Maxus Global CEO: 'Media Isn’t Going To Be The Last Three Pages Of The Pitch'

maxus lindsay pattison steve williamsWhen Lindsay Pattison was appointed global CEO of GroupM media agency Maxus in mid-October, she saw a clear opportunity to build collaboration with creative agencies, particularly in the United States.

Steve Williams, Maxus’ US CEO, is already in the midst of forging “incredibly strong relationships with lots of creative agencies,” said Pattison. Her own attention is more focused on building out a long-term strategy – a skill she honed over the past two years, which she spent as Maxus’ global chief strategy officer.

The problem afflicting media agencies, particularly in the United States, is that they’re often perceived as performing only buying functions. But Pattison envisions Maxus pushing far beyond the limitations of that role.

The agency has certainly been active pushing into new ground. Most notably, it assisted with Universal Pictures’ preview of its upcoming “Ouija” movie on Snapchat, the first ad created for that platform.

Pattison and Williams spoke with AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: What does Maxus provide that the other agencies within the GroupM umbrella do not?

LINDSAY PATTISON: Essentially, about 85% of what we provide is the same. We provide media planning and buying services for our clients across all our media. The difference is then in the people, the agency philosophy, how you think about problems. We talk about leaning into change, because the media world is continuously in transition.

Because we’re so new as an agency – we’re only six years old – we have new systems and tools that don’t live in the past. There’s no digital divide in the way we think, plan and buy media.

Particularly important for us is there’s a massive opportunity, especially in America, to collaborate much more closely with creative agencies.

Why is that opportunity in America so much greater?

LP: The relationships here between clients and creative agencies are very strong. Whereas in the UK, media agencies are definitely top table because media agencies work with creative agencies, digital agencies and technology partners. They’re seen as bringing everything together and are probably the most strategic partner for clients.

STEVE WILLIAMS: I agree. Because of the amount of money spent here because of the size of the market, a lot of the concentration and structure is built around managing the cash flawlessly. You make one small error on the media plan, you blew a lot of money.

A lot of media agencies in the United States are just known as buying agencies. Creative agencies are closer to the ideas in that sense, and we want to be the agency that bridges those two things together.

What are the common friction points and how do you get over them?

SW: I don’t think it’s a big issue past getting great people working together in the right way. It’s a mind-set. In the past, people tried to defend their territory. We need people with an open mind in how to deal with other people.

Sometimes there’s an element of friction when both creative and media don’t acknowledge where they play on the pitch. A creative agency is closer to the brand, looking at things through a brand lens. And they need an eye for the consumer too.

Whereas our [perspective] is [the] reverse. We need to understand the brand, obviously, but our focus is the consumer. Once it’s clear where an agency plays on the pitch, then we can get past those things.

When you approach the creative agencies, what’s their reaction? Are they interested in collaborating with media?

SW: This is a generic answer, because there isn’t one problem. When a creative agency realizes a media agency has smart, collaborative and interesting people, then that’s exciting for them. It’s a very simple formula, though not everyone is built for that way of operating.

Why not?

LP: Maxus was never the media department of a creative agency. MediaCom used to be the media department of Grey. Mindshare used to be the media department of Ogilvy. MEC used to be the media department of Young & Rubicam. I worked at Young & Rubicam more than 20 years ago, and media was a joke. Media was literally the last three slides of any pitch presentation.

The media departments that became media agencies, possibly, have a chip on their shoulder and want to work in their own way. For us, forget that, it’s all about collaboration.

You mentioned media agencies that spun out of creative shops. Now we’re talking about collaboration between the two. Are we going full circle?

LP: We have that debate quite a lot. I’ve spoken with friends who run creative agencies, and I have to say if we do come back, we’re not going to be the last three pages of the deck.

I don’t know if we need to be back physically under one roof. I think the best ideas will come out when people collaborate together.

SW: I’d say in some regards, we’ve got the “Back to the Future” thing going on now. As content gets more easily obtained and distributed, then the proximity [of ads to media] is a more interesting thing.

Speaking of distributing content in new mediums, you were the media agency behind the Snapchat ad for Universal’s “Ouija movie. Was that the first advertising campaign Snapchat ever did?

LP: It was the first in that particular format, which was a video playing 30-second creative especially for that format. So it wasn’t just taking a TV spot or online video and sticking it into a social environment.

What do you think of Snapchat as a viable advertising venue? What are its particular strengths?

LP: Obviously it reaches a very specific, core audience. I hate the term millennials, but it reaches the younger end of the millennials – 16- to 24-[year-olds], who are hard to reach in traditional media. It’s an environment they are choosing to be in. They are choosing to watch that online trailer, because you have to hold your thumb down to watch it. It was a great opportunity for Maxus, with NBC, to get an early to test of this format.

The early results are very encouraging, and we’ll learn more about this in the next couple of weeks.

You mentioned younger millennials. How does YouTube compare, since it has a similar value proposition?

SW: It’s a bit like comparing television with looking at things on a mobile phone. Snapchat, from a marketing point of view, is at the very [heart] of where this audience is at the moment.

What’s your presence in programmatic?

LP: Programmatic is still relatively small at the moment, but it will grow. GroupM, with Xaxis – and we offer other programmatic solutions beyond Xaxis as well – has been first to market. If you noted the Omnicom results call, [CEO] John Wren is very envious of Xaxis, because we got out very quickly, and they’re running to catch up. [Read AdExchanger's coverage of Wren's comments.] We’re feeling confident; we’ve been in that market for a while. We’re continuously learning and iterating with our technology partners, like AppNexus and The Trade Desk.

What are you guys developing in the programmatic front?

SW: We’re starting to develop very interesting premium content distribution within Xaxis. Programmatic is still thought of as a low-end inventory piece. That’s not the way we do it.

We want programmatic to ensure we can create very specific, tailored solutions for every single one of our clients. What we’re building isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. It needs to be [based on] quality of inventory, which has specific properties, as opposed to just being low end.

Are you building this within Maxus, or do you leave this sort of thing up to Xaxis?

SW: We have a very clear point of view that we have a programmatic buying unit. Xaxis is part of that. We don’t just couch everything under Xaxis. Xaxis is one particular solution.

It’s the programmatic buying unit fueled by GroupM experts and one section of those experts are Xaxis people. Does it sit and embed within the agencies? Yes it does. It can be led by GroupM experts. The proximity in which we work is very, very close.

Programmatic is a sector of the business. It’s about how we use intelligent machinery and technology to make the right decisions at the right time, and that generally means incredibly quickly. It’s as much about speed and intelligence as it is the price of media. Xaxis is part of the armory with how we deliver media to the right place at the right time, at the right speed and the right cost to our advertisers.

 

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