Vincent Digonnet’s move up to APAC CEO for the MullenLowe Group in August 2017 was already planned when he was hired as MullenLowe Profero APAC CEO.
Digonnet is no stranger to the region, having a formidable track record as Euro RSCG APAC CEO, Hemisphere Asia CEO, Digitas LBi and Razorfish Executive Chairman APAC, and now manning the helm at MullenLowe Group APAC.
adobo magazine caught up with Digonnet during his visit to the MullenLowe Philippines office to talk about his mandate and mission for the group, the hyper bundled operating model, digital transformation and business transformation, the state of creativity in advertising, and the unique qualities of the Filipino creative.
adobo magazine: How was the move from MullenLowe Profero to MullenLowe Group APAC CEO? What is now your mandate and mission as APAC CEO?
Digonnet: When I was first approached to take that role, it had always been to take the MullenLowe Group CEO job. I started with Profero then North Asia, actually because China needed to be restructured urgently and then the rest of MullenLowe for Southeast Asia.
For internal reasons, it was phased but the original mandate was always one, to create a group in Asia-Pacific, two, to help both MullenLowe to transform into a digitalized core advertising communications network, and Profero from a digital network to a business transformation network.
So it was a double mandate that I had, and that was clear before I even joined, that's the reason why I joined.
adobo magazine: How does the hyper bundled operating model of MullenLowe Group work?
Digonnet: The notion of hyper bundling means the ability to gather talents and skill sets for a particular client or a particular project beyond the ability of your own operation.
There are a number of things that needs to be done to make that true. One is we need to have the variety of skill sets that is required to fulfill the modern day project that our clients are asking us. If you look at what digital has brought to our industry, it has made it more complex.
I remember when I started in advertising, you had Account Management, you had Creative, you had Production, and you had Media, that was it, when you didn't have Planning at the time. Planning was done by the Account Manager, which was separated after that. When you look at what you require now, you need to have Project Directors, Tech Architects, CX, UX, Analysts, Production, Technology. It's endless.
How do you manage to have all these talents in one agency? It's impossible. If you do not have 500 people in the same place, you cannot pretend to offer all these skills that are required in communication and in business transformation today. So what you need to do is to be able to take those talents from other markets. What you need to do is to be able to build capabilities to bundle beyond your own agency, beyond your own operation. That's why it's called Hyper Bundling.
adobo magazine: How did you take over as MullenLowe Group APAC CEO? How did your prior experience contribute to your current position?
Digonnet: They want somebody who has experience leading an advertising network, experience leading business transformation of digital network, and experience in China, and I had the three.
The first one through the 10 years I've done with URCG, now Havas, in Asia-Pacific. The second one as a start-up owner in China, and the third one with Publicis Group and Digitas and Razorfish. And I thought, this is a great opportunity to take a job where I can summarize my 30 years career so far, leveraging everything I've learned in those days. So I thought it was a very, very interesting challenge.
Transforming Razorfish from a digital communications network in Asia Pacific into a business transformation has been my starting point. I've done that for five years. When I took over Profero, Profero's exactly at the same stage Razorfish was five years ago. So I knew the journey and I knew what I needed to do. I could go faster, not make the mistakes I had made the first time around, and on top of that because I had the responsibility of the whole group, it was a much easier task because you need to shift some resources from Profero into MullenLowe and then free that to bring new resources into MullenLowe Profero. So when you have a whole group to play with, it's much easier to transform because you transform everybody at the same time than when you have only one division.
Business transformation is a big word that's been used by everybody, and I'm reading regularly in the press that management consultants are competing against advertising agencies and against systems integrators. A lot of it is posture, the reality is business transformation is a huge market. I think if the advertising world is just a 150 billion dollars market, then business transformation is 2.1 trillion dollar market. It's a huge part, and there is room for everybody.
If you take a continuum and can start transforming your business, starting from operation, starting from process, starting from customer. If a client needs to transform their business starting from operations, they will always go to a management consultant, that's their strength. If their main issue is process, supply chain, they will always go to a systems integrator.
But when we want to compete in the business transformation is when the starting point of that business transformation is marketing, customer journey, customer experience. So we define ourselves as experience-led business transformation as opposed to just business transformation. They are part of the business transformation world in which we do not pretend we can go, and we do not even want to go, and we're happy to partner with management consultants or systems integrators on some big projects where we can focus on the front-end and the consumer journey, and the technology linked to it and then integrate it into a larger system.
adobo magazine: What lessons did you take from your time in Razorfish?
Digonnet: First of all, the Sapient part is only at the end. Sapient was acquired by Publicis, I helped integrate Razorfish and Sapient in Asia-Pacific for a year and a half, and then I moved to London, and then I left the Group.
The Razorfish journey was a bit the same that I'm building for MullenLowe Profero now, which is I inherited basically digital advertising agencies and I needed to move them into the business transformation. Although it was not expressed that way at the time and now I'm expressing it that way for MullenLowe, it was very much experience design-led also.
