growth plan will be around mobile, and of course data. “Data is a subject that’s often talked about, but very simply for me, its value and benefit is to allow targeting via behaviour,” says Boyle.
“The network has established a global data centre of excellence in the US and we’ll be working closely with them to develop platforms that will enable us to manage, mine and extract insights from all the data we have access to.”
Although excited by data, Boyle is bemused by Asia-Pacific’s fascination with programmatic buying, which is already a mature market in the UK. “There’s a lot of oxygen spent on it, but really it’s just a brilliant way of more effective targeting.”
Boyle has been with ZO for just over 14 years, having joined the firm when it was just Zenith Media as head of planning in 1999. He has seen the agency merge with Optimedia in 2001 and then split into two operational units again in 2010 in the UK.
His career in media planning dates back to before independent media agencies existed. “I feel very lucky to have been part of a full-service agency and we must continue to try and ensure that the people who work in media agencies have always got an understanding of what our clients are trying to achieve,” he says. “This includes the output, creative product, consumer insights and account planning side of things.”
Boyle seems to actively dislike overly-specialised agencies. “I think that the names and labels of some agencies are just too specific, all of these agencies have got to have consumer insight at heart. This goes broader than just digital, social or PR. We have to have labels, but everyone needs to be broader.”
Agency talent therefore should be given opportunities for work experience beyond their specialities, he believes. “Part of the strategic planning process must be to keep a broader view and experience life in a creative agency, in a so-called digital agency and so-called social. The world is too fluid a space for rigid operational specialists.”
Newcast for example isn’t exclusively a media specialism, says Boyle. “It’s neutral territory and everyone’s launching content marketing arms because it’s what the customer demands from brands. Our job is to ensure that we are meeting and exceeding their expectations, regardless of whose turf it is. In some cases, the content is created with a publisher or with creative agency and production partners. The philosophy through all this is to do the right thing by the client.”
As the region’s new chairman, Boyle views his role as one aimed more at support and encouragement. “While there is nothing to read into the title — I believe I’m ‘chairman’ here because I was a ‘chairman’ in the UK — it is true that I view my job as helping and supporting our CEOs in each of the markets around the region rather than one of control.
“It’s more my style.”
This article first ran in the September 2013 issue of Campaign Asia-Pacific. To mark the occasion of its 25th anniversary, ZO will be releasing in December a global futures study on how the world could change over the next 25 years.