Opinion

MediaCom boss Mark Heap on leaving PHD, his task ahead and why he wants to hire Donald Trump

Mark HeapMark Heap is eight months in to his role running WPP media agency MediaCom across the region, having joined as Asia Pacific CEO from PHD in June.

In this interview with Mumbrella’s Asia editor Robin Hicks, Heap talks about the challenges he faces, how MediaCom can stand out in a homogenous market and the biggest trend to affect media in Asia this year.

How hard was it to leave PHD to take this role?

I’m very proud of what I achieved with PHD in China. As well as establishing a strong and thriving business, I had great colleagues, many of whom I count as my best friends.

However, I’d been in that role for five years and in China for nine. It was clear to me that if I wanted to take PHD to another level, it would require a fresh approach and that would probably involve another three year commitment.  I loved my time in China and it will always be very special for my family, and me but it felt like the right time to move on to a new challenge.

Once I started a conversation with MediaCom, the decision was very easy really. I still had a lot of strong connections within the group from my earlier years with Mindshare, and I knew I’d enjoy working in the environment and with the people.  MediaCom as an agency has been a great success story and every conversation I had with Stephen Allan and Mark Patterson about the future excited me more.  The decision became an easy one for me.

MediaCom is a much bigger, more established media agency than PHD in Asia, which is more of a challenger brand. How different do you see this role compared to your last?

The agency is bigger, for sure. But that doesn’t mean we’re poles apart. All media agencies operate in a very specialised industry and while we all have some points of difference, the reality is that we all work to similar briefs with similar outputs.

The task of leading an agency and building a sustainable, profitable business is broadly similar for all the regional agency heads. But the specific strategies and tactics we employ to achieve our goals will be different depending on the broader ambitions of the company, the culture and our own personal style of working.

The bigger difference between the roles is the scope of responsibility, going from a country CEO to a regional lead. My responsibilities are now much more about providing vision and direction and then enabling the individual markets to be the best they can be, getting the most out of the significant infrastructure we have within the network and the GroupM and WPP family.

What do you see as the biggest job at hand for MediaCom in Asia?

To continue the growth trajectory we’ve been on over the past few years and balance the fast commercial growth with capabilities growth.

We’ve got great momentum as a group, having risen from RECMA #5 to #3 in the region last year and we’ve seen significant growth in most of our markets. There’s quite rightly a lot of confidence and belief within the company and we need to make sure we ride that wave, but at the same time, don’t become complacent.

We have some brilliant clients and amazing people. Our first responsibility has to be to the continued investment in talent, training and culture, to ensure that we deliver best in class product for our clients.

It is tough for media agencies to stand out in a homogenous market. It’s not easy to stand out for MediaCom in a group structure in which every agency begins with the letter M, either. What’s the key to standing out for MediaCom?

This question made me laugh. Do you really think it matters what letter our agency starts with? If so, poor Mediabrands and MPG!

As I mentioned earlier, we are in a largely homogenous market in that there are a lot of very capable agencies all operating in a relatively specialised field, answering similar briefs with similar scopes of work.  While the product is really important and the tools we have at our disposal often do provide some competitive edge, we can’t forget that we are in the service industry.

The rising influence of procurement departments has been well documented and it is easy to think that more and more clients see media purely as a commodity. It is certainly true that some will view it this way, however I think they are still few and far between.

Price will always be important, but I believe that at the end of the day, the vast majority of clients will select the agency partner who they feel most comfortable working with. It comes down to the people, culture and confidence in them being able to deliver on what they say.

I’m not going to obsess about how MediaCom is unique within the market, I will obsess though about how we prove to be great partners for our clients and build on a reputation for delivering our promises.

If you could hire anyone, who would it be and why?

Donald Trump or Alan Sugar. Just so I could fire them and utter their catchphrases back at them.

What are the key things you want to have achieved within your first year at MediaCom?

To have a very solid understanding of our business across all markets, of where our talent base is and what our clients really want from us. To have clarity on where we want to take MediaCom in the mid-term and broadly, what we need to do to get there.

What do you see as the most significant development in media in APAC over the past year, and do you have a prediction for an emerging theme in 2014?

One emerging theme will be the growing impact of the ‘internet of things’. As technology becomes integrated in more and more products, the opportunity for unique personalisation and interaction will increase.

More companies will see the opportunity to develop new products, services and line extensions that take advantage of people’s thirst for recording, monitoring and sharing their personal lifestyle data.

This is happening already with Nike+, Jawbone and GoPro, but will start to extend into many other parts of people’s lives.

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