Christian Juhl, the current global CEO of Essence, will take the reins of GroupM as global CEO in October. Ahead of taking over GroupM, which employs 35,000 people and has $48 billion in client billings, making it the largest media investment organization in the world, Digiday caught up with Juhl to hear about what he has planned for GroupM, why WPP won’t buy a data company and clients taking work in-house. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What do you envision for the future of GroupM? What do you want to accomplish?
We’d also like to be known as the most intelligent buyer in the marketplace using data, technology, analytics in addressable formats to make sure that we’re matching consumers and brands in the most sophisticated way possible. That’s probably the future of GroupM, matching our global scale and ability to create value with intelligence and insights.
WPP is selling the stake in Kantar to Bain Capital at a time when other holding companies are investing in big data companies. If the future of GroupM is data-led, how do you do that while getting out of that relationship?
Both [Acxiom and Epsilon] are publicly available data sets. What’s important for us, we talk to our clients about the next impression they should buy, the next dollar they should spend and we really want to make sure we’re unbiased in that advice. When you own a particular data set or company, those particular data sets are going to show up in their recommendation engine relatively often. Clients are largely looking more toward unbiased advice in that particular area. We’ll continue to buy data sets and license data when we need it. We can provide that advice without owning something.
What’s a big focus area for you?
One of the things that’s probably most important is that GroupM takes a leadership position in making advertising work better in the world. That’s a purpose a lot of our people would get behind. There’s a tremendous amount of environmental waste created, noise pollution, ineffective waste, there’s fraud, all of those things are things GroupM will take a leadership position to improve upon.
Technology can play a major role. We can work with partners like Amazon, Google, Facebook, Twitter on these areas to use our scale with their scale to do a better job than we’ve done in the past. We need to work with our advertisers — if not GroupM, then who’s going to do this? We’re the largest customer of those platforms, we represent the largest brands in the world and we have the greatest, most-scaled talent set in the world.
What does that look like? Is it more communication between the agencies and platforms to stop digital waste and fraud?
That’s going to take time for me to figure out exactly. Certainly, technology will play a large role in it. What you’re seeing with machine learning, cloud computing, our ability to index content, that’ll have to play a major role. When you look at the types of agency teams we deploy, you’re already seeing massive amounts of human capital being deployed at Google and Facebook right now to just look at what’s being posted. That, combined with machine learning, in partnership with us on what we’re actually buying, managing and optimizing, there’s power in there to do something better.
With big brands taking various agency duties in-house, be it creative or media, how does GroupM compete with that?
GroupM is the largest media investment company in the world. We have to have a variety of different ways to work with clients depending on what they want from us. Even at Essence, we have a multitude of clients that do their business in-house. If you look at T-Mobile they’re running their own search business and we’re helping them with governance, best practices, even licensing tools and we work on the digital media side of that.
There’s going to be a lot of different types of work engagements or business engagement that we’re going to develop offers for. My sense now is that in-sourcing is probably talked about a bit more than in the reality of how much it happens. What we need to be able to do is provide consulting services that allow us to help clients when they want to take things in-house, advise them on the tools and technologies and how they should think about their data. Then we should also have full-service options when clients want to outsource it. Both are fine. I’m not particularly worried about either. We have the largest depth of expertise in the media marketing services space in the world. We’re happy to share that in a variety of different compensation models.
WPP has said it will not compete in Accenture-led ad pitches. Can you tell us a bit about why that is?
We’re always happy to comply with client audits and have our value evaluated by a neutral third-parties. Clearly, in some of the consulting spaces right now, they’ve ramped up their investments and acquisitions in media planning and buying organizations. We need to be very careful that we have assurances that if they’re going to get exposure to our investment vehicles, rates and negotiations with our partners that that’s going to be held confidential to those particular engagements. If we don’t have those, it’s completely reasonable that we wouldn’t want to engage with them in that way.
Are there any lessons from running Essence that you want to take and implement in GroupM?
I want to make sure that the people that work here, the clients we work with relate to each other as humans, that we take appropriate risks, that we feel empowered to be ourselves and that this is a work environment people look forward to coming to every day. If you do that, it frees up people to really enjoy what they do and create. We need to remember that we’re in a creative business, even on the media side, and that we need to be innovating. To do that, we need people to feel like they can be themselves. Essence has had a lot of that, and that’s something we need to bring into GroupM.