Vittorio Bonori, Global Brand President of Zenith, explains how the network plans to develop from a media partner to a business partner.
Most of the major media groups are headed by managers from the USA and UK. Yet you’ve made it to the top as an Italian. How did you get there?
The Group sets great store by diversity, and I’m probably a beneficiary of that. Continental Europeans – and Italians especially – are traditionally under-represented at this level. But joking aside, I think I was offered the job because of my experience. I’m a data specialist. I’ve spent half my working life combining and analysing data and factual information. I’m a huge fan of measuring and trying to understand how things really work. That’s really important in today’s world. And I think that’s why Steve King, the CEO of Publicis Media, gave me the job.
It used to be that the direction of a company was determined by visionaries and strategists. Then came the rise of the managers. Now it’s a data specialist calling the shots. Is there a significant shift of direction going on here?
Yes, it’s certainly a sign of the transformation the entire agency world is going through at the moment.
Your role used to come with a fairly prosaic job title such as CEO or President. Your job title is Global Brand President. Why the change?
When Zenith restructured recently, many of our job titles were changed. It’s to do with our new focus on the brand. Brands are responsible for clients, for growth, for business, for future prospects, for corporate culture. Publicis Media is an organisation driven by agency brands and supported by global practices. It’s about the profit and loss of these brands, for which the Global Brand President is ultimately responsible. It used to be that in each agency we spent a lot of time and effort gathering and analysing all the figures we could so that we were able to measure our success. But we’ve done away with that so that now we can concentrate 100% on working for our clients.
And there’s a new tagline. ‘The ROI Agency’ has been replaced by ‘ROI+’. What’s the difference? Are you now offering more than just return on investment, i.e. profit?
That’s easily explained. The tagline ‘The ROI Agency’ came about several years ago when Zenith and Optimedia merged. It’s a strategy we still adhere to. What ROI+ refers to is more of a platform, a product, if you will. This platform is intended to help our people develop client solutions and make decision-making easier.
So if I’ve understood it correctly, you are now concentrating on functioning more as a platform?
Correct. We used to have a platform matrix called Live ROI, and it worked very well, but it no longer fits the bill. Customers don’t want a one-size-fits-all approach. They want customised, individually tailored solutions. They’re looking for ways on which they can use data intelligently and efficiently. They’re looking for simple technical solutions to their planning challenges. It’s vital that we focus on the customer experience. And with ROI+, that’s exactly what we’ll be doing.
So now you’re not so much an agency as a platform partner?
We’re still just as much of an agency as we’ve ever been. But now we want to be not just a media partner for our clients, but a business partner. And for good reason. There is a certain convergence between communication and business. When you are retained as a marketing and advertising partner, you also quickly become involved with turnover and sales. At the end of the day, the aim is always to boost sales. That’s why media agencies eventually become business partners.
What does that entail exactly?
We set up and manage innovation processes for our clients. For example, we help them analyse startups and find ones that will help them achieve their goals. Ultimately we’re helping our clients to transform their business model. We are acting more and more as a business partner, without losing sight of our core business, which is media.
So you’re going in the opposite direction from some other major corporate consultancies. They are trying to break into the communications market, while you’re trying to become a management consultant.
You could put it like that. We are helping our clients to improve their customer experience, to find the right business model, to develop the right data solutions. But of course, we’re coming from a different place from the management consultants. Then again there are other firms, such as Google or Amazon, who provide technical solutions. But when it comes down to it, we’re all trying to do the same thing: help clients achieve better results.
If I were one of your clients, how would I notice this new approach? How are you embodying it in your working practices and services?
On our platform, the first step is a comprehensive analysis. We take a close look at ten different areas such as data, technology, content, the digital roadmap etc. and analyse what solutions and options the client has already implemented and where, as is usually the case, there are gaps. This is very important. It used to be that we would simply develop a clever idea and then execute it across various media. Today we’re asking our clients if they’ve really exploited all the opportunities available to reach their target market.
Such as …?
For example, if a client wants to implement a new content strategy, he also needs corresponding data management and the technical solutions that make it possible. We have to develop these together and, as we do so, we often discover new business models. So if we are working with, say, a car company, it’s about moving from the sale of cars to the sale of personal transport solutions. In agriculture, it’s less about cattle and wheat and more about producing healthy products and ranges for consumers. In telecoms, it’s all about digital communication. In this way, we often open up new growth opportunities. Discovering these is part of the service we offer.
All this presupposes that you have the right people on board. Agencies used to have account managers, media specialists, digital specialists etc. Are you now creating different kinds of jobs, such as analysts?
Yes and no. The focal point of everything is the client, and the client will continue to be advised, as it always has been, by a very experienced account manager who is responsible for all the work produced for a brand. But behind the account manager there is a whole range of specialists and experts who the account manager can pull into the team as required. For that, we have the entire Publicis network at our disposal. This is the new direction in which we’re moving.
All this innovation is of course being driven by the digital revolution. How is this affecting media agencies? Or put another way, how would you describe your current philosophy?
The digital revolution began twenty years ago. It’s not something we really talk about any more. As far I see it, there are currently two major developments. The first relates to the role of technology, which is changing all our lives massively, including to the extent that it’s giving clients and consumers more power. And this gives rise to the second major development: our clients, who are companies and brands, are under enormous pressure. They are bearing a huge risk in a world that is changing so rapidly and to an extent that we can’t really calculate. So our credo is that we have to understand how we can help our clients to develop their business models and use all the technological opportunities at their disposal to understand their customers better and drive sales and results. This is a totally new situation. We wouldn’t have been able to do this five years ago. But it has given us the opportunity to realign our business.
And now comes the crucial question: Is this really what your customers want, or are they not in fact more interested in good media buying and generous discounts?
Classic media buying comprises two elements: scale and insight. Scale – i.e. volume – to get better prices for clients. And insight – i.e. detailed knowledge of target groups – so that we can develop the right strategies. These days it’s about more than just communication, or media: it’s about the overall business model. And for this media agencies are ideally placed. They have access to data, and data is the currency of the modern world. So we can offer our clients much more than just good media buying.
So is data expertise more important than media buying?
Yes, because data is the business of the future. I’ll give you an example. The Publicis Group recently acquired Sapient. In the US, 35 to 40 percent of all online transactions are made via these platforms. That is a massive treasure chest of data that we can leverage for our clients. We are moving in a totally new world. It wasn’t always easy to get there and it involved a massive culture shift. But now we are starting to see the results.
You make repeated reference to the Publicis network and its numerous specialists. But who takes the lead in this process? Who is managing it?
The agency with the closest connection to the client or those who can get to grips most effectively with their clients’ concerns. That is the spirit that drives our organisation. Many specialists from the network support the work of a senior partner for one client. This process is getting more and more agile and open. The various experts and specialists from different disciplines are brought on board as and when they’re needed.
But to be specific, is it the media agencies that aspire to the leadership role in this complex situation?
Not necessarily. It could be the media agencies. Or it could be a technology service provider or another agency. The main point is to establish a customer-centric culture. We do this in the Group with our Power of One initiative which is about using the skills of the various specialists to enter into a dialogue with the client and thereby add value.
Publicis Media has merged several brands. Recently WPP merged MEC and Maxus. Is there a trend back towards big agencies? Is big beautiful again?
I believe in the power of the brand. I think that every agency brand needs a clear, differentiated position in the market that clients too can understand. Apart from that, it’s about really integrating each agency brand into the network and allowing its strengths to make a contribution to the whole. Economies of scale are less important. They result from the agency group as a whole.