We live in exponential times. China will be the number-one English-speaking country by 2017, the US president was elected largely by Facebook friends (thanks to a company less than five years old), while a 48-year-old woman from Glasgow was searched out and seen on YouTube more than 100 million times across the world within two weeks of her debut performance.
Despite the current economic climate, it's an extraordinary time to be in the business of communicating. It's never been easier, quicker or more far-reaching to get a suitably contagious message spread to a wide audience. With such change, however, there are some serious questions about the role of the global agency network. Do you need "people everywhere" to deliver a message? How do you make a virtue out of the necessity of internationalism? Is control the main issue? What, in short, is the competitive advantage for the largest players in our industry?
For the past 30 years, the major (Anglo-Saxon) networks were built fundamentally to ensure worldwide consistency of brand message. Their function was to create messages that could effectively be exported from head office, albeit with some modification. Global mega-brands such as Marlboro and McDonald's built their dominance by having access to these structures and using this philosophy.
But we're no longer in a control world. We're in a world where we can, at best, influence the global conversation (and it is a global conversation). To cope with this, the network agency has to be faster, globally integrated, creatively better and more digitally driven. At the same time, we're going to need to be doing it for less because, in our industry, just like any other, our customers want to see the benefits of globalisation.
So the future network model is unlikely to comprise "quite good at everything" agencies, everywhere. Instead, we will seek to invest and build in the following ways:- The future network model will be built around client needs with tailor-made, bespoke structures for different accounts co-existing within the one framework. The best examples of this are both within the network itself, such as Procter & Gamble Oral Care, where we lead a team of all the different skill-sets under the clients' brand agency leader model, bringing together all the capabilities and skills the brand needs in one place. There are other arrangements across the holding company such as Carrefour, Orange and HP, where we lead and partner with offices of Leo Burnett and Saatchi & Saatchi. - It will have digital at its heart. In two years, we've built the Publicis Modem network in our top markets to a level that is already more than 15 per cent of our total staff. We're concentrating digital in the key markets to ensure highly capable, leading-edge delivery rather than so-so delivery everywhere.- It's going to use hubs to service businesses, according to the specific clients need, taking advantage of the fact that we are all more comfortable travelling and working in each other's culture than we were a decade ago. - And it's going to tap the diversity of cultures to create fresher, more interesting solutions to worldwide problems. For sure, if you give the same people the same problem - you get the same result.
One of the challenges is to inject the right degree of multiculturalism and entrepreneurialism into the way agency networks are run - a challenge for a lot of networks which are structured for control.
Having spent much of my career outside my London start point and most of that half either in Asia or working for a non-Anglo-Saxon network, I have seen the importance of respecting cultural differences and influences for global work. Not just for local work. Many brands have their largest market shares in Asia or Latin America - ask Unilever or Nestle.
Multiculturalism is about more than how agencies approach creative ideas. It's about how to organise our business. How to lead. How to engage. And then how to communicate. Publicis' founder, the charismatic Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet, understood this when he built the company in the pre- and post-war periods. He believed strongly in "Vive la difference" - and he knew that success for a French company meant being at the heart of the emerging Europe.
His successor Maurice Levy understood this when he took it to the next level with firstly the Publicis network and then the Groupe.
He famously persuaded Sergio Zyman of Coca-Cola to engage Publicis for a pan-European push, rather than the US networks favoured at the time, mainly on the value of "seeing things from a different point of view". I passionately believe that this respect for diversity is becoming a key opportunity for networks in a new way: who is to say that the best ideas for a global brand can't come from India or China or Brazil? Some of our best global campaigns already come from Asian or Latin offices and more are on the way.
Respect for culture has never been more important and embracing the differences has never been more likely to lead to great results. A global network with a truly multicultural obsession. Now there's an idea.
- Richard Pinder is the chief operating officer of Publicis Worldwide
- Think differently about what the agency does. The agency isn't just involved in producing ads - it's trying to influence a conversation that is going on, as often between consumers as between brands and consumers. Today, we create contagious ideas that positively change the conversation for our clients' brands.
- Build a digital agency network capable of supporting global clients and their needs.
- Leverage the diversity of the network to maximum advantage through crowdsourcing.
- Lower costs: more hubs, less doing everything everywhere, more best-shoring, fewer staff on fixed contracts, lower property overhead.
- Invite consumers into creation.
- Foster an opportunistic culture, where businesses can start small and learning can happen.
A GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE ON THE FUTURE
- Is there a long-term future for the big networks?
More so than ever. But organised differently. There are the major centres that drive major new business and big client relationships. And then there are the increasing number of offices designed to get close to consumers locally for strong local presence - such as the agency we've just opened in Ghana. We share resources with other holding company businesses where it makes sense to build a strong local client base, as we have done in the Nordics and Japan. It is certainly the end of pure "international trans-creation" offices in local markets.
- Is the ad industry becoming more homogenous around the world?
Advertising is becoming more global, but its influences are becoming more varied. Today, advertising (like food, film, literature and most other forms of culture) increasingly draws its richness and its appeal from the sheer variety of global voices within it.
- What are your three biggest challenges in the next three years?
1) Help our clients to win their way through this challenging time. And for all of us to emerge stronger.
2) Build Publicis Modem into the world's leading digital network.
3) Make Publicis a top-five creative network across all communications disciplines.
- What advice would you give to someone who aspires to your job?
Get on your bike. Very few client chief executives reach the top these days without extensive global experience, and their agency counterparts should be their equals. Anybody serious about working in a global company should spend time living and working outside their home country - preferably outside their own culture.