The DNA of Razorfish and the DNA of Profero was very similar. The DNA of Sapient was very different, so I'll come back to that later. As for the DNA of Razorfish, what I needed to do was (determine) the skillsets, the process. The organization to go into business transformation is different from advertising agencies.
You need project directors, delivery people, not account management in the traditional sense. You need high-level technology able to partner with software vendors because big projects are not bespoke to a certain extent, it's not on open-source platforms. So it's the ability to work in partnership with those platforms.
You need to have, what's called the pre-sales organization, so you need sales people who can start putting together projects with software vendors. With clients, it takes quite awhile, the process is an RFP process, different from pitches which happen in advertising.
Basically, you need to change a lot of the skill set, it's not creative people in the sense of creating a video, creating an ad, it's designers, it's UX, it's experience design, it's a different world basically. You need to progressively change a lot of the skillset you have.
adobo magazine: It’s 2017 and still, we say we need digital transformation on both the client and agency sides. Why do you think this is so? What are they doing wrong? How will they break the mold and transform?
Digonnet: You always have people who break the mold and disrupt the system. I will give you the two examples of how digital has transformed businsess in the business model as opposed to just the communications side of it.
I would take Uber and AirBnb. What is Uber? It's an experience-design platform. It's a service design platform. They don't own any taxi, they just make it easy for people to take a taxi, do a journey, they simply find just through a design service on your mobile. What is Airbnb? It’s the biggest hotel chain in the world without owning any of the assets. Again, it's a service design platform. And you can take e-commerce platforms disupting the warbot and all these traditional hypermarkets, totally disrupted by online demand.
It's not about communications only, that's a small part of it. People need to understand that the digital world has fundementally transformed the way business is conducted, and therefore, it's not just how do I adapt my communication to a digital world, it's how do I adapt my whole enterprise, my organization, the way I structured myself, the way I make money, to that new world.
Depending on your clients, depending on the brands, some move faster than others. Obviously, all the technology brands were born in the 21st century, therefor they move very easily in that new world. FMCG brand package good companies who are the epitome of the 20th century and of mass market, they find it much more difficult to transform into that new world. So I wouldn't say there is not clients – some clients have difficulties of adapting, some are adapting very fast. The people who are adapting very fast are the people who understood that their business was transformed, no just their marketing.
adobo magazine: How do you enact experience-led transformation?
Digonnet: Number one, you start analyzing the consumer journey. Once you have the points of the consumer journey, then you need to select what are the points that are the most vulnerable to change. If you change the experience at that point, it would make the biggest difference in the way people consume or in the way they appreciate your brand.
Once you've decided what are the points in the costumer journey that needs to be transformed to digital, then you need to design that. That's why it's experience design. It's what does it look like, what does it feel like, how do people interact with it, how does it link with the real world, how does it link with the rest of what I'm doing. That's this whole ecosystem that is analyzed by people who are part strategist, part designer, and it's a new breed of people.
adobo magazine: There are lots of criticisms on traditional agencies not being able to adapt to the digital age. What are your thoughts on this?
Digonnet: The term agency is very confusing because here, I've been speaking about business transformation. Not all agencies need to go to business transformation, that's a very particular segment with a few players and not all agencies can move into that.
If I take the MullenLowe Group, Profero's DNA is well poised to move into business transformation. MullenLowe, the traditional advertising network, needs to bring digital capabilities at the core of what it does. But what it does still needs to be marketing communication to a certain extent advertising.
But advertising, let's define advertising. If we define advertising as creating short messages in a limited space that cost a lot of money, whether it's a TV at 8:00 in the evening, or it's a print ad, that's the definition of advertising. That's advertising at the time of mass market, where everybody were in front of the same screen at the same time and therefore, you paid a lot of money to get 30 seconds in that space. And you needed to be very careful because you only have 30 seconds to speak in what you are putting in that space.
That time is gone. Of course, it's still relevant in some instances, but it's a small part of what you need to do to build a brand. Social media has totally disrupted it. When you create content for social media, that's not advertising, and you need to have the talents who are the best place to create content for social media.
They come from a journalist background, they come from a PR background, they come from a background where it's not about a punchline, it's about a narrative, and that's the big difference. Fundamentally, you still need to have creative people, but they need to understand the traditional sense of the world, how directors, copy writers; you need to mix these copywriters with people who can write coming from a different environment, who are more storytellers as opposed to short punchline tellers.
And you need to approach the digital landscape, the social media as a core of what you do as opposed to an act of thought. So some people think that, oh yes, I cut down my 30-second TV scene to a 10-second pre-roll to put on YouTube. And that's social media - NO. That has nothing to do with social media.
And by the way, programmatic and digital marketing in the sense of the traditional advertising is suffering now from a lot of questions from top markets. I mean, there was an article a couple of weeks ago saying now I'm cutting down all my digital advertising because I don't know who clicks, I don't know if I'm speaking to a robot or real people. I don't have any evidence of what it brings to me, and actually my sales are not increasing. So until, I understand a bit better, who am I really speaking to, I don't want to carry on doing this – and a lot of marketing directors are following suit and say well, actually I've been sold things I'm not sure what I understand what it does for me.
