Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

NDA meets James Shepherd of M&C Saatchi Performance

New Digital Age recently chatted with James Shepherd, Managing Director, EMEA, at M&C Saatchi Performance to discuss the evolution of the agency in the post-pandemic era, the emergence of new digital channels for marketers, and his favourite parts of his job… 

What are the big priorities for M&C Saatchi Performance at the moment? 

There have been a few structural changes and streamlining around the business over the past year or so. The double hit of the pandemic and Brexit has created challenges around staffing across the industry, leading to a bit of a talent crisis. That led us to restructure our team and make better use of centres of excellence we have in our global hubs, and moving some of our data practices and some of our ad operations practices to where the talent is thriving. That’s one of the great parts of being a business with a global footprint and has been made possible by a consistently strong culture that runs throughout our company.

How has the business had to evolve its offering in recent years?

Margins are tighter than they were three, four years ago. A lot more money goes into channels like Google and Facebook, where we have different commercial agreements. We’ve also broadened the scope of our work for clients. In many cases, we buy across a far broader range of channels than we might have done two years ago. From a media touchpoint, absolutely anything that can be bought, tracked, measured and optimised digitally, we buy. So, it’s not just display networks and Facebook and Google, it’s Connected TV, digital audio, digital out of home, ecommerce, social commerce and retail media. We’re also doing lots more in the data and analytics space, and a lot more creatively. 

M&C Saatchi Performance was originally founded as a mobile performance agency. We worked with app-first businesses, helping to drive downloads of their apps. Ten years ago, that was a volume game. As the app market matured and progressed, it became more about driving engaged users onto the platform and modeling media spending towards driving that engaged user. As mobile has grown to become absolutely central to a digital plan, we find ourselves in a really good position of understanding what is effectively the sun around which everything revolves. For practically every consumer, the mobile is now pivotal in how they work, play, plan, organise, and purchase 

In 2022, the key focus for us is delivering tangible, actionable growth for our clients. We approach everything we do, throughout the funnel, with a performance mindset. 

What are the key differences between the pre-COVID and the post-COVID landscape?

There are obviously differences due to the increase in focus on data privacy and the various tech and regulatory changes to how we track, measure and optimise media. But, for me, the biggest change is around ways of working and the challenges of managing hybrid working. I think, for example, there’s an increased obligation for businesses to better support junior members of staff. When you start your career, you learn a lot by osmosis, just sitting next to colleagues and picking things up or leaning over and asking a question. The new normal has impacted the whole dynamic of work for agencies in lots of ways that we’re still getting to grips with.

Which emergent channels and formats should marketers be paying attention to right now?

Connected TV is something we’ve seen a big uptick in this year, particularly in the US. YouTube also has some really interesting products thanks to its single-sign-in capabilities, allowing users to see something on their smart TV, then continue a purchase journey on their mobile. In terms of where budgets are shifting to, its CTV and, significantly, ecommerce platforms. The amount of money going through sites like Amazon is staggering. Amazon is even beginning to capture a significant share of search activity from Google. So we’re doing a lot more on shopping channels at the moment.

What parts of your job do you most enjoy?

I come from a client background and I still really love working with clients. I enjoy meeting new people and we’ve had a very good run of new business over the last 12 months, so that has been great. I’m also sort of ‘naturally operational’. I actually enjoy managing a P&L! I like looking for efficiencies in the business and also enjoy making this a good place to work. It’s important to me that my team has access to the right training and learning development to help them grow their careers here. 

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