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Star Media Group’s Andreas Vogiatzakis on PR and the evolving media landscape

Andreas Vogiatzakis (pictured) recently took on the role of Star Media Group’s CEO after more than 20 years in the agency world. Describing the journey as “unbelievably amazing”, Vogiatzakis shared that the move was a “monumental” one for him being able to learn and understand the entire ecosystem from another side of the triangle comprising client, agency, and media owner.

In a conversation with A+M about the evolving media scene, Vogiatzakis explained that regardless of the role you hold, the entire agency ecosystem is facing similar challenges. “Everybody is chasing revenue, and clients are naturally trying to adjust their strategies to save money,” he explained. Everyone wants more bang for their buck, as they are looking for a much better ROI and in most cases, the ROI needs to be sales driven, he explained.

As such, media owners and agencies must thoroughly understand the platforms and media landscape of today to be more relevant, and give clients the ability to get to where they want. When asked about his personal experience going from the agency side to the owner side, he said that being part of an agency is almost like being a consultant and intermediary between clients and media owners. “While agencies do not control the platform, they can advise and craft solutions,” he said, adding that at the end of the day, it is the media owners which have to ensure that the platforms they offer can do the job.

“The main difference is that as a media owner you are able to adjust the platform as you see fit. As an agency, you see what’s out there but at the end of the day you can’t change the platform itself,” he said. He explained that in the end, everything needs to function holistically and synergistically in order for the entire ecosystem to work.

“What matters is where you can connect with your clients better, more effectively, and more efficiently,” Vogiatzakis said, adding:

It’s not about online and offline, its not about digital versus traditional.

A+M: What do you think is the biggest issue to transformation of media platforms?

Vogiatzakis: Transformation of media platforms, companies, ecosystems and human beings fundamentally have exactly the same obstacles and that is personal resistance to change. Sticking in our old ways of thinking and doing, not wanting to unlearn and relearn. New ways, knowledge, and challenges – that is to me the single biggest and perhaps the only real obstacle to any transformation.

I’ve seen this throughout my career everywhere, from New York to Greece, Tokyo, Taipei, and Malaysia. Eventually, digital transformation will happen for everybody and the winners will be the ones who embrace that change, accept the fact that it is what it is, and they do what they need to do.

You can spend money and get the latest equipment, change tech infrastructure. But getting people to change the way they think, work and learn is the tough part. You can technologically advance your organisation but if people don’t embrace change, it’s not going to work. So that’s the only, to me, real barrier.

A+M: How do you balance between getting ROI on an existing investment while adopting new technologies?

Vogiatzakis: There is no way out without investment. You need to invest in technology. If you don’t want to, or don’t want to put money behind it, then you will lose out, then you cannot play the game. With any new investment, you need time to cultivate it and things don’t work magically with an “on” or “off” switch. You need to ensure that you allow time for your investment to flourish and work. But at the same time you will have shareholders who want 90 day results, and that’s a global phenomenon – that’s the way it is. That will always be the challenge.

I don’t think there is a standard answer or a right or wrong answer. Successful investments take a lot of effort, perseverance, and communication from the team to make people who don’t see, see. And to ensure that everybody is aligned and synchronised to do the right thing.

For example, say you are doing an acquisition on a business, the important thing is not to make [the new acquisition] assimilate into your culture but to understand how that new culture is and learn from it.

Every time you bring two different entities together, you are bringing two different people together with different ideas, personalities and needs and wants, and different outlooks in life. There should be different P&Ls, in case of companies and culture. How do you combine the two? How do you coexist? How do you make both of them understand the synergies? There is no simple answer. It is it’s unique. Sometimes we look at things that happen similarly in our industry to learn. But we can only learn their examples. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be the solution to our challenges as well. So it is always different.

But in all cases you need to invest in training people, like it or not. Programmatic didn’t exist 15 years ago. These jobs didn’t exist 15 years ago and the people who are good at it today didn’t wake up one morning and figured out how to do it. Neither did the pioneers of programmatic. They learnt it along the way and developed it.

So firstly, investment in technology requires a budget. Second, it takes training for people to learn new skills and that has to be constant. You have to do this constantly because unlike the older days when you can make one investment which would last you for 10 years, now, it would last you for maybe one. And next year you have to update and do something new, no way out of this. Either you do it or you don’t.

A+M: Given you are speaking at our upcoming PR Asia Malaysia conference, we’d like to ask how has your experience with PR professionals been like over the years?

Vogiatzakis: When I started studying advertising a long time ago, PR was a crucial part of the curriculum and something that I was very keen on. I ended up riding the path of advertising, but PR was an integral part of my thinking and actions, because I consider it one of the most critical elements in the marketing communication mix.

[Advertising agencies] can craft strategies and executions, but at the end of the day, PR plays a crucial role because we talk about the brand and the connection that brand has with the consumer. PR plays a critical role in talking about the company, and the way its culture speaks to consumers, investors, the public and society.

We spend so much effort and much of our fund in branding and talking about brands. Time and time again when we do it right, it pays off because knowing the values and the vision and the outlook of the company itself obviously helps the brands. Not only that, but in the unfortunate cases of crisis management, this  becomes extremely important.

