10 questions for Zenith Optimedia’s global boss Steve King

Steve KingMumbrella was in Cannes today to catch up with Steve King, the global CEO of media agency Zenith Optimedia, who joined the company in 1988, and who has run ‘the ROI agency’ for almost a decade.

In this Q&A session, King tells Mumbrella Asia editor Robin Hicks who he thinks are the world’s most powerful people in media, who should replace him as global CEO, his frustrations with Asia and a campaign featuring the disgraced former BBC presenter Jimmy Saville.

Who’s the most powerful person in media in the world at the moment?

A combination of Larry Page and Sergey Brin [who co-founded Google in 1998].

What’s the best media campaign you’ve ever come across?

Even though it’s hugely politically incorrect to say so, it’s a road safety campaign fronted by Jimmy Saville [the controversial BBC presenter who died in October 2011]. ‘Clunk, click every trip’ for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents in the 1970’s in the UK.

It was a really strong, strident, consistent campaign, clearly articulated, that saved lives.

Which media brand do you admire the most?

YouTube logoYouTube. Because the more I engage with it, the more I get out of it. It’s unbelievable the stuff people are posting on YouTube. In the last week, I’ve had a sailing question and a cycling question answered by YouTube.

And as a media agency, the opportunity it creates for us to post content and drive engagement in long and short form is not to be underestimated. And now that it’s owned by Google, the way they can use data, and with the algorithms they have behind the platform, the opportunities are endless.

What’s the biggest story in media at the moment?

Data. We’ve grown up in era in which we used syndicated data. Now we can use segmented data. We can now see how we can target the consumer based on known habits. This is intertwined with the issue of privacy and people being bombarded with messaging, a lot of which they don’t want.

And now we’re at a cross roads. There’s pressure to enable consumers to opt out and increasing government regulation, which could transform our business. ROI is something we stand for as an agency, and is something we’re chasing religiously.

Is there anything good that procurement has done for media?

Yes, actually I think so. Procurement has helped reinforce the value of media. Just because we’ve been sliced and diced by procurement, everyone now recognises that there’s not much fluffiness in the delivery among media agencies. We have a sense of accountability that other areas of the business don’t have. It’s now easier to have elevated discussions with clients because of the accountability that procurement has driven into the business.

Are media agencies more future proof than ad agencies?

Yes. Categorically, 100 per cent, yes. Look at the heritage of media agencies. Our DNA tends to be based on adaptability and strappiness. We are companies that sit at the heart of communications challenges.

Five years ago, we wouldn’t have had a party like this outside the Majestic Hotel in Cannes. It would been populated by a hot shot creative shop.

Does Cannes take media seriously enough?

I think so, although I’m still unsure.

I think that Cannes has done a lot to try and inculcate media in a more professional way rather than make it an after thought. And of course it’s impossible to ignore media now. Everything everyone does is media. The big digital portals, creative agencies and vendors are all engaged with media. Everything now is about the blurring of content with messaging and media.

Yes, Cannes takes media more seriously. But I can’t envisage a scenario where media could possibly be overlooked.

Why are media agencies so bad at branding themselves?

When I meet clients I sometimes concede that the sector is quite homogenous, but they tell me that this is not the case. We’ve got a pretty strong positioning as the ROI agency, and when I speak to stakeholders – our clients and media vendors – three quarters of the people I speak to say they understand what we stand for. Funnily enough, I’m actually quite surprised by your question.

What’s the biggest issue that media agencies face in Asia?

I think the biggest problem is finding local talent. We were a pioneer in China. We were the first [western] media agency to go into China. And yet the challenge and frustration is that we find it difficult to attract and retain local leaders.

It’s a major frustration for me. One of our biggest aims is to identify local nationals who could be running our business in China. In 10 years or so, our network should be led by someone from Asia.

Who would be the best person to replace you as global CEO?

David Droga. We see ourselves going in so many different directions. We have a strong core media business with some great clients, but we need someone special to make that step change forward. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful indicator that we were embracing change to hire some like Droga? I say, let’s bring in someone completely different.

He starts next week…


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