Meet the Team: Wavemaker

Arvind Hickman
By Arvind Hickman | 29 March 2018

This first appeared in AdNews March Magazine.

Wavemaker is GroupM’s new kid on the block, with a fresh approach to media buying and planning around the purchase journey. The business, which combines Maxus and MEC, is led by old hands in the game with returning CEO Peter Vogel, and former MEC boss James Hier, who will drive product.

Wavemaker has combined annual billings of $1.4 billion and around 340 staff at offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Auckland, making it GroupM's largest media agency in Australia and New Zealand. Its client book includes Nestlé, Jetstar, Mitsubishi, Colgate Palmolive, Paramount Pictures, Edgewell (Energizer and Schick) Domino's, South Australian Government, Vodafone, Allianz and Hungry Jack’s. TigerAir moved to Essence due to a conflict.

Although the business was created through a merger of MEC and Maxus, it wasn’t just a case of gluing the two agencies together. In creating Wavemaker, GroupM took time to build a new agency by utilising where it saw strengths in MEC and Maxus. It was a bottom–up approach in creating an organisation that fulfills its new purchase journey mantra.

This means the organisation design, product offering and approach to market is different to what MEC and Maxus produced, but with bits of both agencies' DNA. Wavemaker’s product offering is similar to MEC, while it has adopted a culture that more closely resembles Maxus.

“One thing that I'm really proud of is that a large portion of the team has come from within,” Wavemaker CEO Peter Vogel said.

“We were quite fortunate that MEC and Maxus were quite different organisations because what it meant was there was very little duplication of talent, but there was complementary talent.

“We've literally pulled the new leadership team from both of the agencies and that wasn't just because it was politically the right thing to do, it was because of where that talent existed.”

An important aspect of the organisation design is a more horizontal management structure and better integration between functional teams and offices.

“There's more senior people in power and [they're] involved, and that for me is the only way we can deliver a much better service to our clients,” Vogel said.

Heir and VogulHier and Vogel

Vogel manages the operation and growth of the business while Hier is responsible for the product and solutions delivered to clients. These roles see the pair reunited. Before Vogel's stint in a regional role in Asia, Hier was his 2IC at MEC.

Wavemaker's product offering revolves around the purchase journey. This means charting all the touchpoints along a consumer’s path to purchase and gleaning information from a huge database of insights to inform relevant media planning.

During the six months' formation of Wavemaker, clients from MEC and Maxus were transitioned across to this new approach. Hier explained that the foundations were actually poured over the past four years at MEC.

Wavemaker’s ‘rapid–growth planning system’, the end–user platform, and how the agency approaches buying are all built around this customer journey focus. This is underpinned by fully integrated teams across product, trading, strategy and other functions — a much more integrated structure than previously in which different offices and functions operated more in silos.

“What's happened with this change is trading, strategy, programmatic, digital, content, data and tech all report to me,” Hier said.

This allows Wavemaker to map how each of its tools and products fits along the purchase journey and contributes to client outcomes. Helping power this tailored approach is Wavemaker Momentum, an insight database with the purchase journey history of more than 400,000 customers across multiple categories and markets.

“The way you choose a product in the car category is different to the way you choose a Nespresso machine, but your media consumption doesn't change. That has been the fundamental flaw with media agencies,” Hier explained.

“We've looked at average consumption and said, ‘because more people read more press and listen to more radio and watch more television, those are the right channels for them.’”

Hier revealed that when a channel is placed around where the consumer is in the path to purchase, a client can properly judge that media plan for the first time.

“They don't have to understand all of the intricacies and the complexities of the agency business because you're arranging it around the client,” he said.

National head of strategy, James Boardman

What benefits can clients expect to see from Wavemaker’s purchase journey approach to media?

Figuring out how people make choices between brands, and what you can do as a marketer to affect that process, is the most fundamental thing we do in this industry. The better you can target resources, energy and money to addressing that challenge, the more likely you are to see business growth. Everything we do at Wavemaker is geared towards making that process simpler, quicker and more effective. We focus on building a cohesive and coherent single view of the truth across which messages, which touchpoints, where in a purchase journey, and with what outcome and KPI, in mind. Bringing together insights fuelled by the world’s biggest source of purchase journey data and execution capabilities, driven by our [m]PLATFORM data hub, is a powerful combination geared to growing brands.

National head of content and partnerships, Shivana Maharaj

What are you looking forward to most in your first year as Wavemaker?

Bringing more creativity to media with a great set of clients and driving a product discipline that I am super passionate about and love! Content is a key pillar of Wavemaker so as the media landscape continues to fragment and diversify, it’s our job to ensure we’re ahead of what’s going on so our clients can take advantage of that and get the best results. At the end of the day, we’re in a business to drive results for our clients. I look forward to doing this while having some fun with a bigger set of clients and a new bunch of friends.

National head of digital, Michael Krawczyk

Wavemaker has positioned itself as a technology firm as well as being a media agency. Why was it important to emphasise this and how is it different from other agencies?

In 2018, with our enhanced opportunity to make informed decisions about media investment, a successful agency needs to be capable of leading the planning, implementation and ongoing management of an effective digital, data and technology roadmap for its clients. The data, tech and UX audit we conduct for our clients allows us to make technology decisions based not only on a Forrester’s report, or what we think might make a procurement team happy, but on what is actually going to work well with the existing infrastructure and user experience.

National head of investment Claire Butterworth

What do you think will be the biggest issue for media buyers this year?

Transparency and measurement will be key topics in 2018. While transparency — particularly within digital — improved dramatically in 2017, ad fraud and third–party verification continue to be challenges. As an industry, we also need to manage our own expectations with the speed of tech advancements, especially addressable media. 

Melbourne managing director, Karly Leach

What do you think Wavemaker will bring to the Melbourne market that is new and innovative?

Our way of thinking is very future–focused and relevant to the consumer and the purchase cycle. We make it as simple as possible for clients to implement a results–driven media plan that fits within their overall marketing plan.

Brisbane managing director, Jane Sullivan

What are your goals for this year?

2017 was a huge year for Wavemaker Brisbane with significant business wins, and our team growing by over 60%. This growth and intake of the best talent and skill sets recruited from across the world sets us up to propel our business and clients into an even more successful 2018. I see further untapped opportunity in the Brisbane market to nurture and develop further client growth and attract new talent as people see that Brisbane has the capabilities of delivering new, dynamic and innovative ideas into the market.   

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