Lindsay Pattison, the Global CEO of Maxus talks about pricing-led pitches, why a media agency first needs to value its own services, and why she won’t be in the same role two years from now
By Priyanka Mehra
“Pay peanuts and you get monkeys,” says Maxus Global CEO Lindsay Pattison, on her approach to price-driven pitches. The straightforward and plain-speaking Pattison also talks about why a media agency first needs to value its own services, and why she won’t be in the same role two years from now.
Pattison, who was in India recently, shares her thoughts on Maxus being a local business-driven agency. “About 85-90% of our business is local. We’re almost the opposite of Mindshare, which is a multinational that is market-driven. So, it is really important that implementation and real business happen locally.”
While she confesses that she cannot go to all 55 offices of Maxus, a significant portion of her time on her visits is spent in understanding the unique complexities of each local market.
“Clients in India are still talking about digital transformation. They are trying to figure out how AR is important to marketing. Artificial Intelligence is definitely something fresh on the radar. It can change the way businesses work,” she says, sharing her observations of the Indian market on her recent visit.
Here are edited excerpts from a conversation with her:
Q] From our last interview with CVL Srinivas (CEO, GroupM, South Asia), we are given to understand that GroupM India is going beyond the traditional boundaries of a media agency, strategically moving towards being more data-driven than pure play media agencies/services. Is Maxus following a similar path?
Yes, that is absolutely correct.
Q] How much do the data/digital services contribute to revenues?
Our income from other services has at least doubled in India in the last year. In India, we are very advanced; we are now generating revenue from content, data analytics, and tech consulting. We are quite diversified in India with a great entrepreneurial spirit. India is still much more diversified than some of our other mature markets. In fact, in this regard the US still remains quite traditional and a conservative market where we mainly do media planning and buying. Having said that, the scale is humongous in that market.
Q] A lot of the pitches in recent times have been pricing-led. What is your take on that from a global standpoint?
Sometimes, people blame procurement and pricing, when they haven’t won a pitch. Sometimes, it is true and sometimes it isn’t. It is hard to accept that your strategy, team, and the chemistry wasn’t just that great, and of course it is hard to articulate all this to the Press. The easier thing would be to blame the loss on pricing. To be really honest, the pricing-led pitches can be very demotivating for the team, but it can’t always be about the price. It is, and should be, a combination of price, strategy, talent, chemistry, and innovation and all of this will make a client choose us.
Q] As the global CEO, if your biggest client is on pitch and the deciding factor is pricing, given the fact that you have WPP to back you, how do you make a decision?
I’m going to quote Sir Martin Sorrell on this: “We are not a bank, and we need to make profit and clients should expect us to make a profit and it has to be an acceptable level of profit.” If a client wants to hire an agency, which is running at a loss and somehow subsidizing at a holding company level, then that is an unacceptable business purchase. I agree that some people would seem to do that, but in our case, if you as a client are expecting us to negotiate on your behalf with tough media businesses and owners, we should be able to negotiate for ourselves in the first place.
If you can’t trust us to negotiate a deal on behalf of ourselves then we should not really be in business. Why would you trust your money to someone who is giving their services away for free; who doesn’t value their services; or place any kind of value on what they do? I would like to caution clients that you should get what you pay for. Pay peanuts and you get monkeys!
Q] A number of clients for Maxus India currently happen to be on pitch. How do you approach this?
You need to work extra hard to motivate the team and re-instate their belief that they’re doing really well for the client. We would try and use other people within the agency as a shadow team to try and think differently. They would do this in order to help the team that has been working on the client’s business day in and day out, to try and look at things in an objective way.
Q] Where do you see Maxus India by the end of 2017?
I want to see Maxus India as No.1 in the Indian marketplace by the end of 2017. We are a great agency; we still have room to grow. Maxus India has, in our own network, been the most creative and most awarded agency. I want to see the quality and variety of that work increasing. I’d like to see that continued spirit of creativity and entrepreneurship and it is always nice to be recognized by awards as a bonus. If Maxus India can keep doing that, it would make me very happy.
Q] Where do you see yourself two years from now?
This question got me into so much trouble last time! Our business is undergoing such transformational change that the structure of our business would also change. So, if you set up Maxus, GroupM, and even WPP now, it would be quite different. There would be a significant amount of change in another year or two years, so I can’t really answer that.
Q] What is it that you want to do two years from now?
I definitely know that I won’t be doing the same job in two to three years of time, with things changing so dynamically around us, and I don’t want to do the same job in a year’s time.
Q] What’s the progress on your mentoring programme for senior women leaders, ‘Walk the Talk’?
‘Walk the Talk’ addresses some of the internal barriers that women face, and helps develop goals and build a support network to enable female leaders to get where they want to be. Interestingly, while we know there are certain biases in place, which will take years to overcome, women themselves hold back. For example, they don’t put themselves up for promotion. With ‘Walk the Talk’, we wanted to explore the reasons for holding back further and cut through self-limiting beliefs; 210 women have gone through that programme, and these 210 women went back to their offices and gave their own talks, which means we have actually reached around 600 women in the company with this mentoring programme.
Q] Are other agencies within WPP also adopting this?
WPP is going to test it horizontally in the UK; this is my gift to the industry. I would really like WPP to run it once annually at a global level for all our senior women leaders.