What brings you to India?
This is my first visit since taking over as global CEO. India is one of our fastest-growing markets and is seeing incredible growth over the last five years. We’ve grown 300% in the last five years. I’m here to spend time with clients and the team. The discussion with the team is about how we’re going to grow 300% again over the next five years.
The base would have been smaller then? So would it be possible to achieve this next growth target?
Having spent the last few days with this brilliant team and talking to clients makes me believe it’s possible. Yes, the base was smaller five years ago, but there’s still a lot of headroom particularly in this market, given the size of India and how fast it’s growing. If you look at global growth of advertising expenditure, GroupM is forecasting 5.9% in 2023 and should end up being that. India is twice the size of that. Given the headroom and the speed of growth, growing again by 300% is possible.
How big is the Indian market for mSix&Partners? How many people does the agency employ, and where does it fit in the global scheme of things?
We have 50-plus people in India for mSix&Partners. We also have the backing of Mindshare. In terms of India as a whole across the globe, it is our fourth largest market after the US, UK and Germany. It’s growing and has ambitions of being higher up that list.
Within the media agencies at GroupM, where does mSix&Partners fit in? What’s the agency’s USP?
It’s a newer agency. We’ve been in India for seven to eight years. What makes us different is that we believe in the power of ‘&’. What we mean by that is we best show up when we are thinking about media and content or media and commerce and media and customer. Our vision is around the power of ‘&’ and so we are bringing in diverse thinkers and makers together to reinvent the way brands are built. This has worked very well for our clients and therefore for us too. While the Covid pandemic was an extremely difficult time, mSix&Partners grew in 2020 and 2021 and has continued to grow post it too. This is because during the pandemic there was an explosion in the need for digital, content and commerce. The power of our ‘&’ proposition meant we had the ingredients needed to help our clients grow through the pandemic. That’s how we set ourselves apart at GroupM and the market. We’re lucky in a way too because we have the best of both worlds. We are new so we can build whatever is needed now. Normally, the disadvantage of being new is that we don’t have the scale or the infrastructure, but we do have that through GroupM and Mindshare. So we can offer the best of both offerings.
There are currently conflicting views of specialist agencies. How does mSix&Partners deal with this?
There’s a need for specialism and integration. I’d like to believe that we have specialism sat within mSix&Partners and GroupM. It’s also about how we connect all that up to deliver something holistic and can ultimately drive business performance for the clients we work with.
The big news from last year was the rebranding. What was the reason for this and how's that working out for the agency?
What mSix meant in India pre-rebranding was about media which was embedded in strategy with incubated partners that helped accelerate clients’ growth. This was strong too, but during Covid, we saw this explosion in digital, content and commerce. The power of & is the evolution of what mSix meant previously, and we wanted to reflect that in our name. So the '&' represents the power of this, and the 'partners' reflect the power of the partnership between us as media, us and content, and us and our clients because they are key partners in the mix too.
Have clients taken note of this? How have they reacted?
It’s been driven by talking to clients around the world. The role of marketers is changing in terms of them being more responsible for marketing and sales. They are looking for more from their growth partners like us. We wanted to reflect that in our name and demonstrate to our clients that this is the type of way we will be working in the future with them.
In the four years, you've been with the agency, there have been plenty of changes - be it the pandemic or the recent growth of AI. How do you believe the market has evolved during this time?
The story of mSix&Partners’ growth globally isn’t dissimilar to its growth in India. When I joined in 2019, the first six months were ‘more normal’ and then came the two years of the pandemic. As I said before, mSix&Partners has managed to grow throughout and that’s because being a newer agency allows us to set up to be more agile, more digital, and more client focussed. This has been critical in our journey. A lot of things changed during the pandemic and there are still a few things that haven’t gone away. How we solve some challenges around content has been a big focus for us. The questions we’re getting from clients are about understanding the need for a single asset at the top of the funnel. As we get closer to the bottom of the funnel, we need thousands of iterations of that asset because you need things that are going to work across different messages and formats. After all, they need to work across the likes of Amazon, Google and Meta among others. We launched something for this in India which allows us to take a single asset and eventually create thousands of variations of that and it has been well received. The opportunity in AI is huge for us. We’ve been using AI in media for a while now. It’s now accelerated. We are seeing campaigns being set up through smart bidding. It’s also allowing for more custom algorithms to make our performance campaigns work even better. AI for me is super exciting and is touching everything. AI for content is huge. Generative AI will change the game when it comes to not just creating the iterations but using it for content creation. AI for commerce and AI for predictive analytics will be equally huge. We are excited about all the applications of AI.
Can AI take care of the ‘&’ for mSix then when it comes to content?
It can have a big role in it, but it cannot replace humans. If I’m honest, AI in the world of content is pretty good. It’s 6/10 right now. I don’t think it’s ready to be put out in the world right now. Yes, it’s a great starting point and can help shortcut the process but you’ll need human creativity to make it 10/10 and work for the clients.
What are the challenges in this space? Plenty of agency heads have listed talent as the major issue, do you see it this way too?
Talent is less of a challenge now than it was just immediately after the pandemic. The shortage of talent has now come down. The type of talent that we’re going to need in the future is certainly going to evolve. We’ll need more in the world of data scientists. The challenge, which can always be turned into an opportunity is the continual amount of change. There are always new things emerging and that’s why I particularly love this industry and this job.