Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Wavemaker's global CEO Toby Jenner: Media and advertising have had a 'work hard, play hard' reputation

Toby Jenner, global CEO of WPP-owned Wavemaker, on changing dynamics of the ad business, India, and navigating through tough times

Published: Dec 20, 2022 03:40:21 PM IST
Updated: Dec 20, 2022 04:11:25 PM IST

Wavemaker's global CEO Toby Jenner: Media and advertising have had a 'work hard, play hard' reputationToby Jenner, global CEO, Wavemaker

Toby Jenner, the global CEO of Wavemaker told his India team which is led by Ajay Gupte to be the “most wanted media agency” in the world. Gupte and his teams took the mandate very seriously. He shares with Storyboard18 their report card: Wavemaker India has added over $90 million in billings from new business wins in 2022 so far and has had a strong stake in global wins like Danone and Audible, as well as retaining Mondelez. “That’s the business results, and they are impressive. On top, Ajay and his team has put Wavemaker on the map globally through tangible examples of how creativity and new technology have a transformational power,” he adds. The agency’s work for Mondelez India in partnership with Ogilvy India has been putting them high on the global awards rankings too.

In an interview with Storyboard18, Jenner shares what makes his India team shine on the global growth map, how the agency is becoming future-ready, changing dynamics of the ad business, and more.

Read on.

Q. In April 2022, Ajay Gupte told Storyboard18 that you gave the leadership team a war cry, to be the “most wanted media agency” in the world. How far are you from that goal? What’s the performance evaluation?

Becoming the most wanted media agency is our north star. If we truly positively provoke growth for our clients and our people, we will become the world's most wanted media network. It’s what motivates and unites us to fulfil our potential. We’re well underway: according to COMvergence, the research business which ranks global media agencies’ performance, we’re in the top 6 overall. We were no. 3 in 2021 and with some positive results we will be top 3 again in the 2022 new business ranking. We’ll have earned this through a succession of new business wins including Danone, L’Oréal, Beiersdorf, Paramount plus multiple new economy wins including Audible, Riot Games, Coinbase, Square, SeatGeek and Zwift.

Q. How different is your India team from the rest of the world?

Ajay and his team are hugely successful. They have added over $90 million in billings from new business wins in 2022 so far and have had a strong stake in global wins like Danone and Audible, as well as retaining Mondelez. That’s the business results, and they are impressive. On top, Ajay and his team has put Wavemaker on the map globally through tangible examples of how creativity and new technology have a transformational power. The campaign for Cadbury with Shah Rukh Khan, created in partnership with Ogilvy, has not only won big at local awards shows, but is internationally renowned and awarded. At our industry’s most prestigious award show, Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, the case won a Titanium Lion, the only one WPP bagged this year. On top, and mainly thanks to India, Wavemaker was named International Network of the Year at this year’s M&M Global Awards.

I’d say Ajay and his team are a little further down the road to becoming the most wanted media agency.

Also read: Hyatt India's Amritesh Bakshi tells why hospitality brands need creative freshness

Q. Looking at the work that Wavemaker India has been delivering over the last couple of years, will it be right to say you are breaking traditional media agency codes? Is it the same for rest of the markets?

Absolutely. A combination of purpose, creativity and technology is at the heart of our most successful work in India. The work coming out of India is an inspiration to the entire network, but there are pockets of excellence everywhere. I see more consistently great work as we’re leaning more into the strength of being a global network: Take what works, share and reapply to build stronger capabilities and creativity everywhere. To prove this point, our last year in Cannes was our most successful ever – on top of the already mentioned wins for the Shah Rukh Khan campaign, we won other Lions for work for Mondelez as well as for Coinbase, Netflix and more.

Q. From a business point of view, what’s Wavemaker’s current focus? What are clients looking for from an agency like yours?

Transformative growth is what many of our clients are tasking us with. As well as our core services, it is increasingly important that we can offer clients a range of consultancy services. At Wavemaker we launched our consultancy business in early 2020 to help with this digital client transformation our clients. Since then, the consultancy community have evolved into a practice of exceptionally talented individuals who future proof our clients against their most challenging business issues, across Commerce, Precision, Content & Creativity, addressable, data, applied innovation, and analytics. As the media and advertising landscape continues to change, I believe these services are key to our future success. Consultancy services now account for 20 percent of our business and it’s growing at 25 percent per annum.

Q. How has the media planning gambit changed in the recent past? What is the single-biggest change you foresee that will transform the business?

Over recent years, and also fuelled by the pandemic, ecommerce has become a significant part of a brand’s planning portfolio, and retail media is playing a vital role in delivering this growth from both a topline revenue driving perspective as well as improving bottom line profit. When ecommerce was under 5 percent of a brand’s revenue it was viewed as investing in new channels for growth, and profitability was not critical, but now, for most brands, retail media is one of the biggest sales channels, so we must work to improve bottom line sales.

The challenge brands face with retail media is that it is often treated in silo compared to core media channels, and this reduces our ability to create joined up consumer journeys and optimise across channels, in part due to the lack of retail media adtech integrations with other adtech. As cookies deprecate over the next few years, retail media will become one of the few channels available for precision marketing and will play a role over and above driving near term platform sales. With GroupM’s TYNY benchmarks showing that retail media in India is at almost 4 percent in 2022 and expected to double by 2027, this mandates the closer integration of retail media into core media.

