Interview

From MediaCom Russia with love! Meet new Aussie CEO Yaron Farizon

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Yaron

MediaCom’s recent hunt for a new CEO went global, ultimately delivering the globetrotting Yaron Farizon to its North Sydney headquarters.

And Farizon certainly comes with the right pedigree. Born in Kiev in the Ukraine, educated in Israel, he worked for P&G as a business director for eight years through the UK and Eastern Europe before becoming CEO of MediaCom Russia in 2018.

Farizon’s recruitment represents one of WPP AUNZ’s three key hires for 2021 that have thus far landed the prized recruit, Aimee Buchanan, to lead its GroupM agencies and the as-yet-to-be announced country manager to head WPP’s local operations following the departure of CEO Jens Monsees in mid-May.

Here, B&T chats with Farizon on the local market, his plans for MediaCom in Australia and his top tips for local TV bosses.

You’ve had a couple of months now to get the lay of the land here in the Australian market. What do you make of things thus far? What’s your plan, for say, the next six months?

To be honest, when I start a new job, I don’t think in time frame of six months. The fundamental assumption is that we want to be stronger, smarter and faster. At this point, it’s all about the “how”. Especially at the beginning, you need to run twice as fast to get somewhere, as the quote goes.

I know what we aim to achieve each week and running in short sprints enables our planning to be very agile, and our achievements more tangible and condensed. If you talk to people – clients, my team, media owners – you know what to do. I’m a doer, and knowing both MediaCom, and GroupM gives me a stronger and accelerated starting point.

In a couple of months, will start thinking about our longer-term strategy, so we as an agency will have clear direction and align all our resources, efforts for it – but even then, it’s important to maximise every day, every week and course-correct frequently. As a result, you get to do more, achieve more, without losing a sense of clarity and vision.

We journalists love to write about agency wins and losses as a measure of success. But is it more about new business or steadying the ship?

Our ship is steady. We have terrific clients – strong, trusting relationships with them, combined with a solid and experienced team.

At this present moment in time, we are aiming to accelerate our product and strategic proposition in order to bring to life the global MediaCom concept of Seeing the Bigger Picture to the broader industry. It is equally important for our existing clients to drive consistent innovation and thought leadership, as well as appealing to potential new clients when pitching for new business.

Just to give you an example, we recently launched a virtual bi-weekly thought leadership content series entitled ‘Plugged In’. Created for our existing clients, we’ve shared information on some key industry trends we believe our clients should be aware of.

You’ve arrived in Australia with no CEO there at GroupM (Aimee Buchanan not due to start until October) and no CEO/country manager running WPP AUNZ. Has that made the role all the more difficult?

GroupM has a strong global strategy that is led by Christian Juhl. This remains in place whether there is a local CEO or not.

Right now, I am focussed on MediaCom and our clients. Since I’m not new to the network, I’m aware of how best to collaborate with our regional and local GroupM leadership, as well as the global MediaCom network to better enable fast decision making and support.

I truly believe that the way we perform, build our relationships, mobilise resource and how we are perceived by the industry is largely up to us as agency, and so far, so good. There is so much we can do and there are so many opportunities in front of us – this is what keeps me busy and effective.

How does the Aussie market differ to other markets you’ve worked in (i.e. Russia)? It’s often said we’re one of the smallest but most competitive market places in the world.

Each market is both unique and I have been lucky to gain very diverse experiences and insights. For example, when working on the P&G Europe business, already a few years ago Netherlands had unified video measurement panel, so it is clear to me how will VOZ evolve and what value we can extract and expect in the future.

One of the most inspiring things for me when I worked in the UK was how the industry can drive change and evolve – openly dealing with gender equality, racial diversity and inclusivity. Russia is a massive start-up – lots of bubbling opportunity as scale and at the same time, very locally focused market, in terms of tech and platforms. Israel is known for big and bold ideas as well as how to create disproportional buzz.

So far, Australia seems to me like an exciting mix of local innovation and creativity, fast pace and fierce competition in media – both from the agencies, but also coming from more unexpected places, like retail media for example. It’s a great opportunity – and I also see how bringing more rigour in to our product and process can be beneficial for our performance.

You’ve had time to look at the local TV market. What’s your take on it and what advice do you have for TV bosses?

Yes, whilst linear TV audiences have suffered, they have had challenges around the world too. But what we love about this channel is its ability to adapt; audiences are only migrating and consuming content in different ways as we have seen with the huge growth in CTV. People still love TV content.

Actually, we saw this in Russia as well – younger audiences diversify watching habits. For me, it’s about how we can help find these audiences for our clients in a smarter and more engaging way. I think the local networks should be proud of the business they have built; they are diverse, healthy, and evolving with the times and with the arrival of VOZ we can really start to have a holistic view of audience trends. And it’s important to keep in mind – creating an exciting, high quality, diverse content, tapping into consumers insights and interest will help winning over hearts and minds of our consumers over and over, and this has always been and will be focus for media owners.

Looking at the local MediaCom business, what needs to change internally for the business to adapt?

Like any business, we always need to adapt to the changes and proactively transform our skillset and product proposition. In fact, in our industry, we need to do this every day. A couple of year ago, we launched what is now known as MediaCom Creative Systems – our integrated content proposition, because we understood the demand from our clients as well as market opportunities. Right now, one of our priorities is to keep evolving data-led planning and activation. Leveraging existing and new data sources to inform our insights work, and as a result – smarter budget allocation, scalable addressable activation, and rigorous measurement.

I’m very passionate about our product. To continuously drive this forward, I’m focusing on having the right talent, maximizing existing and new GroupM tech capabilities and reshaping a process of continuous learning from planning to implementation. It’s not about reinventing – it is about providing most effective solutions for our clients based on the most advanced capabilities we have right now, and always asking “What else can we do better?”. This what drives my team and I forward each and every day.

COVID’s been a horror show for most media companies and many brands too. What are the learnings from the past 18 months?

Of course, there are many learnings. For me, one of the greatest learnings is how important and valuable it is to be a decent human being. We are in a people business and our ethos at MediaCom is People First. Which means always supporting each other, our clients, and our teams, by being there in a time of need – this truly encapsulates everything we do.

Last year was a test for our industry, and we saw multiple examples of true leadership – responsible, decent human behaviour. It’s a true inspiration to be the leader of a business which promotes this behaviour for its people.