Clark Takes New Approach With Maxus

Dec 17, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Kelly Clark is working on something new and different.
After running GroupM’s Europe business, Mr. Clark has returned to the U.S. as worldwide CEO of Maxus, the WPP unit’s fourth media agency network.
Maxus is designed to help the company increase its market share while taking a very different approach from GroupM’s other, better-established media networks Mindshare, MediaCom and Mediaedge:cia.
Those differences will show up in the product it offers to clients and in its approach to geography, Mr. Clark said, although at this point it’s still a work in progress.
The basic idea is to create an organization that concentrates on strategy and digital approaches to marketing that can avoid building its own infrastructure by taking advantage of the scale of GroupM’s resources.
“I don’t have all the answers yet,” Mr. Clark said. “But suffice it to say, it will be focused more on the strategic end of the business, still implementing very successfully for clients through the power and resources of GroupM, but our focus is going to be more on those strategic skills with a very hard digital edge.”
He also said the agency won’t aim to have 100 offices in 90 countries like other networks.
“We think there’s an opportunity to have a network that’s focused more on the top 25 to 30 markets,” he said. “We think there is a tier of advertisers if you can deliver the right type of service in the top 20 to 30 markets and rely on the infrastructure of GroupM in other markets.”
Maxus’ clients include Church & Dwight, Miramax, T. Rowe Price, Netflix and Cellular South.
When it’s time for a client to buy network television, Maxus looks for a team at one of the GroupM agencies that can handle the transaction. The buyer has to be free of conflict with another client in the same industry; having particular expertise, such as targeting children’s audiences or moms, is a plus.
“Clients have told us they want us to use the scale we have accumulated as GroupM to get them better access and, in markets that are volume-led at an agency level, get them better prices. Get them better investments in research and planning and buying tools,” Mr. Clark said. “So we’re going to use GroupM shamelessly to do that so we can free up investment monies to focus on the more strategic and digital elements of the business.”
Mr. Clark said this approach is a solution to the challenge a lot of agencies face in “finding the way to balance the huge investments we need to make in systems and research and people on the execution side of our business, while at the same time investing in the strategic and future-facing parts of the business in digital and data.”
Mr. Clark has traveled a long road to get to this point.
He was born in Asheboro, N.C., just south of Greensboro.
He went to the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill not sure of what he wanted to do.
“I had a real liberal-arts mixture of classes that I took throughout college, so I looked at banking. I looked at consulting. I looked at public relations,” he said.
But he was captured by J. Walter Thompson.
“At that time, they had a great reputation for college recruitment and a great entry-level training program, which really sold me on JWT,” he said. “I’ve been with WPP ever since.”
Mr. Clark moved to New York, starting as an assistant media planner working on the Warner Lambert and Kodak accounts. His work gave him an opportunity to travel, particularly to Asia, and he enjoyed the experience. He started pushing his manager about letting him know when international opportunities came up, and one arose in 1995. It was supposed to be a six-month project in Hong Kong, but it turned into two years, which then turned into almost seven years.
He became part of the team that launched Mindshare across the Asia-Pacific region and spent five years helping to run the Mindshare network in Asia.
Then he decided it was time for something new somewhere else. He expected to be moved back to New York, but an opportunity to run Mindshare in the U.K. came up.
“We had a great team of people and we had a very successful three years before I took on a broader GroupM role in Europe,” he said.
The travel left him with a mixed-up accent, partly British but with a bit of a drawl on some words.
“Trust me. Two weeks back in North Carolina and the redneck is back,” he said.
Mr. Clark met his wife while she was in art publishing in New York. She agreed to travel to Asia. They were married there and had two daughters, who are now 8 and 7 years old. In London, they had a son, now 5.
“They’re great and they’ve really adjusted well to moving back and enjoying time with their grandmothers,” Mr. Clark said. “They like showing all their friends that they’ve got ‘born in Hong Kong’ on their passports.”
They live in Maine, where his wife has family.
“We decided that if I’m going to be traveling a lot, then we were going to be where we thought the children would be happiest,” he said. After a two-week try, he thinks it’s reasonable that he spend a few days working from home with the kids, keeping in touch with his clients and his team by phone and e-mail.
The kids also come to New York, when school permits, to visit with relatives there.
Mr. Clark said he and his wife enjoy cooking. They’ve taken courses in many of the places they’ve lived and like to entertain.
“The hardest thing I’ve ever tried to crack was making a Thai red curry from scratch. If you’ve ever seen the recipe of what goes into one of those, you’d never try it again,” he said. His attempt turned out well, though not as spicy as he expected.
He doesn’t plan to do it again, however.
“There’s plenty of specialty food stores where you can get just as good as you can make yourself in that department,” he said.
He’s also taking up golf again, after giving up the game in Hong Kong. “Growing up in North Carolina, there were a lot of golf courses around, so I’m trying to get back into fighting form on the golf course. And I do a lot of cycling.”
Who Knew? Mr. Clark said he was an Eagle Scout. “I’ve still got all my merit badges somewhere in the back of my mother’s closet.” Scouting’s motto is “Be prepared,” which also is useful doing international business. He expects to get his son into Scouting. “He loves the outdoors. We go camping already. He’s enjoying being out in the countryside now that we’ve moved back,” he said.


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