I am here to build a company, says David Mayo, CEO, Bates Asia
David Mayo, CEO, Bates Asia splits his time between struggling with the challenges of the ideas business and being a sports fanatic, actively involved with running and cycling.
What brings you here?
I am here to get to know the business again. India is an incredibly important part of anybody’s business in the region today. It is dominated by very big agencies. But if you look at certain creative organisations around the world like Virgin, Nike, Apple — they were all young, creative in an entrepreneurial sort of way. This is the opportunity for Bates. We are kind of a boutique — being a slightly bigger fish in a slightly bigger pond is very important.
If this is in fact the Bates mindset, what stopped you from carving a niche for yourself like W+K or BBH have globally?
Instead Bates appears to have ceded ground to the many aggressive boutiques in India and appears to be a lost baby. You just answered the question by saying it’s a lost baby. The intent existed from the beginning, but there are reasons why agencies lose their way. Bates started very proudly in the 1940s, came to Asia in the 1960s, joined a group called George Patterson Bates, which was very big in East Asia. It grew out of several agencies here in India, became part of the Saatchi empire and then WPP bought it. It’s been passed around a bit in the last 8-10 years. Around the time of the takeover was probably when everyone forgot what to do with the agency. If we bring a little bit of consistency back, then it will be nice.
So what is your plan of action?
I am not here to build a career but to build a company and lead and inspire people. I provide them the space to do their own thing. You have to allow people to realise their potential. In the next 30-60 years the world will become more spontaneous, creative and messy. People who can cope with that messiness and ambiguity are going to win. My job doesn’t change much. I still have to do work that grows brands, captures imagination, not of the award juries but housewives. It is famously said, that the 21st century is not a place for tiny minds. So that’s why I say Bates is in a good position. We have access to everything that WPP offers. We don’t carry the costs and overheads of big agencies.
What are your deliverables in the next three years?
In the 10 days I have been on the job, I formed an executive committee of nine people who are responsible for the financial, creative and cultural health. We have put down a 90-day plan. Day 1 is Nov 5 and Day 90 is Feb 8. In that time there are several things we need to do. We need to understand our people and clients, probably in that order and ensure we have the right people at the right place. We are an ideas establishment. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have the numbers. You’ll be quite surprised by how big we are. We want to double our business and grow by bringing in clients that will enrich us.
What are the factors constraining you from getting noticed for your creative product? Is there an internal mandate that says you can’t be better than JWT or Ogilvy?
No, we all have a healthy sibling rivalry at WPP. We can buddy up with each other but we can also compete.
Do you think the problem could also be clients like Colgate, which work to a formula and don’t give much room for creativity?
You need to be careful how you define creativity. The jury at Cannes is not the audience. So when you see a doctor in the lab coat, that’s the brand code. There is a certain amount of phobia in these categories. There is always a cut away shot to show the product, how it works, etc. But if you look at the entire category it is becoming clever — the innovations are in packaging and on the shelf.
So is Bates looking for clients who will give you the freedom to do outlandish work that can help create buzz?
I don’t think we should blame our clients. It’s up to the agency to get the best out there for the client. We have big businesses, good clients, the fundamentals are very strong. It’s the profile that we are talking of. I think that’s the creative challenge. We need to use creativity to unlock the potential of the business while it’s with us. We do have work that’s touched the hearts and minds of people. We also need advertising that has a big heart, probably that’s been missing.
What about something completely mad?
Not all advertising can be mad, you know. It’s important to have advertising that moves or touches people. For example work like what Ogilvy does for Fevicol, people remember and fall in love with, tweet about, talk about. The reason we tweet and talk about it is because it doesn’t happen too often.
Moving on to something different, you are a runner, cyclist, and an athlete. What would you say about the Lance Armstrong controversy?
I have a lot admiration for the charity work that the man is doing. But you have to ask yourself, can any one win Tour De France seven times in a row? It’s like in Zimbabwe, when they had a national lottery and only Robert Mugabe had the winning ticket, what a coincidence! Nobody wins Tour De France seven times.