Q&A with new Wunderman APAC boss Caspar Schlickum: We invented direct marketing, now it’s time to raise our profile

Caspar at WundermanCaspar Schlickum is the new regional boss of Wunderman, the huge WPP-owned direct and digital network that has 1,300 staff in Asia.

In this Q&A with Mumbrella Asia’s editor Robin Hicks, the former Xaxis EMEA boss talks about raising the profile of a quiet giant, the biggest challenges he wants to address, and how his new and former agency might work better together.

For such a large agency, Wunderman has a very low profile. Do you plan to raise it?

Definitely. Going back to its origins, I think Wunderman is a very interesting business. We invented direct mail, we invented direct marketing. That may not be much of a claim to fame today in some ways. But really, that was the 1.0 of the bringing together of data and highly personalised creative messages, and targeting people on a one-on-one basis. At the time it was done through letterboxes. Today, it’s done digitally. But that DNA of bringing together data and creativity is still something that is absolutely relevant and pervasive in Wunderman.

Mark Read

Mark Read

Globally, the business has phenomenal momentum. Mark Read has come in [replacing long-time CEO Daniel Morel], and he’s someone who is extremely experienced and understands WPP very well, and understands digital better than most. He’s had a transformative impact on the Wunderman business and the brand, really tapping into that original DNA, and we’re winning new business and have new leadership in the regions.

The plumbing of Wunderman has been refreshed, with a new workflow and new processes – we call it Collision, which brings together data and creativity. That has always been part of the Wunderman DNA, but over the years it has been lost a little bit, and that is definitely now back into the forefront.

What about APAC?

We have 1,300 people here, really great capabilities, and we probably have been too quiet. Now in the context of our global positioning the time is right to come back into the market here and really tell people about what we do.

Some agencies in their nature are not chest-beaters. Perhaps there isn’t a need to chest-beat for Wunderman?

I think that’s the wrong word. That’s not how I’d describe it. Chest-beating sounds Gorilla-esque, and has connotations of trampling on everything in the jungle. That’s not our style, nor does it need to be.

Having said that, there’s no doubt in my mind, especially having come from a very data and technology-focused business [WPP’s programmatic trading giant Xaxis], brands are increasingly data and tech literate, and they’re increasingly trying to understand how data and technology can help them as marketers. Wunderman as a business exists at the intersection of data and creativity at a time when clients are increasingly asking for data and technology to be integrated with their creativity. We are proudly positioned in that space, and we are going to make sure that people understand that we can help them with that challenge.

What inspired you to come to Asia and take the job? How much experience of the region do you have?

A lot of things. I’ve been at WPP for eleven years now. I started off working in consumer insight at Kantar. I later moved to Mindshare, where I spent a big chunk of time, and then to Xaxis, where I spent the last five years. I’ve worked in different parts of WPP, in media, data, tech and consumer insight. For a long time, I’ve been talking about the need for data and creativity to come together. I understand WPP and how our agencies work together, and I can bring that to the table. I know a lot of the people here, and I’ve always been very connected with the network.

Coming to Asia is easy for me. From a personal point of view, I grew up in Australia, I started off working at Deutsche Bank [Schlickum is a former investment banker], and my clients were based in Hong Kong, Singapore and India, and the equity investment we were getting was coming from the likes of Tata and CKI, so I spent a lot time in the region. Plus, my brother has always lived here, so I’ve spent a lot of time here. It’s good to be back.

What do you see as the key challenges Wunderman faces?

One of them is that while we have strong and growing business around the region, we need for it to be better connected. We need to do a better job of aligning our capabilities, so we create more consistency around the region. We have a lot of regional and global clients who want us to work with them in ways we do so elsewhere.

We were recently involved in a GSK pitch, which we won as part of a WPP team. So that’s a core challenge, and we need to train our people and make sure everyone understands our workflow and processes, that we’re really leveraging the opportunity we have with our people.

I’m a huge people person. Xaxis was a business that would have been impossible to build without bringing together very specialised people. I’m the first person to say that I didn’t understand everything. We have people in-market who run specialist areas of the business who know much more about those markets and verticals than I do. My job is not to pretend that I know more than they do. It’s to make sure that we coherently and consistently deliver that offering to our clients.

What experiences from your time at Xaxis are you going to take into your role at Wunderman?

Xaxis was a unique experience. It’s an entrepreneurial venture. Being part of that founding team and building it was a wonderful experience. I learned that you need to surround yourself with great people who are genuinely interested in and passionate about what they do, and be very clear and consistent about the direction you set. Xaxis hasn’t wavered from its original mission statement: use data and technology to reach audiences at scale. That was written five years ago and that remains true today.

It was about clear and consistent leadership. I get my hands dirty but I let my team get on with it. There’s no way Xaxis would have scaled as quickly as it did if I’d have micromanaged every single decision. I’m also a big believer that failure and success lie in the same direction. People make mistakes. That has to be ok as long as we learn from them.

WPP doesn’t come across as a company that particularly embraces and accepts failure…

You might be surprised. I can’t talk for all the agencies, but at Wunderman we want to challenge our clients. We’re part of an industry – data and technology – which is moving very quickly. It’s something that everyone wants to do. We’re almost defining what success looks like there. So if we’re not allowing ourselves to get it wrong sometimes we’re not going to find success, and we have to encourage our clients to think the same way. That mentality from the startup world – of failing fast – can be applied to our world as well.

Clients in Asia are not always known as risks takers. How do you intend to work with clients and encourage risk taking?

I’ve missed spending more time with clients, as at Xaxis this was done more through GroupM, and there was less direct-to-client business. Now I have the opportunity to work directly with clients more, which I really enjoyed at Mindshare, Kantar and when I was in banking. With clients, you need to adjust for the realities of the market. You can’t just come in all guns blazing and challenge them to do things that are clearly uncomfortable for them and don’t work culturally. What might not seem like a risk or a challenge to a client in Australia might be a huge challenge to someone in China. We have teams on the ground for a reason. Without people on the ground you will go in with the wrong strategy and say the wrong things.

Ultimately, everyone is looking for results. If a small risk is showing that it’s driving results, then clients should think about taking a bigger risk the next time around.

Horizontality is a word Sir Martin Sorrell likes to use a lot, getting WPP companies working closer together. Will we start to see Wunderman working closer together with Xaxis in Asia?

Wunderman already works very closely with the other agencies, and as the business occupies a unique spot, we get brought into WPP’s horizontal teams a lot.

One of the reasons I took this role is that I believe very strongly in the Xaxis offering, and there’s a huge opportunity to integrate a more creative creative strategy with what Xaxis does. Wunderman could bring in Xaxis, as they bring in value on data and execution. And Xaxis could bring in Wunderman, as we can lend a creative element to a campaign. There is a lot of opportunity for collaboration on both sides.


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