WALK into the office of Carat Malaysia's newly-appointed chief executive officer Bala Pomaleh and you would be greeted by nearly 20 pots of plants.
Pomaleh, who took over from Roy Tan as the head of the media specialist firm in mid-June, loves having such greenery around him.
“Plants are like children. You need to nurture them and spend time with them. I see that as a critical role for my team (at Carat) as well to be with them,” he tells StarBizWeek.
Pomaleh says he has a “very open door” policy and spends a lot of time at the office to discuss on how to move the organisation forward. “It's very collaborative and very exciting.”
KL-born Pomaleh has been in the industry since 1991, starting out at ad agency Bates Malaysia's media department which later became Zenith. After 15 years at Bates/Zenith, he joined Carat in 2006 where he rose to senior planning director.
In 2007 he was asked to oversee out-of-home media specialist Posterscope, another member of the Aegis Media Group. He enjoyed it so much that he asked Aegis Malaysia executive chairman Margaret Lim to let him continue at Posterscope.
Posterscope Malaysia thrived under Pomaleh, who positioned it as a strategic agency rather than just a company that buys and sells billboard ad space. A year ago, he was promoted to CEO for Posterscope Malaysia and Singapore, and he helped boost the profitability of the Singapore operation.
As Carat Malaysia CEO, Pomaleh has a much bigger portfolio. The number of staff under him has doubled to 75.
In fact, Carat is the biggest member of the Aegis Media Group in Malaysia, doing media planning for advertisers such as AirAsia, AirAsia X, Wipro Unza, BMW and Nokia. (The other network brands under Aegis include Posterscope, iProspect, and IF Isobar.)
“I came back to Carat at an exciting time because of our new positioning and the direction where we are going.” he says.
Overall, the Aegis Media positioning is to help clients reinvent the way they build their brands. Carat's is “redefining media.”
He notes the growing importance of media specialists like Carat following the expansion of media channels and the audience fragmentation.
“We have a new ecosystem comprising bought media (media which advertisers pay for), owned media (media that exist within the client's space such as their premises, websites and events) and earned media (PR, social media, etc). They are interdependent and interconnected, and consumers can shift from one sphere to the other whenever they wish. So it has become a lot more interesting,” he says.
“Most marketers tend to use a lot more bought media than exploiting earned or owned media. Actually you can start the other way around, beginning with earned media or owned media as your core platform. That's one way how we redefine media.”
Another way, Pomaleh says, is by creating a value chain across the board in its planning processes, right from identifying the client's most valuable consumers to doing better business analytics.
Carat Malaysia has recently introduced a new consumer study called Consumer Connection System (CCS), which he says is “the broadest and most in-depth single-source of media, marketing and consumer targeting data in Malaysia.”
There were 3,000 consumer respondents who each answered about 200 socio-demographics & attitudinal questions. And depending on the respondent's level of media channel consumption, another 200 probing questions were asked.
“CCS was designed to cover all possible relevant questions that marketers need to know. We started the survey late last year and we will be doing it every two years,” he says.
According to Pomaleh, 75% of these questions are also asked in other markets where Carat has a presence. “This allows us to have among other things cross-country comparisons relating to media and lifestyle, consumer profiling, segmentation and estimating global consumption/market size.”
Carat Malaysia is also in the midst of rolling out is an econometrics tool that allows it to analyse sales and other data, and then link those back to the media investment.
“Econometrics helps us to model how we change the media mix moving forward. It helps us isolate different variables, including sales, seasonality, competition, pricing. and creative content,” he says, adding that so far, one client has shown interest to test it out.
Pomaleh says Carat has two proprietary systems in place: 3M (Market Mix Modeling) to identify the key marketing drivers of its client's business, and SpeedBack (Response Management System) to meet to meet the challenges of multi-channel direct response campaign accountability.
Carat was ranked 7th at this year's Malaysian Media Awards in July, It won a silver while sister agency Vizeum once again outshone it by clinching a gold, a silver and three bronzes.
Asked his plans to boost Carat's award performance, Pomaleh says: “In all fairness, Carat has done some fantastic work. Work that is effective is not necessarily award-winning, and work that is award-winning is not necessarily effective.
“I suppose Carat has not been focusing so much on awards in recent years, but a lot of work that we've done is fantastic. Moving forward, we want to be maybe a bit more aggressive on the awards front.”
Pomaleh, who was one of the judges at the recent MMA, says having a good video of the campaigns is critical, and Carat will be putting more effort in showcasing its work.
He notes that among its achievements, Carat Malaysia last year won gold at the Aegis Asia Pacific Awards for its novel campaign for Wipro Unza's feminine hygiene wash, Sumber Ayu. The product was featured in the storyline of three romance novels, and Sumber Ayu bookmarks were inserted into 15,000 copies.
On its revenue target, Pomaleh says Aegis Malaysia as a whole is expected to grow by double the market's growth rate. “We predict the country's advertising expenditure (adex) will grow by 7%, so we are targeting a 15% growth.” Last year Carat grew by 12% to 15%.
He says that the second half of the year is expected to be better than the first six months when adex rose a mere 1.8% (based on Nielsen data).
“In the first half, the market as a whole was spending lower than expectation. There was a general sentiment of cautiousness. But most clients are ready to spend in the second half,” he says.
One major industry issue on his mind is that a lot of big pitches are still procurement-driven “in a manner that looks too hard at cost-efficiency.”