Gordon Bowen, Founder & Global Chairman, mcgarrybowen and Chief Creative Officer, Dentsu Aegis Network discusses the decision to join DAN ten years ago and where it's headed next
Q] On one hand, WPP is consolidating its agencies, like the recent merger of Wunderman and J Walter Thompson. On the other hand, you are acquiring a lot of agencies. Would you say specialization is the way forward or consolidation?
Well, actually the answer is both, because clients increasingly want a holistic solution, but they don’t want to hire a bunch of generalists. We need to have specialists. Now, the question is, where do the specialists want to live. So, I will take my silo for example - you could not get any self-respecting creative person to want to live inside a data company. And you cannot get a self-respecting data person who is really great at their business, to want to be centered inside a creative company. It’s two different mindsets, it’s two different points of view. Instead of creating a collaboration, you end up creating separate communities within. What we at Dentsu are really trying to do is honour the communities. Take Merkle, for example. It is by far the best data company in the world. Now, I have a prejudice, but I think we are the best platform creating agency in the world; I repeat, not campaigns but platforms. We could not have taken American Express out of Ogilvy & Mather after 57 years, if we didn’t have a strong platform, apart from just a creative idea or a campaign. We had something they want to build their brand on for 10 years. We have a very strong culture. We have a very strong belief system. We are a family that has very different first names but one last name. Tim Andree… I don’t just like my boss, I love him. If he asks me to do something, I would do it just because he asked. I don’t feel that way about anyone else I have worked with in the industry.
Yet we can’t make people who are good at a certain thing give that up overnight. Also clients won’t have the time and energy to put different pieces together, they would like us to do that. So coming back to the question, where we are going in terms of our acquisitions? We are acquiring in the silos to make our teams global experts in every country where our clients need to be. So, Merkle has very strong presence across the globe but there are a few places where they need to be stronger. So, each one of us who leads one of these core silos is looking to see what we need to add to make sure that whatever a client asks, we have strength to that effect to provide it in that market.
Q] Once an independent agency, mcgarrybowen today has completed 10 years under the Dentsu umbrella. You have mentioned that you can do anything for Tim Andree… would he do the same for you?
It was just our 10th anniversary with Dentsu. And my other two partners have retired. And when we went to Dentsu, we were already Agency of the Year three times - so everyone came to us wanting to acquire us. And we interviewed with everybody, when in fact it was us interviewing them. We liked the Japanese best from a value standpoint and I don’t mean monetarily. We thought they would care about our people long after the acquisition too. Everyone says things look better when you are dating, you find out the real thing only when you are married. But I have to say it got better. And frankly, as someone who could leave it anytime, I am still here. And I choose to stay because it’s still exciting, it’s still fun. They have lived up to every promise that they made. I have talked to other people who were acquired by other companies and they have said, ‘It’s miserable, we hate them. They promised us this. They didn’t give us that.’ I haven’t had that problem. Around 70% of the people who sell their companies to Dentsu stay. The percentage is much lower for the rest of the industry.
Q] You and Agnello Dias have had a similar career path in Dentsu. You both sold your companies to Dentsu and then went on to become the Creative heads of the entire Group, he in India and you globally. What kind of advice do you want to give him?
I think I need to take advice from Agnello Dias. My father loved India. And when he passed away, he asked for us to spread his ashes in India, which we did. So, this was long before we had a company there, but I have always had this emotional connection to India. And then I went to India, and I fell in love with it. What I love about the country is that it is technologically advanced, has really hard-working and surprisingly optimistic people. And obviously it is a huge growth market for every brand. Ashish Bhasin is my mentor in terms of teaching me about a culture I am fascinated by. He is legendary in his market and is adored by everyone globally too. To touch someone’s heart, you need to have empathy for them and understand their culture. Well, I will always be fascinated by it, but I will never be enough of an expert to understand the nuances and the jokes, and someone has to explain it to me, and by the time they explain it to me, it’s not funny anymore. So, that gets me to the model wherein I am trying to find the best people who want to do great work for really good clients. Ashish is a representation of that for me. We want to be the powerhouse agency in India through three things - building what we have, acquiring and adding more to our model and then giving them the tools and the opportunities to do it. Lastly, of course, we represent very large multinational companies who are very interested in the Indian market, we want to make sure that we are their agency of choice when they go there.
Q] In India, 50% of the Dentsu revenue comes from digital. Overall globally, how much does Digital contribute to?
We are a ‘digital first’ company. However, there has been an evolution, today the focus is not so much on Digital than providing holistic customer experiences across the board at every communication point, because that is what the clients are looking for. So we are strengthening our core digital and non-digital offerings across the globe. For example, American Express changed their 20-year-old strategy of being the world’s most respected service brand, to providing the best customer experience which is a huge shift because they are now concentrating on experience.
Q] The Dentsu Group saw organic growth fall 1.6% in this year’s first quarter, with its Japan business slipping 2.7% and operations at Dentsu Aegis Network by 0.7%. Yet you have won some big accounts, like Amex and Intel… how would you sum up the past 12 months?
I won’t be the right person to talk about the overall numbers. But we are very excited because it is not just wins for us, it has been consolidations which are important in a network. We were able to consolidate the Intel business across all of the Dentsu companies. We were able to consolidate the Subway business, United Airlines business, then we won the American Express account which was huge for us. So, those were very important wins because they are so large that they can activate all of the lines of business that we have. Some of them haven’t activated all of them yet but we are excited about that.
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