Clients Want More than Just a Transactional Approach to Media: Q&A with John Antoniades, Spark Foundry

Agency holding company Publicis Groupe has certainly seen some changes in 2017. From a reshuffling and rebranding of its global media agency brands within Publicis Media, to the announcement at Cannes that the group is to reinvest all awards-related budget into the development of its new AI platform, Marcel, for 365 days; it’s been all systems go for the French behemoth. Spark Foundry, one of the global media agency brands under Publicis Media, has seen its fair share of changes as a result. Recently rebranded from Mediavest | Spark (which itself was a union of two separate agency brands after the former Starcom Mediavest Group underwent its own restructure in 2016) Spark Foundry is looking to drive growth, while fostering a startup spirit. ExchangeWire speaks with John Antoniades (pictured below), Publicis Groupe veteran and Spark Foundry’s newly appointed managing director of global business, about the agency’s bright new future and his role within that.

ExchangeWire: As a recent rebrand of Mediavest | Spark, Spark Foundry has gone through some significant changes. What is the vision of this business and how does your new position of managing director, global business feed into this?

John Antoniades: By embracing the Spark Foundry name globally, we’re demonstrating our continued commitment to evolve our brand to meet the needs of our clients and the marketplace at large. We’re unifying our people around the world with an identity that truly reflects our values and who we are as an organisation. Our vision is to capture our startup spirit and powerhouse soul – blending an entrepreneurial, innovative, and more personal approach to how we service clients and the solutions we create for them. My role is about galvanising this across our all of our offices outside of the US and ensuring we continue to drive global growth across our EMEA, LATAM, and APAC markets. I’m also responsible for managing key global client relationships outside of the US for businesses like BEL, Brown-Forman, and UBS.

As a veteran of Publicis Groupe, you have experienced many changes in the evolution of the holding group. Do you believe the evolution helps Publicis to stay one step ahead of the industry?

Absolutely. As a Groupe, we have a rich history of brave innovation and transformation. You only need to see the announcement of our new AI platform, Marcel, to find evidence of another industry landmark. More fundamental, as you know, is the overhaul of the entire Groupe holding company structure to a platform-based connecting company. Putting our clients at the centre of the organisation, we have a unique platform that gives clients plug-and-play access to our best talent, so they benefit from a borderless, seamless service that drives the magic of creativity and technology. As an employee, it truly feels like working for a completely new company; which is quite an achievement after 20 years.

Your previous role was focused on data, content, and technology – how will you feed these elements into your new, global business role?

As the CEO of MENA, my task was to accelerate digital and performance – and by bringing data, content, and technology together around a client, instead of these disciplines operating in silos. These practice areas are the same core tenets of our business that will make sure Spark Foundry is future-proofed at a global scale, leveraging talent and capabilities from the entire Groupe.  

John Antoniades, Managing Director of Global Business, Spark Foundry

How has digital changed the face of Publicis and contributed towards its new structure and Spark Foundry’s role in this?

The digital and technology platforms at our fingertips mean our teams can be more accurate in understanding audiences, more selective in the way we reach them, and react faster to optimise results. As digital has become such a dominant medium to create meaningful connections with consumers, we’ve made sure our structure reflects this and digital is instilled across our entire business. From certification programmes to our own internal employee learning and development programmes, to first-looks and beta tests, our teams are all digital experts regardless of which clients they work on, what level their role is, or where they work. 

In managing global client relationships, do you see significant differences in regional marketing trends? How are these evolving?

I’ve had the privilege of working with an incredibly diverse range of people in markets across the globe. As you’d expect, each region has cultural nuances; however, there are many universal marketing elements that are important to all clients. For example, the best marketing executions often have a compelling social component, but where and how that comes to life in a particular market, in terms of platform, voice, and other elements will vary based on culture and location. Ultimately, what matters to us is what matters to our clients,; and with a solid global workforce of talented staff, I’m excited to work with our teams in harnessing their unique media expertise with their unequaled knowledge of their local culture, language, and clients.

Transparency has been a core topic of conversation between agencies and their clients recently. Do you believe this is now becoming a more level playing field?

Trust is a key tenet upon which Publicis Media and Spark Foundry were built. For us, a focus on trust has been core to building stronger client relationships than ever before as well as a driver in many of our new client wins.

What do you want agency-client relationships to evolve into and how will you bring this into your new role?

We know that clients want more than just a transactional approach to media buying and planning. They want a true business partner who shares not only critical thinking and expertise, but also a passion and understanding for their brands and delivering real business results. This is exactly the approach I’ll be driving in my new role, along with our startup spirit and powerhouse soul vision. I will bring this passion into every area of our business, so we set the bar high for delivering exceptional results.

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