30 YEARS OF THE AD­VER­TIS­ING INDUSTERY

ASHISH BHASIN, CHAIR­MAN & CEO SOUTH ASIA DENTSU AEGIS NET­WORK

Impact - - CONTENTS - BY EULARIE SAL­DANHA @ FEED­BACK eularie.sal­[email protected]­change4­me­dia.com

How has your 30 year-jour­ney in Ad­ver­tis­ing been so far?

It’s been a great jour­ney. I’ve met some of the most won­der­ful peo­ple in these 30 years and had an op­por­tu­nity to work on some of the best brands, not just in the coun­try but all across the world.

How have you seen the in­dus­try evolve? Can you re­call a few anec­dotes?

The in­dus­try was com­pletely dif­fer­ent 30 years ago. I joined ad­ver­tis­ing as a man­age­ment trainee in Lin­tas straight out of MBA. This is only my sec­ond job. I’m an MBA in Mar­ket­ing, that’s when the first sense of busi­ness of Ad­ver­tis­ing started evolv­ing. Af­ter lib­er­al­iza­tion, Ad­ver­tis­ing started grow­ing sig­nif­i­cantly. But then the prob­lem was that so many other in­dus­tries came in and we stopped at­tract­ing the best of tal­ent. Clients fig­ured out that they should start deal­ing with the cre­ative guys di­rectly. Then there was a phase where a lot of in­dus­try lead­ers were cre­ative lead­ers, peo­ple like Piyush Pandey or Pra­soon Joshi or Balki… It then moved into a phase where me­dia be­came re­ally im­por­tant. Clients re­al­ized that 90% of their money was go­ing into me­dia and that they should start fo­cus­ing there. It is now at the front of the game where the AORs and me­dia agen­cies are in­vest­ing heav­ily on re­search. The next cusp is the dig­i­tal wave where there is no line that di­vides me­dia and cre­ative. So in some ways, the world will come back to where it started. Go­ing for­ward, dig­i­tal, data and tech­nol­ogy is go­ing to play a much big­ger role in Ad­ver­tis­ing than it ever has. This also means that some of the old legacy cre­ative agen­cies or busi­nesses will find them­selves in a stressed po­si­tion.

What is it about the in­dus­try that ex­cites you the most?

Ev­ery­thing, but the one big thing is that this is one in­dus­try where no two days are alike, in fact no two hours are alike. There are new chal­lenges, new peo­ple that you meet. The con­stant process of rein­ven­tion is what I find ex­cit­ing.

What are the chal­lenges that you have faced while for­mu­lat­ing strate­gies for brands?

The first chal­lenge is that Ad­ver­tis­ing is a very sen­ti­ment-driven busi­ness and if the sen­ti­ment be­comes un­cer­tain, the clients start pulling back on their spends. Se­condly, agen­cies have branded them­selves as peo­ple who can do a 30-sec­ond ad in a 100cc ad. That’s not what we are; we want to pro­vide the best mar­ket­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion so­lu­tions to the client in a Dig­i­tal-en­abled world. We want to be­come con­sul­tants and pro­vide higher end busi­ness trans­for­ma­tion con­sul­tancy. They ex­pect that from an Ac­cen­ture or a Deloitte or a McKen­zie, but not from an agency. That’s a task to be done but per­haps the big­gest op­por­tu­nity star­ing at us as well.

How does your 10-year ex­pe­ri­ence at Aegis dif­fer from the other or­ga­ni­za­tions you’ve worked for?

I worked for Lin­tas for 20 years and then brought Aegis to In­dia ex­actly 10 years ago which then be­came Dentsu Aegis Net­work. I had P&L re­spon­si­bil­ity for South East Asia with eight or nine coun­tries that I was look­ing af­ter, which was a great ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause you get to see the nu­ances of dif­fer­ent cul­tures, mar­kets and how to han­dle it. I was at a very se­nior level with a P&L re­spon­si­bil­ity of ap­point­ing man­ag­ing direc­tors and giv­ing them the lib­erty and free­dom to run their busi­nesses but at the same time be­ing ac­count­able for it. In In­dia, I got an op­por­tu­nity to build this com­pany from less than scratch as there was only a small set-up that didn’t have a very good rep­u­ta­tion or too many clients. Go­ing from 45-50 peo­ple in a loss­mak­ing sce­nario to now a vi­va­cious grow­ing net­work of 3,500 peo­ple - I’ve en­joyed ev­ery minute of the jour­ney.

Did you plan to go Dig­i­tal solely on your in­tu­ition or were there other fac­tors?

We were about 80-90 years late in this mar­ket and our com­peti­tors were here well be­fore us. If you looked around, you could see that In­dia and the whole world was start­ing to dig­i­tize.

