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This article was originally published on Exchange4Media.

Tony Harradine took charge as the CEO of Omnicom Media Group, APAC, in April last year. In a conversation with exchange4media, he talks about addressing over-dependence on global client relationships, building capability rather than scale, finding the right successor for Harish Shriyan, for which he is in talks with several people, and more


It’s been a little over a year since you took over as CEO of OMG APAC. What are some of your top priorities for the region and strategy for execution?

When you come into a role like this, it’s probably the most diverse region you can wish to run. Compare China’s needs to Japan to India, it’s so diverse. The key thing has been to compartmentalise the regions for what they are, initially. Otherwise you can overwhelm yourself, it’s so vast. The priority is to get the right talent on the ground. In some markets, the task is to prevent over-dependence on global client relationships. The focus has been to ensure that localisation takes precedence. We want the capabilities for the agency groups to be consistent across the board, but they need to be tailored and localised to ensure relevance to the market they’re in. That ensures that we’re securing big local partners as well. There’s always been this thinking, historically, that multinational clients drive capability, local clients create stability. Now local clients too demand the same level of capabilities from an agency. So, there’s a big focus on ensuring that we’re locally fit to deliver against the objectives needed.

From a product standpoint, getting our data story right is key. It will come from a place which is wholly platform agnostic, delivering bespoke capability to every single client’s individual needs. Some markets are future fit to deliver while in others, it’s work in progress.

The other key areas, in terms of innovation, is e-commerce, which is exploding. We’ve got some strong pockets of capability, but we are still working on the formula to bring that all together and get them better connected.

Effective April 1, you moved programmatic, search and social agency specialists out of Resolution Media and data science specialists out of Annalect and placed them within the core agency brands: OMD, PHD and Hearts & Science. Can you tell us why such a move was necessary and why you believe that programmatic should be considered a traditional marketing format?

The thinking behind it is our philosophy – Omnicom has always been client first. We are a brand-led group where the client comes first. So, it is critical that the thinking and the communication is interlinked within that ecosystem. The danger of having a lot of those specialised services is that they are no longer specialised because they’re an intrinsic part of every market’s media mix. The thinking is, if you’ve got capabilities isolated within a special business unit at group level, that is dumbing down the agency’s capabilities because more spends move into the area and you end up with brands that essentially hollow out client-servicing centres. We are still big believers that brands are the gateway to the client, they need to have a lot of the thinking and the best practices within their four walls.

Do you plan to launch Hearts and Science in India?

Currently, we have it in Australia, it will be online in New Zealand shortly, we have it in Japan. In Hong Kong, we’re hoping to launch it soon. There’s certainly ambitions to launch it here as well. Identifying the right foundation plan to launch it with is important.

How do you compare the APAC markets under you in terms of performance and growth? How do you maintain consistency across markets and yet localise according to the needs and complexities of each market?

Yes, it’s a tricky balance. I’d say if we look at the agency brands, PHD has always been particularly strong in product consistency, because a lot of the IP was generated out of our London team. It’s been pushed out throughout the system. Also, it’s been set up as a challenger brand. For younger emerging brands, it’s easy to have that consistency when you are starting from data. OMD is a much bigger entity in terms of client base and it’s challenging to ensure that there is greater consistency. So, you’ve got these big businesses that are operating or had been operating somewhat independently of each other. Some global clients like Apple and McDonald’s demand a lot of consistency in the way we operate, the big local clients maybe to a lesser degree.

So getting that right has been a key focus. The critical part is to make a bespoke market to market strategy as well, as the clientele in China may vary somewhat to clientele in India, and so on and so forth. So, I’m getting that balance in consistency, but localisation is always a fine line against it.

How do you compare India and China as markets?

There are some similarities, like scale and adoption of things is similar. I don’t think I’ve never seen anything quite like the mobile explosion in India. I think it even tops China in terms of how quickly it has scaled. The biggest difference, maybe, is that China tends to be more of a self-contained ecosystem with respect to data and technology. India is probably more aligned to many other parts of the region. The obvious examples of Google and Facebook presence in this market are obviously sizeable. There’s more learning that can be adapted from outside of India to India and likewise, learnings from within India, we can replicate outside of India. China presents more challenges because of its unique nature in that space.

What are some of the untapped opportunities you see in the media agency space in India, which other APAC markets have been able to tap?

There’ll always be a plethora of different things to wrap your hands around and review. No agency has got the e-commerce component humming here. Just trying to distill exactly what becomes service solutions – is it high end consultancy, is it activation, which is more akin to what agencies used to do or continue to do in the SEO space? There’s still a lot of opportunities there.

Post the OMD-DDB Mudra consolidation, do you see more areas for possible consolidation for OMG in India?

We’ve looked at many, there’s obviously some obvious candidates for acquisition. But it’s certainly not off the table. There was a moment in time where buying scale interested us, less so now – we’d rather buy capability.

Doesn’t capability automatically convert into more clients, more billings?

It does, but we’re not buying revenue for revenue’s sake. Rather, it needs to be untapped capability or capability enhancements that ultimately lead to revenue. It’s more about the trigger that attracts us to a particular business. It won’t be the revenue of the entity that we’re buying; it’s the capability as a byproduct that will come in as well.

With Harish Shriyan stepping down as OMG’s India CEO, what plans do you have in mind for the India business going forward?

Harish is an amicable man, he’s been such a loyal employee and it’s had a huge impact on our business. We hope to keep him engaged in some capacity with us. With respect to the new leadership, we’re going through a formal process now. So we’re engaging headhunters, leveraging our extensive HR both regionally and on the ground here to set up meetings within the next couple of weeks to meet prospective candidates.

If there is one thing you would want to change, improve or get rid of within the organisation, what would it be?

I think the infrastructure in many markets with respect to systems integration. The way that media systems talk to vendors, there’s a lot of inefficiencies there, to be honest. If you were to start this entire industry tomorrow, there’s probably a lot of simplified operational efficiencies you could drive. Still, we’re better than most.

There’s still a huge amount of administration that’s required at the day-to-day level. It comes full circle to attracting the right talent – making the role more attractive, less administrative and labour intense. People work long hours in this industry; when you’re not reacting to client needs, you are deep in spreadsheets and invoicing queries. If we can eradicate a lot of that, we end up bringing in more gifted talent to do the role they’re paid to do rather than get bogged down in some laborious elements.

(With inputs from Anjali Thakur, Beryl Menezes and Eularie Saldanha)