Q. What are the myths around the business of media planning that Wavemaker is trying to change?

I think many of the myths surrounding media planning has to do with lack of knowledge of the tools and platforms, technology and data sources that now enable us plan and execute media for our clients smarter, more creative and more effective than ten, five or even three years ago. A couple of examples. The industry has become a quagmire of disconnected silos and walled gardens across paid, owned and earned channels and the perception is that in this environment, planning across channels and audiences is impossible. However, at Wavemaker we’re overcoming this with our industry leading, AI-powered media planning products which allows us to plan against individuals rather than audience segments.

Data integration: As the first agency in the world, Wavemaker has access to Amazon’s audience data, allowing our planners insights that input directly into media plans and campaigns. This helps us create stronger and more creative data audience strategies to realise our clients’ digital maturity plans. The myth we’re breaking here is this, for example, to target dog owners you have to look at dog food buyers, right? Not necessarily. Through our collaboration with Amazon, Wavemaker planners will examine the purchase behaviours of buyers on Amazon media, allowing us to identify new target audiences that are likely to engage with our advertising (at lower cost, by exiting the category competitive environment). So, your dog owners might be better found through male grooming products than dog food.

Also read: Digital Marketing Mavericks: Zoo Media's big bet on hyper-specialisation

Q. First the pandemic, now the war, slowing growth, increasing cautious cosumption, etc. How do you think should brands navigate through challenging times?

In an economic downturn, brand budgets come under pressure from three things – declining sales, rising media costs and increased pressure to drive short-term sales via precision media. When budgets are tight, and marketers are under pressure from the boardroom to save costs, many make the mistake of focusing too narrowly on maintaining sales and forget driving brand equity and bias. However, it’s a fact that no amount of performance advertising will keep your brand on people’s carefully budgeted shopping lists. When budgets are tighter, and consumers spend less, then brands must also work to stay relevant, to provide consumers with real value and a sense of purpose. Those that succeed will keep growing, even in a downturn.

Q. How are you trying to make Wavemaker a future-ready company?

We’ve got a great product, a position that differentiates us in the market, we’re winning new business and are working with some of the world’s biggest and fastest growing brands. To sustain this, to make Wavemaker future-ready, we need to double down on our efforts to be an attractive workplace where smart and brave people come to do meaningful work and have great careers.

Q. According to you, what’s the biggest challenge in the advertising business today? How is Wavemaker trying to fix it?

I think advertisers’ biggest challenge is connecting brand and performance, especially in economic headwinds as mentioned earlier. Lots of brands split their budgets into a series of specialist agency shops, which was fine for a period of time, but most are now realising: 1) it’s incredible time consuming to navigate and manage multiple agency partners, 2) media plans are disconnected, they are duplicating reach against growth audiences and 3) measurement has become siloed and focused on short term results. At Wavemaker we are single minded in building product solutions that help brands join their investments together and realise the gains they are missing out on. We’ve launched platforms like Maximize, the world’s first AI poweredmulti-audience planning tool, to help brands plan end to end with us – and we’ve got over 2500 plus specialist in our consultancy community to support connecting brand and performance.

Because we have models that show how brand advertising can make performance activity work harder, we’re seeing success with clients that are very good at the bottom end of the sales funnel, but need to build brand over the longer term to sustain growth. Audible, Coinbase or Doordash are examples of clients that have come to Wavemaker for help in planning for long-term growth.

Q. From a talent lens, why do you think young people are not too keen on careers in advertising? What should agencies focus on to attract them?

I think media and advertising have had a ‘work hard, play hard’ reputation, meaning that people were expected to put in long hours to meet tight deadlines. But the generation we see come into the agency today have a different agenda; they care more about a healthy work-life balance, and they want to work at a company that see and share their values.

I think the pandemic taught us where our priorities should be. While work can be amazingly exciting, we all also have other things in our lives, and we have loved ones that we want to focus on and spend time with. So at Wavemaker we’re doing more now to make space for all of our differences and to create a workplace where everyone feel they belong and can be themselves. Pitching can be extremely hard work, but when we win new clients, we also create new opportunities for our people. That value should come through. And then we’re fortunate to be part of GroupM and WPP, an extremely large network where new opportunities arise every day.

Q. What are some of your personal milestones since you took charge of the network?

Since I joined Wavemaker in 2019, we’ve completely rewired the agency. We launched a new global agency proposition – “Positively Provoking” growth for our clients and our people. We built a global operating system accessed across all our markets and housing our modular planning product, Provocative Planning. We restructured our global leadership team across clients, countries and capabilities to create a stronger sense of consistency and connectivity across our 88 markets. We also formed three regional ‘Challenger’ ExCos, appointed from rising stars across Wavemaker, to inject increased diversity into our thinking, as well as reverse mentoring our leaders. I think our recent success is testament to how well this ‘new’ Wavemaker has landed – we’re winning new business, exciting new economy brands are joining our client list, and we’ve expanded our relationship with some of the world’s biggest advertisers, as outlined earlier.

Personally, it was my goal to reshape our global leadership team as a more diverse group of brilliant minds. Now, we finally have a gender balanced global ExCo. I know there’s much more to diversity than gender, but I nevertheless feel this is a significant milestone. Globally, regionally, locally - only diverse teams create diverse points of view and thinking, which will positively provoke growth for our clients and people.