When we started in­vest­ing, only 4% of ad­ver­tis­ing was Dig­i­tal. To­day that num­ber is around 17-18% of the mar­ket, but we as an agency group to­day get more than 40-42% of our rev­enues from Dig­i­tal. So, I won’t say it’s an in­tu­ition, it is a good judge­ment call that we over-in­vested in this area.

Was it a chal­lenge to sell Dig­i­tal to an ad­ver­tiser in the be­gin­ning?

Ini­tially, it was. Us­ing Dig­i­tal as a medium for ad­ver­tis­ing now doesn’t need sell­ing. We need to gear up our­selves and our clients for busi­nesses that are go­ing to be trans­formed be­cause of Dig­i­tal. How we part­ner them and how we add value to that process is essen­tial.

What sep­a­rates the in­dus­try’s young tal­ent from the older ones – es­pe­cially in the Dig­i­tal space - to­day?

Ev­ery­one in Dig­i­tal is largely young be­cause Dig­i­tal it­self in In­dia is not more than a 15-year-old busi­ness. If you’ve done 10 years in Dig­i­tal, you’re con­sid­ered a vet­eran. What sep­a­rates the young Dig­i­tal guys from the old ones is the nat­u­ral in­tu­itive grasp of the busi­ness and im­pact of Dig­i­tal on busi­ness. Many mis­take au­to­ma­tion for Dig­i­tal; they’re not nec­es­sar­ily in­ter­change­able things. As a con­sumer, you’re gen­er­at­ing mil­lions of ter­abytes of data by leav­ing a Dig­i­tal foot­print on any and ev­ery­thing you do. Peo­ple who are able to an­a­lyse that data well will de­fine what the sep­a­ra­tion point will be.

What is your ad­vice to bud­ding pro­fes­sion­als in the ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try?

Ad­ver­tis­ing is a se­ri­ous busi­ness with very lit­tle glamour and a lot of hard work to do. The prob­lem with young­sters is that they look for very quick in­stan­ta­neous re­sults that don’t work. Al­most 50% of peo­ple who join, leave ad­ver­tis­ing within 3-4 years, but al­most 90% of peo­ple who’ve stayed for more than 8-10 years, stay on for 10-20 years more. The in­dus­try doesn’t re­ward you at the en­try lev­els but at the in­flic­tion point in your ca­reer, the com­pany rec­og­nizes you and pays you much bet­ter. By that time, 75-80% of the guys have al­ready left. So they’ve worked the hard­est, had the most mis­er­able time and they give up right when they should be reap­ing the ben­e­fits. I al­ways tell my col­leagues that Dentsu Aegis Net­work is the worst com­pany to do a job in, but the best com­pany to build a ca­reer in. When you’re build­ing a ca­reer you’re look­ing at it from a long term per­spec­tive. I would ad­vise ev­ery­body to keep that as the per­spec­tive. Once you’ve done Ad­ver­tis­ing, it’s quite likely you can’t do any other busi­ness ever again. You’re try­ing to change and in­flu­ence de­ci­sions of mil­lions of con­sumers and are en­trusted with brands that are worth thou­sands of crores of ru­pees that can be built or de­stroyed based upon what you con­trib­ute. The big­gest suc­cess fac­tor in Ad­ver­tis­ing is your re­silience and abil­ity to with­stand stress. You’ve got to bring that same pas­sion and en­ergy to the job.

Go­ing for­ward, what are your plans?

Busi­ness as usual, but I’m very keen that we fu­ture-proof our agency to see how we can grab more mar­ket-share. The fu­ture looks very bright for our coun­try’s econ­omy and we want to ride this Dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion. We want to start con­sult­ing our clients and be­ing their part­ners in Dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion which is hap­pen­ing all across and we still have a lot of scope to scale up. We came from nowhere, we’ve over­turned 80 years of es­tab­lished or­der. WPP came in some­where in the 20s through Hin­dus­tan Thomp­son as­so­ci­ates and IPG came in 1938. Since then, WPP has been Num­ber 1 and IPG was Num­ber 2. We an­nounced that we will be­come Num­ber 2 by the end of 2017, and we ac­tu­ally got there well be­fore that. Hav­ing es­tab­lished our­selves as the clear Num­ber 2 player in the mar­ket, we now have to plan on how we scale up from here. We have a lot to be proud of, but at the same time we have a com­peti­tor who is sev­eral times big­ger than us.

A Lin­tas ManCom meet­ing

Ashish Bhasin in his new role as Branch Man­ager of Lin­tas Madras

Bhasin’s first day at Lin­tas

Bhasin’s first joint ven­ture – De­sign Bridge at Lin­tas

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