Q&A: Charlie Wright – Being ‘More Agile and Less Annual is a Big Focus’

Charlie is Chief Growth Officer at Wavemaker, Asia-Pacific

We recently caught up with Charlie Wright, Chief Growth Officer for the Asia Pacific at global media agency, Wavemaker.

She joined Wavemaker in 2018 after spending just over two decades at MEC – starting out as a Senior TV Planner/Buyer before ascending to the role of Chief Strategy Officer.

Over the course of our conversation, Charlie shares her insights on strategy and growth, balancing a focus on short-term disruption with a longer-term view of consumer trends, and more.


 

What’s been keeping you busy lately?

“What isn’t” would probably be a better question! Growth is a really interesting role – the obvious benefit is that you get to spend a lot of time pointing our best people and tools at big client questions in pitches. However, growth is even more important for our existing clients, making sure our offerings are constantly evolving to stay ahead of client needs and having the right solutions in place to drive growth.

We’re also seeing a lot of need for strategic thinking right now, I’m not sure we’ve had a normal planning year since 2019, so evolving strategic work to be more agile and less annual is a big focus.

You recently spoke about how the Wavemaker teams in APAC have done a great job “identifying audience signals that provoke growth.” Can you talk more about the process of identifying audience signals and making them actionable?

My background is in TV buying and media planning, so am very used to diving into traditional data sources like panel data and consumer research studies in order to build provocations – these data sources are deep and rigorous but often slow and infrequent.

What’s interesting about working with digital and performance ‘natives’ in our teams is that they are used to having rich sources of data at their fingertips, but not necessarily leveraging them to answer upstream questions about brand and category behaviour.


 

At Wavemaker we are bringing the best of these two approaches – aiming to build more insights from audience data, not just to build audiences but understand the consumer journey. Mining intelligence from data is where we can really add value vs. just thinking targeting.

Two years ago you talked about braving the ‘new normal’ and the importance of understanding how context is critical to unlocking future growth opportunities. Tell us more about that and if the previous two years have further affected this approach.

Covid disrupted our lives significantly. At the time our working theory was that it would not necessarily change our lifestyles in the long-term, but act as an accelerator of trends, and that the market context would continue to be the most significant driver of growth.

That seems to have been fairly accurate, if I take digital transformation, especially in South and South East Asia. the pandemic accelerated a shift to digital behaviours that has been fairly sticky. We’re certainly seeing consumers continuing to spend more time with digital media and advertising dollars are following.

“The lesson for me is to balance a focus on short-term disruption with a longer-term view of consumer trends. Ultimately, I believe in keeping the ‘human’ attitudes and behaviour in view rather than just focusing on technology disruption.”

Travel is another example, where the pandemic context stopped consumer behaviour for a while. But the underlying context was growth in a desire to travel and explore that continues to drive demand, allowing the sector to ‘bounce back’.

The lesson for me is to balance a focus on short-term disruption with a longer-term view of consumer trends. Ultimately, I believe in keeping the ‘human’ attitudes and behaviour in view rather than just focusing on technology disruption.

Wavemaker’s “Provocative Planning” is designed to offer in-depth information on clients, their customers, and their purchase journeys. What differentiates this offering from other agencies?

Most importantly it’s not a complex and lengthy process but a set of tools and techniques we can access to deliver solutions that help our clients find better ways to grow. We’ve also built a lot of functional benefits into Provocative Planning – for example Amazon Audience Galaxy is the first agency tool to directly API audience data from Amazon into our Operating System.

“Growth is even more important for our existing clients, making sure our offerings are constantly evolving to stay ahead of client needs and having the right solutions in place to drive growth.”

We are also fortunate to have one of the world’s most extensive data sets mapping individual purchase journeys, via Momentum, our approach to understanding the purchase journey. We’ve been working over the last three years to expand this data set in Asia-Pacific, as well as augmenting it with ‘live’ journey data from our partners.

And how have the agency’s offerings evolved since? To what extent has it been useful to pitches and work processes?

Provocative Planning provides us with a framework that we are constantly updating with new tools, apps and approaches to deliver great work for our clients. For example, we are currently focused on integrating quicker, more flexible measurement options. A lot of these updates are built out of a specific client need, like portfolio management, so they are critical in driving great work with existing clients.

“I’m not sure we’ve had a normal planning year since 2019, so evolving strategic work to be more agile and less annual is a big focus.”

For pitches we lean into Provocative Planning even more as a consistent foundation and at the same time, freeing up pitch teams’ time to provoke and answer the big questions.

The proof of the pudding is evident in our new business successes. Provocative Planning has been pivotal in consistently delivering great new business conversion rates, with clients like Audible, Mondelez, Danone and Riot Games all partnering with Wavemaker across Asia-Pacific markets this year.

You’re a big fan of reading sci-fi. Any favorites you think strategists, in particular, should read?

Ooh, big question. I think the best speculative fiction really expands our thinking but is fundamentally grounded in insights into human nature. The Expanse series is probably top of my list, a brilliant view into a near future grounded in insights into human behaviour, the future of corporations and nations as well as how we might evolve driving the storyline.

I also love The Three Body Problem, a great trilogy that comes out of China, giving a totally different cultural jumping-off point for a compelling story.


Quick Hits

Book everyone in the industry should read: 
How Brands Grow, by Byron Sharp.

Favorite show you’re watching lately:
What we do in the Shadows. Love the vampires of Staten Island!

One album you would take to a deserted island: (Title & artist)
The Hamilton soundtrack. I’m a total musical theatre geek, too (not adding many cool points am I!).

Something you want to learn or wish you were better at:
Languages – especially Mandarin. I was fired by four tutors when I lived in China as my travel schedule kept me away from lessons, I wish I’d gotten further.

 

The Staff

The Staff

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