Asiya Bakht
Jun 8, 2010

PROFILE: Google's Julian Persaud hunts for Asean adspend

New Google managing director for Southeast Asia Julian Persaud believes the potential for the search engine's regional business growth is huge.

Google Julian Persaud
Google Julian Persaud
Although he has been heading up Southeast Asia for just over six months, Julian Persaud's bosses at Google will be glad to hear he is already making all the right noises. The Brit says candidly that there is no place he would rather be.

"I have got the best job in the world," he says, citing the huge opportunity for growth in the region as the primary reason for his optimism. "Here we are at the beginning of the story rather than the end. Southeast Asia has a population of half a billion within its six countries and only 20 per cent of them are online. Spend across the region is about five per cent, which is much lower than mature markets like Australia, where it is 10 to 12 per cent."

Prior to the new role, Persaud spent five years with Google in Australia, three of which were spent in developing strategic partnerships and two as head of the online and reseller business. He also spent a year with competitor Yahoo, also in Australia, as head of business development and marketing.

In October of last year, Persaud replaced Lori Sobel as head of global search for Google in Southeast Asia following Sobel's relocation to New York. Energetic, friendly and down-to-earth, Persaud seems to be the right person in the right place.

Steven Power, CEO of ReachLocal in Australia, who has done business with Persaud, thinks that what makes him interesting is that he understands the online ecosystem and is one of the few people "who really gets how all the pieces fit together."

"He is a strategic thinker that appreciates how important it is for everything to relate back to the quality of the end user experience, and the value that is created for the advertiser," says Power.

Another business contact, Chris Smith, general manager of online for National Australia Bank says he is struck by Persaud's "tenacious approach to negotiating."

In the few months that Persaud has been in Singapore he has spent more time listening than talking and is open-minded with regard to the differences between markets. "I can't say this is how it is done in Australia and this is how we will do it here. I have spent a lot of time listening to advertisers. Thailand is different, Indonesia is different and Malaysia is different.

Online retail is not huge in Southeast Asia as it is in Australia, but travel is a big sector here, for obvious reasons, so you have to take into account the differences."

After making sense of the market and setting his priorities, he is more than willing to discuss his focus areas. A priority for Google in Southeast Asia is to localise and innovate products, so that the company has solutions for all kinds of advertisers as they come online, whether this is on their PCs or their mobiles. His second priority is to educate clients, because he thinks there is a "complete mismatch of opportunities" in terms of where the users are and where the ad dollars are spent.

"People are living a large part of their life online and yet marketers are being overly conservative in spending online. Maybe that requires more education and that's going to be part of my focus," he says. "The challenge is to show the wider industry that online is measurable and accountable. You can measure your ROI, you can react quickly if something changes and it's very cost effective. The whole industry needs to get behind that message."

In keeping with these priorities, Google has invested in people, says Persaud. Last month the company advertised for more than 40 jobs in Singapore, its Southeast Asia headquarters. Among other things, the firm is looking for people who can manage its relationship with agencies, and analysts who can collate data on online and make it a compelling offering for advertisers.

The other big focus area for the search engine is display advertising. Persaud says search or SEM is the bread and butter, but the company has received feedback from advertisers that they are looking to reach customers in others ways. "We have made some investments in the form of double-click. We have a strong publishing network where we can show display ads. With an increasing appetite for end advertising for display ads, we will be rolling out more products towards the end of the year."

Google already has a big market share in the region's search business and leads its closest competitors by a huge margin. Ask Persuad about Yahoo's aggressive push in Southeast Asia and he turns diplomatic, saying that competition drives innovation and the company has "positive thoughts about people in the space."

It seems logical to touch upon Google's mobile plans for the region since it houses some of Asia's biggest mobile markets. Persaud says that, considering the huge mobile population and the fact that mobile search is witnessing 500 per cent growth, the platform is a key focus. A combination of cheap data plans, smartphone penetration and mobile services are the three pillars that will build the industry, according to Persaud.

Having spent 13 years in the digital space, it is interesting to find out what is it about the industry that keeps him engaged. Persaud says that his first job interview was conducted in a car park in London because the company was growing so fast that they didn't have a place for interviews. "Any place where you are interviewed in the parking lot has to be a great place to work. I can't imagine working for another industry. You become a change and growth junkie."


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