Kristie Lu Stout: When you were named global CEO, what made you the chosen one?
Steve King: Why I was chosen will only be proven with time. Recently we took our whole management team to San Francisco and discussed reorganisation. If we were to disrupt ourselfves, we really need to go through a radically different transformation.
We started Zenith Media in London 27 years ago, and it has grown considerably from our original media buying roots. Certainly that has changed to include new specialist companies in performance marketing, branded content, full service digital, analytics and sponsorship intelligence. We now have a very important role to play in the global ecosystem. Clients are increasingly looking to us [media agencies] as we understand consumers and brands, and we have a strong relationship with distribution channels, particularly digital distribution channels.
When we started, it was about scale and insight, and now it is becoming extraordinarily complex. It’s still about scale and insight, but about the effective execution of these two things. It’s not surprising that clients are challenging the relationships between these two. What we're looking at is how to simplify our business because as it stands, it's just too complicated. Clients are coming to us to simplify things for them.
This is the year when digital adspend will outpace TV. While there are a lot of challenges with ad blocks and frauds, where are the opportunities?
It’s impossible to separate digital from the rest of media. Forty percent of our revenue comes from digital. However If i were to be a CMO, I will be very challenged about the investments I was making in digital, as unfortunately the level of ad fraud is still unknown.
How much will the industry rely on programmatic platforms and how critical are they?
We actually have 'dis-economies of scale' right now. Our business has trebled in size but the cost of execution has gone up due to fragmentation. And of course with the downward pressure on costs from clients, using programmatic buying gives us a line of sight into our customers in their journey and addresses where they are. If you are a car manufacturer for example, you can reach a good percentage of your target audience given data from their past behaviour, but we are actually behind in the use of technology in general.
In China, we have seen intensifying political crackdowns—a very worrying situation. Xi Jinping's visits to CCTV and Xinhua give the message that he is in charge, that the media is an extension of the communist party and is serving the purposes of propaganda. Given this environment, what does it mean for advertising potential there and how does it change the game for you?
25 years ago, it was unimaginable that China will become the second largest advertising market in the world. From the ad perspective, this scenario concerning the government certainly makes it more complicated but China is undoubtedly leading the world in mobile and ecommerce. Well, the more I go to China, the less I understand it.
At the end of the day, media is a people business, so how are you finding talent?
Fortunately, talent comes to us, and I think last year in China, we had 12,000 applications for our graduate trainee scheme. The challenge is not in finding talent, but retaining them, especially the digital natives. The digital partners we work with sometimes offer better packages, so talents are migrating from us to the Facebooks, Alibabas and such. To retain them, we show them how we are expanding in new and exciting areas. The correct talent will understand that this is a globally relevant business.
Donald Trump—what effect would he have on your industry?
He has got a compelling story that is simply told. Sometimes we over-complicate our own proposition, so he has got a lesson for us there. Thankfully, clients like their agencies more than US citizens like the federal government.