Human touch

Annabel Denham
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Annabel Palmer talks to Lindsay Pattison, UK chief executive at Maxus Global

SIR Martin Sorrell decided in 2008 that there was room in the world for another global media network. In October that year, Maxus was born. Current UK chief executive and global chief strategy officer Lindsay Pattison has been credited with humanising and realigning the business since joining in 2009. She tells City A.M. how the newcomer is challenging the more-established players in the media industry.

Maxus is the newest member of WPP’s GroupM, which also includes MediaCom, Mindshare and MEC. Did the world need a new media agency?

It was a gung-ho decision by Martin, right in the middle of the recession. But there is always more opportunity. And we’re a different kind of data-driven digital agency – we were created when the world had already turned digital. It meant we didn’t have the hangover of being a media department that used to sit in a creative agency, and we weren’t left with the legacy of an old planning system.

As a company that has only known the digital age, how are Maxus’s approaches to traditional media different from those of its competitors?

We don’t have a television department or a press department. We have an activation department. So the people here who plan and buy TV will also plan and buy video-on-demand. Agencies – particularly creative agencies – have struggled to grow strong digital departments and make the transition away from traditional offline media. But here, our activation division will also send out social TV ratings. Because one of the main things people do on social media is talk about TV! That’s why it’s nonsense to have separate departments.

So how is Maxus responding to the rise of social media?

Social media has had a huge impact on brands. For companies, it’s about being friendly, honest and credible. But there’s a tendency for brands to get over-excited, push a product too hard. So our job will often be to rein that in. Because how much of a relationship do you really want with a jam manufacturer or a car insurer? Not every brand needs to be your Facebook friend.

How else is technology transforming the media landscape?

Wearable technology will grow, and brands will need to think carefully about their value add. Why does Nike’s FuelBand work so well? Because it’s useful, it’s social, and it looks quite good.

Technology has allowed media to become interactive, and through interactivity media is increasingly intelligent. The opportunity for us is to use the data provided by that intelligence to serve content that is bespoke and interesting.

Metalworks – the creative technology division of Maxus which is based in Asia ­– is a good example of the transformative power of technology. It’s testing new approaches with a network of experts from around the world. Through it, we can pioneer, build and test prototypes in under three weeks.

What big obstacles does the industry face in 2014?

One of the challenges of an increasingly digitalised world is establishing what you should be measuring rather than blindly counting everything. You need a balance of outcomes, rather than straight figures, and that can be hard to achieve.

The landscape moves so quickly. When I started out, there were five channels you could buy, and the main focus was on crafting a beautiful-looking ad and placing it in the best way possible. Now there are 100 channels and I sense anxiety from clients – especially if they have kids who understand the media landscape more than they do, who understand at a youth consumer level why Facebook bought WhatsApp. They want an ad agency that can lean into opportunity and understand those complexities – and we have to find a way to provide what they need.

What’s the most exciting campaign you’ve ever worked on?

I remember launching Dr Pepper in the UK at Y&R. We tripled their volumes within the first year. The joy for me in any campaign comes from seeing tangible results.