I’ve seen companies in my experiences in the agency world where they engage PR agencies to help them with investor relations, media relations, and at the end of the day the PR agencies become the catalyst that enable the company to create a better relationship. So if you strip off all the layers and go back to the fundamentals, it’s not different than creating relationship between between two people.

We all like people who like us, we all like people who add value to our experience. We all like people who are meaningful to us. The principal is exactly the same. And because companies are more complex entities, you need experts to guide you through that and help you to create that relationship, that meaningfulness and value in ways that are relevant to the different groups such as investors, the media, or public.

How do you expect the media, for example, to support you if you haven’t developed a relationship with them?

When the time comes and you need to make that phone call, why would they entertain it? It’s the same thing with everybody. All of the PR agencies are absolutely critical in that sense, and it’s very different and very precise in that context compared to what agencies do as it’s a different capability altogether.

To add to that, technology has changed us in ways which I consider it liberating and beautiful. Sometimes we complain about all these texting and technology and losing touch with people but the truth is, technology is liberating and it’s moving the human beings and society forward. Companies need to realise that today everybody is an editor, everybody has the power to influence, everybody is a key opinion leader. As such, the digitalisation of the PR capability becomes important for the PR practitioners to understand digital and the role of social media, to understand how to help the clients navigate into that space.

[A+M’s PR Asia will come to Malaysia this November, gathering together some of the finest minds in industry to explore the exciting and developing world of digital PR. Join us for a series of exclusive case studies, interactive and thought-provoking discussions at PR Asia on 20 November in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Register now.] 

A+M: There is always this conversation that PR doesn’t talk the same financial language that your CEOs and CFOs do. What do you make of the language barrier?

Vogiatzakis: This is an internal challenge and perhaps it is also the responsibility of the CEO to explain and convince the CFO why the PR value is just important as the revenue.

Time and time again it has been proven from research done globally for many years that brands which habe become more meaningful to consumers command a higher share of wallet, a higher price, a higher stock market price.When you become a meaningful brand, it will translate to money and it will be very real. On the flip side, you can find tonnes of examples of brands who did not pay attention to an appropriate PR management for their company and they lost out completely, some of them are even wiped out.

These cases would be excellent selling points to talk to the CFO about, and in the end speak the same language. If you don’t, your share price will suffer and I’m sure at the end of the daym it’s not only about the goodness we do to society as a brand but also the money companies would make. Otherwise, we don’t have people to buy our shares and we will close shop.

A+M: You are a social CEO. You are out there, people know you and you have a personality of your own. How do you make sure you retain your influence as a CEO, as a personality, but align it with every company you are at?

Vogiatzakis: If you are in the business of advertising, or in any business where you lead a team, you need to represent the team. You need to live and breathe the values of the team. If it doesn’t start with you, who would it start with? And you got to be true to that, even in cases where perhaps your personality can be slightly different, then it goes as a package with the job.

If you don’t like it, then don’t take the job because people will look up to you for that.

There are different types of leadership. For me personally, it’s what I believe we should do. So I think that if I’m the gatekeeper of a company then I have the responsibility to be available to all my stakeholders – my own team internally, clients, agencies, and the public. Therefore, you need to be available, you need to live and breathe the values of your company and you need to be there, be seen.

For example, when I started my career in Malaysia many years ago, I became very close with many reporters. Somebody asked me back then what the secret was and how did I do it. It’s simple. If they ask me for one thing, first of all I’m always available. Second of all, if you ask me for one, I’ll give you 10.

If I add value to you, you’ll come back to me for something and that’s the best reward isn’t it? If you are available then people will come to you and that’s a fact.

Nothing really happened intentionally, it was just really about making friends and I’ve been completely blessed with that because most of these relationships became very enjoyable. When that happens, all that pressure of just doing your job goes out of the way. It’s like helping a friend.

In all my experiences, I was just enjoying myself and I just liked to have fun. But it really helps the business in the end.

A+M: Given change is the only constant, how have you tried to inspire change to your followers and employees throughout your career?

Vogiatzakis: I think that by nature I believe in the goodness of human beings and I believe in positive reinforcement. Personally, my modus operandi on that aspect has always been to motivate people and help them to see the positives in any situation.

It is critical for any organisation which doesn’t have the luxury of time to ensure that everybody eventually sees [your vision] and you have to establish ways where adoption to change and technology becomes mandatory. We live in a fast changing world which is very competitive. So sometimes you just can’t afford to wait because if your competition does it first, then you will be left behind. So it has to be a balanced approach where you can push and pull so to speak to bring people forward.

On a personal and also company level, it’s important to know who we are, what we do, and why we do it.

The “why” is the purpose. This defines us as companies and as individuals. And this allows us to face challenges with a positive and can-do attitude. And become catalysts for greater things to come

[A+M’s PR Asia will come to Malaysia this November, gathering together some of the finest minds in industry to explore the exciting and developing world of digital PR. Join us for a series of exclusive case studies, interactive and thought-provoking discussions at PR Asia on 20 November in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Register now.] 

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