ANDREA Suarez says that she’s proof that nothing is impossible.
The IPG Mediabrands World Markets president, based in Miami, is the first Latin American woman to reach a worldwide leadership position in the media agency industry. (Media agencies are companies that plan the media part of marketing communication campaigns. They work hand in hand with the creative agencies.)
Suarez oversees the operations of 52 offices in more than 40 countries across Europe, Asia and Latin America.
“You can reach whatever your dream is in terms of positions that can sometimes be seen as not being for a woman, and not for a Latin American, and not even for a Colombian,” she says in an interview.
“I’ve been able to challenge that, to show that it is possible. It is totally through your hard work. When you’re passionate about results and driving for greatness and beyond, the opportunities come.”
StarBizWeek caught up with her when she attended Mediabrands World Markets’ annual board meeting in Petaling Jaya − the first to be held in South-East Asia − earlier this month.
Suarez joined the IPG Mediabrands family in 2009 as president of UM Latin America. UM, which stands for Universal McCann, is the largest media agency under IPG Mediabrands.
She rose to the position of president for World Markets (emerging markets) in September 2012.
Born in Colombia, she has been living in the US for 13 years.
When asked who is her favourite Latin American celebrity, Suarez chooses someone from her native country: Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
The Nobel laureate has been a journalist, among others, but it is his fiction, notably One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), that propelled him to the world stage.
Suarez says she admires Garcia Marquez’s storytelling ability − “the power of imagination”.
“Whatever work from him, you can feel and experience the whole story. It’s difficult to find another author like him... You dream with him and you can picture the characters and feel what they were feeling. So that’s why I love him,” she says.
If Suarez can make the World Markets staff “dream” with her, what dream would she want them to share in order to take the group forward?
“Our industry is experiencing a period of amazing change, and the pace of this change is likely to increase dramatically over the next five years. The primary driver of this evolution is technology, and the effect it has on communication opportunities. If I think about making my World Markets team dream, I would say it is about making our agencies known for three things,” she says.
And the three things are:
n Provide a higher level of R&D “Big research”: Helping Mediabrands’ clients to create what they are going to be selling next.
n Generation of ideas/paths to consumers’ hearts and minds: Focus on what it takes to connect with them in a “real-time” style.
n Integration/seamless execution.
“And of course, for having skin on the game, being compensated based on our client’s business results,” she adds.
In the last few years, the Asian operation of World Markets has had one of the strongest performances globally not only in term of growth but also in terms of the quality of the clients it has added to the portfolio. It has also seen a rapid expansion of new services.
In fact, the World Markets operation had “very good performance” last year with the exception of the southwestern Europe subregion.
She expects better growth this year, especially as the Nordic markets are in a better position. “We think that this year will be challenging again for Greece and Portugal, but at least it will be stable − we’re not anticipating further decline in their economies.”
Since helming IPG Mediabrands World Markets, Suarez has made two major changes that are closely related.
“The first one is about diversity of talent. Talent can come in so many different forms and be built in so many ways today and it is key specially for the advertising/media industry to attract and develop the mix of skills and backgrounds that are required to develop the solutions and services for the new marketing era we are living in,” she says.
“The second one has been the development and aggressive expansion of specialised services. In the last two years we have introduced more than 10 new services across 30 countries, duplicating the revenues from new areas of the business across World Markets and meeting the demands of our clients about delivering integrated solutions.”
On her plans for this year, she says she wants to accelerate innovation and breakthrough services that it can bring to its clients.
“So we are working a lot on the content, shopper size, programmatic buying − really innovating on the space related to how to make marketing more efficient and in real time, one-to-one, which is what our clients are really demanding in terms of having content that is more personalisesd for their needs,” she says.
“I think today’s technology allows you to do that, to know exactly who’s watching what, where they buy, what they are doing.”
“Accelerating innovation” covers several fronts.
“On one side, it means leveraging on the entrepreneurship skills of our talent to craft new solutions for our clients. We are encouraging our leaders to experiment, to mix skills, to take concrete actions in order to solve problems, to dare to come up with solutions and not accept the status quo. We are promoting different initiatives to identify great ideas wherever they originate.
“And very important, we are using different ways (from traditional meeting to technology-based solutions) to encourage sharing of best practices across all levels of the organisation, in our business having a knowledge network is essential to inspire and drive innovation.”
Suarez teases that there is a “very interesting initiative” that it is incubating and will launch in Asia this year.
It will be oriented to help Mediabrands’ clients do greater good, she says. “We believe that media has the potential to change the world and contribute to society in a meaningful way. This new programme will engage brands and media owners to create a totally new system to utilise advertising dollars in a way that everyone benefits.”
On her biggest challenge, she cites the speed of change. “In our business, everything is changing on a daily basis. The challenge is to identify what’s new and what’s going to be big − a breakthrough − like the next Facebook.
“You’re facing a lot of new media. There’re a lot of new technology companies that are coming up with new solutions. So the speed that everything changes is itself a challenge for our agencies and for our teams in order to be up to speed on what is happening and to have enough knowledge and the right expertise to advise our clients.”
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