Interview: Rupert McPetrie on EssenceMediacom’s First Year and its Future Plans

As APAC CEO McPetrie leads a team of 2,500 across the region.

In January of last year, EssenceMediacom was formed through the merger of two diverse organizations under a single brand, with over 120 offices worldwide.

Taking the reins in the Asia-Pacific region was Rupert McPetrie, tasked with leading a 2,500-strong team as CEO of EssenceMediacom APAC.

We recently caught up with McPetrie to talk about the first year out of the gate, the challenges of uniting and leading two distinct organizations, the company’s focus on helping clients “breakthrough” in the new communications economy, how EssenceMediacom is leveraging AI in its work, the importance of fostering a culture of innovation & collaboration, and more.


 

It’s been one year since the formation of EssenceMediacom. What have been some of the challenges and rewards of bringing two diverse organizations together as one?

It has been an extraordinary year since we launched EssenceMediacom. It was a very special moment when we launched in January 2023, bringing together two high-performing businesses to form a new agency – differentiated, full of opportunity for our people, and with a relentless focus on clients and their businesses.

One year on, we look back with pride on what we achieved and with a clear sense that we seized the opportunity in front of us. We did face challenges creating a new agency, bringing together 2,500 people in the APAC region, but the time invested in planning and preparation meant that we were able to manage those challenges.

“We especially focused on our people, ensuring that all communications were timely and informative, and on our clients to ensure that at the same time, we remained focused on their businesses, and they were also fully aware of the transformation and the benefits to our partnership.”

We especially focused on our people, ensuring that all communications were timely and informative, and on our clients to ensure that at the same time, we remained focused on their businesses, and they were also fully aware of the transformation and the benefits to our partnership. Finally, we strove to find the right balance between moving fast and taking the time to do things properly.


 

As for rewards, 2023 was a very strong year for EssenceMediacom in APAC in terms of business growth, notably in China, India, and Japan, the work for clients to deliver marketing breakthroughs for brands in the new communications economy, and the work we have done for all our people and our communities.

So, it has been great to enjoy the rewards – and the awards – but it is important to recognise all the hard work that went into the merger and the creation of EssenceMediacom, and the ongoing work to bring our new proposition to life.

In particular, I reflect on the work we did with all our people – whom we call Essentials – to input into and contribute to the formation of the new agency, especially the culture and the feel of the agency.

If there is one reward that we can all be most proud of, it has been that focus on our people, providing them all with the opportunity to be a part of the creation of the new agency, an agency in which they can thrive.

EssenceMediacom describes itself as helping brands “break through” in the new communications economy. Can you talk more about that and how it drives the work you do for clients?

As we worked on our vision for EssenceMediacom, it was clear that so much had changed for consumers, for clients, and for platforms and media, that a legacy approach or a ‘best practice’ approach would not differentiate, and would not provide clients with the counsel and guidance they would need to answer the questions their businesses would face tomorrow.

All the changes – in human behaviours, technology, information, entertainment, community, expression, and shopping – are happening in all parts of the world and affect everyone. Overlay on that the changes in media, data, and commerce – every part of the business has changed.

So, we and our clients have a choice. We can continue with the old models of media optimisation, or we can focus on the role of communications in people’s lives and the opportunities it offers us – changing the plans and what is in them to create marketing breakthroughs for brands that deliver competitive advantage.

“All the changes – in human behaviours, technology, information, entertainment, community, expression, and shopping – are happening in all parts of the world and affect everyone. Overlay on that the changes in media, data, and commerce – every part of the business has changed.”

This is what we call the new communications economy. And we believe that it presents a massive opportunity for brands and businesses to embrace change, and create more value from their marketing.

At launch, we had developed a range of approaches, processes, tools, and technology to empower and enable our teams around the world to deliver breakthrough work. We invested into learning and development to support this, training our teams on what and how to elevate the work, to deliver on our breakthrough vision.

