OMD’s Nikki Mendonca: ‘Media does not necessarily describe what we do anymore’ | M&M Global

OMD’s Nikki Mendonca: ‘Media does not necessarily describe what we do anymore’

M&M Global caught up with OMD EMEA president Nikki Mendonca to discuss the changing nature of client-agency relationships, and why she does not enjoy talking about diversity.

Nikki Mendonca

It is hard, at times, to escape the scepticism many feel about the future of the media agency. Doom and gloom merchants point to the emergence of technology rivals, the growth of programmatic media and transparency controversies in various markets.

For anyone in need of a bracing pick-me-up, M&M Global would recommend a 45-minute conversation with OMD’s EMEA president Nikki Mendonca. She provides enough optimism and determined positivity to send anyone bouncing out of the room with their tails up.

Of course, Mendonca has every reason to be cheerful – a fortnight previously, OMD had scooped eight Gold prizes at the Festival of Media Global Awards 2015 in Rome (see photo below). The Omnicom agency also walked away with the prestigious Campaign of the Year award for its ‘Penny the Pirate’ work for luxury eyewear brand Luxottica, as well as Agency Network of the Year.

“It was an incredible night,” she says. “It was great to see such a huge spectrum of work across OMD Worldwide. We are evolving and diversifying, so to have that acknowledged by the industry and jury was great.”

Change has been at the heart of Mendonca’s tenure. Having taken up the role of EMEA president in 2007, she has already witnessed enough change to last the average career: from being “winded” by the global recession (“how do we keep running a successful business when you felt the ceiling was falling in?”) to working overtime to help clients “survive” the fall-out.

She admits there were times which she had to simply “ride out”. But that period of adversity led to what Mendonca describes as a fundamental “pivot” in the agency, from transactional media business to marketing services provider.

“At the moment we are aggressively transitioning,” she says. “The digital revolution has torn down the walls between media and creative, so there is almost a land-grab situation occurring as our industry gravitates towards creating and distributing content. Our growth is increasingly coming from offering a fuller marketing services solution to clients going beyond core media planning and buying.”

Client needs

OMD’s internal revolution has been in response to changing client needs. For evidence of global marketers re-evaluating their processes, one need look no further than the flood of media reviews by advertisers including Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson and Sony.

“CMOs do not necessarily want to deal with a large number of agencies. They want to consolidate. Speed and agility is the competitive advantage in today’s marketing world, so they are trying to truncate those relationships,” says Mendonca.

“Clients have figured out that they need to fast-track themselves ahead. They see a review as an opportunity to get there, and also an opportunity to reorganise themselves. Let’s face it, a lot of what is stopping clients from succeeding is their own structures and siloes.”

To ensure OMD is able to thrive in these newly-streamlined agency relationships, Mendonca has focused on the mantra of delivering marketing-led growth for clients. Investments have been made in data and content skills, with clients being offered anything from basic ‘media-plus’ solutions to end-to-end marketing services capabilities.

The term ‘media’ itself is under threat as a descriptor of businesses like OMD, she says: “‘Media’ as a word does not necessarily describe what we do; we need to look very hard at those words.

“The CMO has renewed power and a renewed voice on the board. If they can truly represent the customer and dictate customer-led growth, that is a very powerful position to be in. And we can represent a very strong business partner in that conversation.”

New blueprint

Mendonca has witnessed the industry evolve beyond recognition since her first post as a TV buyer at CIA Media Networks, and subsequent roles with Leo Burnett and UK broadcaster Capital Radio. The secret of her success and longevity with OMD, she claims, comes down to hard work, a desire to learn and a willingness to write a “new blueprint” for media leadership.

“I’’ve worked very, very hard. I’’m not shy of doing that -– I’’ve got an Indian work ethic, as my parents are Indian,” she says. “I love learning. I’’ve always had a voracious appetite for learning, and I’’ve been able to see how the industry is moving, which has navigated my career.”

She says the arrival of new skills into the organisation ensures the day-to-day remains “intellectually challenging”. Younger employees joining OMD must be “fit for purpose” and brimming with entrepreneurial vim – life at an agency is “not for the faint-hearted”, she warns.

For Mendonca, there also comes the added attention of being one of the industry’s few senior female leaders. Yet, unlike some of her contemporaries, she is cool on the idea of diversity, insisting all that matters is whether the individual is capable of carrying out their duties.

“I have never been a lover of talking about gender at work. It is not a card I play at all, and I work for people who don’t play it,” she says. “I don’t care if you are man, woman or plant. I am very much focused on how individuals are performing, I don’t have a bias at all about where you’ve come from, what your nationality or gender is.”

Instead, her advice for those entering the industry – male or female – is to work hard, ensure they operate well in group environments, and not be afraid to voice their opinions.

“I’ve always been of the belief that you come to work and you operate as a very strong individual. You should never been fearful of speaking your mind, and you should always concentrate on having a fact-based argument, because that is what people will listen to, especially – dare I say it – a lot of males.

“Sometimes you have to sacrifice the nicer things in life while you are climbing up the ladder; I know I had to. If you do that, rewards will follow, and you will be able to live the lifestyle you want.”

Things are going well for OMD, of that there is little doubt. The agency has been lauded far and wide, not least at the most recent M&M Global and Festival of Media Global award ceremonies. But Mendonca insists the task of reinventing the business to meet clients’ rapidly-changing needs keeps her on her toes.

“I’ve been knocking around for nearly 24 years, and I have never felt the pace of change like I have lately,” she laughs. “It does make your head spin, it is incredibly unsettling, but if we keep our focus it helps to navigate through the stormy weather.”

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