Making global local: Maxus's Lindsay Pattison talks India, inequality and the long term

Will Railton
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Global heads need to suspend cultural bias, says Pattison

"Media is the fastest growing area of marketing. We are the link now between advertising and sale, and everyone wants a piece of the action,” says Lindsay Pattison, global chief executive of Maxus. The fourth arm of WPP’s Group M – the world’s largest advertising media company, which buys one in every three adverts sold – Pattison is glad for the scale and access to technology which the agency network can provide.

But since it was started in 2009, the global media agency has found a local focus central to success. “We’re also lean, agile and 85 per cent of our UK business is local. BT is a client; 60 per cent of Barclays’s spend is in the UK; we handle L’Oreal’s business locally. Because we don’t have global strategies given to us, we can be much more hands on. We can understand the culture, nuance and get our hands dirty.”

She tells City A.M. why global chiefs should suspend their cultural bias, and why the government is key to getting new mothers back on the career ladder.

What does the media landscape look like in 2016?

We’re at a real tipping point in the UK, with 50-50 splits between online and offline, programmatic and non-programmatic. The rise of algorithmic machine-to-machine based media will ensure that communications become more personalised.

But as the media of old is pulled apart into micro, personal moments, it is important that we don’t lose sight of the longer-term emotional effects which brands and products need to inspire in consumers. If you only spoke to a 52 year-old man when he had the disposable cash to buy a Mercedes E-Class, but you haven’t built up 40 years of longing, nostalgia, an understanding of what the brand means or the aspiration behind that car, you’re not going to convert the sale.

Everyone now knows that “last click wins” is a nonsense. But there was a period where it did win, because an action online could be directly attributable. We need to be mindful of that lesson – there’s always a relationship with a product or service which has been built up over time.

Maxus now has four offices in India. How are you finding the market?

We expect our global growth this year to be 4.5 per cent. In India, we’re anticipating 15 per cent, which is the highest of any market. And in New Delhi, it seems to be boom-time in terms of e-commerce. It is a mobile-first market and they innovate far quicker. Our e-commerce clients want to be set up in two months, and doubling their revenue in six.

But the market is still driven by newspapers and TV. Digital ad spend will only be 13 per cent by the end of the year; here it’s 50 per cent. One of the things I’m learning in my global role is the importance of suspending cultural bias. That’s why you need local leaders who understand local clients.

As one of the few female global chief executives of marketing businesses, where do you think the industry sits in terms of gender equality?

Within marketing itself in the UK, media is better than other disciplines at having female leaders. Women enter the industry at 55 per cent to men’s 45 per cent and that changes as you go through the ranks.

The biological fact is that women have children. So we need to create a level playing field to allow women to return to work soon after giving birth, if they choose. But there are legacy and structural issues within companies which mean that we aren’t fair with paternity benefits. They should offer more flexible working arrangements.

The government has said that fathers can take off the same amount of time as women, but they aren’t paid or catered for in the same way. There is some provision around swapping time off with a partner, but the financial support is not there. Why would a man take a year off work if he’s only going to be paid for two weeks?

This month I have launched a global programme called Walk the Talk for 200 of our senior women to help them overcome any internal barriers, and think about their bigger game. And we need to look at external issues too. Maxus UK also has a scheme to offer flexible working, maternity benefits and leave, and the opportunity to share childcare responsibilities with a partner.

The principles of meritocracy are vital, but we also choose to publish details of our gender pay gap – currently at 4 per cent – variable by market and level. That way, we can sit down and say: “Why is that? What benefits or arrangements can we offer?”