So there's a big question mark on the advertising side of digital, but there is no question mark on the fact that brands now need to join conversations in the social media sphere. But that's a different game.
adobo magazine: What is the current state of creativity in the advertising industry?
Digonnet: First of all, creativity still sits in advertising the way it did 30 years ago, it hasn't died. It has just only a piece of the pie as opposed to being the whole pie. So let's be honest, it hasn't disappeared.
It doesn't need to be networked the way it did in the past. You need brilliant creative people coming up with concept for the brand that can, after that, be interpreted in different ways. Do you need that in every market? Maybe not. Can you produce that centrally and then to that adapted, maybe yes? Which is where that brand of creativity, if you want, only the best will survive in that fight. Because it's not going to be required everywhere.
What is going to be required everywhere is how do you make it live in each market, how do you bride the gap between a great idea and a great TV still and a great poster, and the way you engage conversation in each market. There's a need for that.
Creativity will express itself in many different ways. There's not just one way of expressing creativity. It expresses itself in advertising in the traditional sense of the word. It expresses itself in building partnerships which are creative partnerships between people in an ecosystem that all of a sudden create a new product. It exists into inventing new ways of disrupting new conversations, social media without being pushed back.
There are many ways, I've seen yesterday two fantastic examples in this agency of very, very creative ideas which are not based on advertising.
adobo magazine: What is your mission for MullenLowe Philippines?
Digonnet: It’s my first trip back to the Philippines. I used to come back a lot when I was running URCG, because we had an agency there. After that, in my digital period with Razorfish, we didn't have operation in the Philippines, so it's my first time back in 12 years.
One of the key things I want to do for the whole group in Asia Pacific, in order to be able to hyper bundle, we need to create examples of excellence. When you look at the number of skill sets that are required, if you try to have everything in one place, you're very shallow, no depth. You need to be able to take some of them from other places.
We need to build centers of excellence in each market, according to what they're best at doing and according to strategy decisions. We started doing that with Profero. Australia is a center of excellence for CX/UX, Japan for analytics, China for technology build.
I want to look at how we can expand on that center of excellence in the other markets. What can Philippines be? If you look at the Philippines, it's a very specific market in Asia Pacific. It's a market that looks like no other market. It's in Asia, but it's got a very Latin background. It's the most multi-cultural, to a certain extent, population that you can find.
They understand United States, they understand Western society and they understand Asia. They're a bridge between all these cultures. It's a great place and you find great talents, not too expensive.
The Philippines can be very much a hub for us. A hub for what? There are a number of areas. Production is one of them. But I'm not sure I want the agency to be a production hub. There are other places where we can do that.
Social media is a very important element of the ecosystem moving forward. And I think that the Philippines have the talent in content creation, in social media listening, in understanding different cultures, in finding people speaking different languages to be a center for excellence in social media.
It's the fact that they are not grounded only in Asia. They've got Latin sensitivity and Western sensitivity, too. So to a certain extent, you can easily network creative people in the Philippines with even more creative people, they will speak the same language. They will understand the same concept. They will react to the same thing where that would not be possible with China, for instance, because it's too far apart.
adobo magazine: What sets apart the Filipino creative?
Digonnet: To me, the characteristic of people in the Philippines is they're a bridge between Western and Eastern culture. They're a foot in Asia and a foot in Latin America, but that's because of history. That's a very interesting cultural makeup that make Filipino creativity very specific.
adobo magazine: What are the challenges and opportunities you face in MullenLowe Group?
Digonnet: I will face more opportunities than challenges at the moment from what I can see. There will be more opportunities, because I've got a clear road map in pushing Profero into experience-led business transformation, putting digital at the core of MullenLowe, and creating centers of excellence in a hyper bundling model that will allow the group to have a seamless offering for our clients. Therefore, making each market part of the bigger market.
Some people speak about 360 in many ways. There's the “power of one” for Publicis. The chance, the opportunity that MullenLowe Group has, is that it doesn't have to destroy existing structures in order to rebuild one.
In the past, there hasn't been any leadership for the group for Asia Pacific, so I need to build from a collection of agencies, from a network, but there's little resistance because everyone wants to be part of that. If need to bring people with different brand names, different leaderships, and you collapse them, it's a very painful exercise and it will take a while before we get to that seamless offer.
For a client, we are able to offer, global or Asia Pacific-wide program without the client ever feeling that whether they use somebody from Australia, from the Philippines, from Singapore, from China, or from Japan, it's a different P&L. I find speaking to a lot of clients that one of the biggest issues that some of them face, and without giving names, is that some organizations pretend they're global but they're not. That's the biggest opportunity we have.
adobo magazine: What is your fearless forecast for the future of the industry?
Digonnet: I can't go wrong in saying that digital is not a medium. It's not a channel. Digital now is like electricity — it's at the core of everything we do. All the communication networks, we have to be digital in everything we do or we're done.