Tucked away in its 2023 interim results, M&C Saatchi announced, via the London Stock Exchange, quite a big change for Australia and the rest of APAC.
Lead image L-R: Justin Graham, group CEO, M&C Saatchi Australia; Moray MacLennan, CEO, M&C Saatchi PLC.
Justin Graham, the Australian Group’s current CEO, would be taking on a new role — helming a combined Australian and Asia office. The company revealed that it would be merging its small advertising head office in Asia with Australia in order to boost the resources and capability of the rest of APAC.
“It’s very much part of the global strategy, our new executive chair Zillah Byng-Thorne has come out and said that the fastest way to growth is to replicate and learn from where there has been success, which is around the connected model in some of our key regions like Australia, South Africa and parts of Europe as well,” Graham told B&T.
That connected model, Graham explained, would allow M&C to lean into its Specialisms businesses — its Issues and Passions departments seeing 22 per cent and 10 per cent revenue growth, respectively in its most recent interim results. The growth of these businesses stood in stark contrast to the rest of the Group’s traditional advertising work, which saw its revenue drop some 16 per cent.
“What was really encouraging for us was seeing some of our deep specialisms grow at a significant rate” added Graham.
“We’re seeing headwinds across our advertising and media businesses in various ways and with the slowdown in the tech sector and the number of changes happening in media channels and the role that content creation is going to play around that. We’re evolving with what we’re seeing in front of us. We’ve got a clear strategy around becoming more efficient in the back office and getting a clear go-to-market proposition. The regional play does a great job at that.”
Naturally, talk of efficiencies in the back office and merging of teams might leave staff worrying about their future. However, according to Graham, only the top execs at M&C are facing scrutiny.
“There’s definitely a focus around being a more connected business and having fewer people with more responsibility and autonomy sitting at that executive level — I’m fortunate to be one of those. We’ve reduced our global executive team to allow people to better lean into the growth that we’re going to find,” he said.
He added that there were no plans for reducing headcount among M&C’s rank-and-file employees.
“At the moment, we feel like we’ve got a really strong group of pretty dynamic people that really lean in as generalists and connectors and those with deep specialist skills, as well. The opportunity for us is how we can better leverage those people across marketing” said Graham.
“To date, we’ve looked at it on a larger, by-country basis in this region. By putting somewhat of a structure and an ecosystem at the top and pulling together the APAC region, we’ll be able to leverage people who sit in some different countries, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, etc. and connect them with those in Australia and New Zealand.
“To be clear, the global reduction is just around having a directive from our new executive chair to have a leaner, more focused team around her as we go on this transformation journey,” he added.
That transformation journey will see M&C look to grow its PR and experiential-activation-focused Passions business — though we know it better as M&C Saatchi Sport and Entertainment. The expertise of the Australian team will be exported to the rest of Asia.
However, the strategy will be a two-way street, with Australia receiving some of the learnings from Asia’s focus on mobile-led creative experiences and interactions. There will also be a greater focus on owned channels for brands, with Graham saying that the potential was “quite extraordinary”.
“They have the capability to be able to go out and create bespoke brand experiences right through the journey, outside of paid media. We’re seeing a lot of opportunity in this space to drive better customer loyalty, customer acquisition and, inevitably, deliver a stronger brand”.
Graham will remain as the head of M&C’s Global Advertising Network, noting that the Australian business remains the “most significant contributor” to advertising on a global scale. However, he had previously told B&T that the advertising network gig left him very busy. The new role will also see Graham become responsible for profit and loss across APAC.
Regardless, the move, while part of a global strategy, Graham’s new role and promotion of the Australian M&C Saatchi office is a mark of confidence in the business. While its revenue declines year-on-year “as a result of challenging market conditions”, the company turned almost AU$3 million in profit.
“I’m excited about getting my hands dirty with what this all looks like,” he said.