The decision to return, he says, was straightforward. “I’d always held the view that there was a much more positive economic and business future in Asia than there was in Europe, so it was a difficult decision to go back to Europe in 2006. Returning was very easy.”
What was less easy, however, was his decision to switch holding company, given his strong ties to WPP. Waters started his career at Ogilvy in 1992 and moved directly to Mindshare in 1998, shortly after it was rolled out of Ogilvy and JWT. He remained with Mindshare until just last month.“I had been with Mindshare for a long time, really through the first chapter of its existence,” he says. “And that chapter has grown to a close now. In a way it was a natural time to move and it coincided with an approach from Aegis, who in the last few years I felt represented a really interesting proposition as a competitor to us.”
Waters feels he has arrived at Aegis at just the right time.“I spent many happy years at Mindshare, but it feels almost like a breath of fresh air walking into Aegis. The Mindshare-GroupM organisations have become very bureaucratic. Aegis feels more entrepreneurial, more energetic - more free-spirited actually. There is a blanket of bureaucracy sitting over the GroupM agencies that is stifling them and I think Aegis is absolutely free of that.”
Waters certainly arrives at Aegis at an opportune time for the company in the region. Last year, Carat/Isobar was named network of the year at Media’s Agency of the Year awards, while Carat in 2009 had an industry-leading performance in terms of new business, something Waters is quick to credit to the leadership of outgoing CEO Patrick Stahle.
But while China, and to a lesser extent Australia, have been standout performers, the agency has work to do elsewhere, with India the obvious example.“Aegis has had a chequered history in India and as a result is underweight,” Waters admits.
“It is a critically important country not just in the region but globally. I have seen through my former company the quality of product, quality of thinking and the sale that can be built in India and that is worthy of attention.“
A key motivator for Aegis’ push in India will undoubtedly be the Nokia account. When Carat picked up the global Nokia media planning and buying business last year, India was a glaring omission in Asia, with Maxus retaining the business. “India is a hugely important market for Nokia globally. Owing to Aegis’ history in India and the strength of Maxus there, Nokia requires a lot of reassurance that we can handle the business.”
Does this mean that he expects the account to eventually cross to Carat? “There is an ongoing dialogue with Nokia about what we have to do to be able to secure that business and we would hope that if we can meet their needs in the market that it can transition across. But there are no commitments from them on that.”
While Nokia will be a priority account for Aegis across the region - “First, second and third on the list,” Waters says, only half joking - a fair amount of the holding company’s energies in 2010 will also be directed at consolidating the other new business it picked up last year. While acknowledging the importance of new business, he points out the need to bed the newer clients in, to make sure they feel comfortable and ensure that the agencies are delivering what they promised.
“Endlessly chasing new business is one way of letting down the new clients who have shown faith in you.”
Waters will also be looking to further improve on the scale Aegis has started to build in Asia over the past three years, in particular ensuring the holding company has a more solid regional presence. While fully aware of where the competition is coming from, he is confident that Aegis can approach the market with an entirely different selling point.
“GroupM has accumulated such market scale in Asia that it is now all about grinding more value out of its client relationships, and indeed its people,” he says. “Omnicom - and this is an outsider’s perspective - seems to be about building scale and in a way matching that strategy. We are a challenger brand in this market. Its important that the challenger brands step up and give the large organisations some real credible alternatives. The industry has allowed WPP and GroupM to get too strong.”
For Waters, Aegis needs to be playing a slightly different game to its rivals. While noting that scale will always be critical for any media business, he is nonetheless approaching Asia with a different strategy to his former employer.
“If you accept that the standard media business is highly commoditised and if you’ve got OMD and GroupM slogging it out, it’s not going to lift extraction rates, it’s not going to lift margins. There are other ways that we can build greater value to our clients and therefore be paid better.”
One thing he is sure of is that he is now firmly in the right place and at the right time. “There is a great sense of optimism in the region, and quite rightly so, across all businesses but certainly in our industry sector. The notion that Asia’s time has come is well and truly embedded now and its about springboarding on from here and building on the momentum.”
Nick Waters CV2010 CEO Aegis Media Asia-Pacific
2006 CEO Mindshare Europe, Middle East and Africa
2005 CEO Mindshare Asia-Pacific
2001 CEO Mindshare Southeast Asia, and managing partner, international clients
1998 Managing partner, Mindshare Europe
1996 Director, Ogilvy & Mather Media, UK
1994 Manager, Ogilvy & Mather Media, UK
1992 Executive, Ogilvy & Mather Media, UK
Got a view?
Email michael.o'[email protected]
This article was originally published in the 8 April 2010 issue of Media.