After a year, we feel positive about the work we are doing, and positive that clients find the offer and proposition attractive, and highly impactful to their business. The work has also received very high levels of recognition across the industry, with 2023 being an excellent year for award wins at Cannes Lions and beyond, with work from all around the region and across many clients including adidas, Dell, Google, Mars, P&G, The Coca-Cola Company, and Uber garnering accolades.

With a large team across such diverse markets, how do you foster a culture of innovation and collaboration?

We built our culture from the bottom-up – by our people, for our people – as well as top-down when we launched EssenceMediacom, and we all work to guiding culture principles that, at their heart, are all around how we work together, and how we partner and collaborate.

With our breakthrough proposition and our culture principles, we have worked to ensure that all our Essentials can learn every day, build better together, always include, celebrate every success and appreciate every experiment, seek help gladly and offer help generously, and relentlessly pursue breakthroughs.

 

This is the spirit in which we work – with openness, with curiosity, and with a fierce entrepreneurialism to grow. We also like to over-communicate and over-share – we move learnings around the region very quickly, we connect regularly, and of course, we use various technologies to enable this.

How is EssenceMediacom leveraging AI in its client work? Do you see AI having any effect on jobs at the company?

AI has been used in our wider group for many years, especially in some of our technology solutions, and EssenceMediacom has been at the forefront of this in the last year. We have broad test projects with major AI platforms. Some of this is more in the back office, but equally, as we look to take our business upstream and deliver breakthrough work for clients, there is a lot of value in deploying AI solutions to automate regular repeatable and scalable tasks that we often do for clients. This, in turn, allows our people to work on more upstream, strategic, and high impact breakthrough areas for clients.

We also use various AI tools available within the wider group, and are working to test these, then scale, with our clients. It is a genuinely exciting time to be in the industry, as we start to deploy more technologies at scale, and in turn, elevate the work we do for clients.

For our people, it is another great opportunity to learn and grow, and to move into different areas of the business. As always, we need to ensure that we provide our teams with learning and development support as the profile of the business changes.

What is some campaign work you’ve been a part of over the years that you are most proud of? (share any relevant links)

I am very motivated by the work coming from EssenceMediacom in APAC in the last year. It is reflective of the broad range of the region, the diversity of our teams, and the partnerships we have with clients. We are very fortunate to work with many of the world’s leading brands and marketers.

Some highlights include the terrific work from our team in China as part of WPP Open X for The Coca-Cola Company, especially on Sprite and Coca-Cola. We worked with P&G in India on the award-winning ‘The Missing Chapter’ campaign for Whisper. We also partnered with key clients such as Google and Uber in APAC on several standout campaigns across markets.

What has pleased me most of all has been that we have had strong work from every part of the region and our teams can be so very proud of what they have achieved in close partnership with our clients.

Going into the second year since the merger, what are your goals and priorities for 2024?

As we celebrated our first birthday as EssenceMediacom, we reflected on an excellent year, but with the pace of change, and our ambition for our clients and our people, there remains so much opportunity in front of us. My focus as ever will be on our people and our clients.

We also made progress last year on diversity, equity, and inclusion, and will continue to focus our efforts on awareness, action, and advocacy, and really using our position as a business and as leaders to drive change.

“2024 will be another year of change, with some macroeconomic challenges and multiple elections around the world, and with those changes and related uncertainty, we will need to do more for our people.”

We will continue to invest in taking care of our people and their well-being. 2024 will be another year of change, with some macroeconomic challenges and multiple elections around the world, and with those changes and related uncertainty, we will need to do more for our people.

I always feel a relentless desire to do more, and as I look ahead, we will be redoubling our efforts to genuinely deliver breakthrough work for our clients. To do this, we will continue to invest in learning and development, continue to make better use of technologies, and how we can fully leverage the capabilities of GroupM and WPP. After one year, we know well what a positive impact breakthrough work can have on our clients’ businesses, so this is an area of focus for us all.

 

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