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Focus on investing into technology, talent and content in 2018, says Prasanth Kumar, CEO, Mindshare, South Asia

No technology company can ever offer a client the same value as we do, Kumar told BestMediaInfo in an interview. He said India was the only country where every media was growing and focus on digital doesn't mean traditional media is being left out

Prasanth Kumar

Mindshare, the country's top media agency, has completed 20 years. The agency's enthusiasm to add value for the client and solve problems by co-creating solutions can give any start-up a run for its money.

Despite winning over 270 awards at different circuits in 2017, the agency is not letting itself go easy. "Every two years, the business model is changing. If you don't improvise and add value to your client's business, you won't be profitable," Prasanth Kumar, CEO, Mindshare, South Asia said. The agency is investing heavily in its talent. "Investing in talent will get us into the depth of a client's business," he said.

Kumar said the agency has set an aggressive growth target for 2018 and digital, content and data would be the key growth drivers. He, however, said that traditional media will continue to play a significant role even if the importance of digital grows.

Excerpts:

Which will be your focus investment areas in the current year?

First, we would continue to invest in talent. It’s a very motherhood statement but diverse talent can help us get into the depth of a client’s business.

Second, a client's business is our primary focus and we keep analysing what is required to be done to move it forward. We do whatever is required, whether it is learning about the consumer or engaging with him. For this, there is a certain amount of investment that we may look at from the technology perspective.

The third is that we do a lot in terms of partnership. Any solution for the client – tech partner, strategic partner on content or on product —is also important. We may look at some partners to collaborate, co-create and get into some kind of working solutions with them.

These are some of the areas that will get investments in 2018 — technology, talent and content.

How was 2017 for Mindshare?

I think it was a very satisfying year for us. Of course, every year we feel that we could have done better than the previous year. That will always remain and it should because that leaves hunger in you to work for the next year. That also shows a lot of ambition about what you want to do in future.

I think we had a decent growth – in terms of business, clients patting our backs and client satisfaction scores. We have grown in terms of the recognition from our clients. Five of our clients became ‘Clients of the Year’ on multiple platforms. We have broken the last year’s record in terms of awards by winning 272 awards in 2017. We should be happy with the business growth that we have had.

We also saw growth for our talent in the sense that some of our talent won awards and evolved/ progressed into larger roles into other (international) markets as well. We feel satisfied that talent has grown via Mindshare. This makes Mindshare an encouraging organisation from a career growth perspective.

From the perspectives of talent, business, recognition, work and satisfaction from clients, it has been a good year for us.

Margins have been declining and 2017 witnessed a new low. What are your plans to maintain the profitability?

We have a business model and we have 20 years of experience to go by. I think every two years, we, as a business model, have been challenged. That is a case for any industry/category. And the challenge is either from the demand side or from supply, depending on the industry. One thing that is constant is improvisation. If you are able to add value to both (demand and supply), you can continue to be profitable and have a great business model.

I don't have an answer as to what do you do to be profitable 10 years from now. But one thing that I am sure is if I am able to add value to both sides, clients will see me as a credible partner and they would want me to thrive and will be concerned for our mutual growth. This is a good opening for me to have a conversation about us being profitable and satisfied. The moment we start thinking from that context, our models will change and we will get more efficient.

Cost increase is a major concern among almost all clients. If I am adding value and asking for an increase, a client may say yes; but without adding value, he might not.

We must be sensible enough to understand where we are adding value. It is a constant evolution, a constant fight, which is a good thing to have and we shouldn’t feel uncomfortable about it. That's the only way to improve ourselves.

What are your growth targets (revenues/ billings) in 2018?

We would like to have very aggressive targets and we would like to grow well.

What is the strategy to achieve these targets? How different will be your 2018 strategy than all the previous years?

Our strategies are very sharp. To delight all our clients. To attract new clients.

Things have changed. I cannot believe what I did in January 1, 2017, when I am sitting in 2018. I certainly feel that I have crossed not just 12 months, but a few eras. The solutions that I am discussing today are not what I was discussing a year back. The conversations that I am doing today, even with my own colleagues, is not exactly what we did one year ago. This is a positive thing, more exciting and encouraging that we have something more to look forward to.

What will be the drivers of growth for Mindshare and for the media and entertainment industry in 2018?

Digital, certainly, will grow. We are also confident that content will actually have more integrated solutions and this will grow. Speaking about product and data standpoint – this is one area where consumer insights are becoming more important to all categories.

These three are the heart of any consumer marketing business –digital, content and data.

With decreasing margins on traditional media, do you think digital is one of the solutions to really balance it out? 

I strongly feel this varies from all the lenses people look at. I agree there is a legacy in every business which gets left out but I don't think we should sleep over it. There is a lot more richness that you can get on traditional media from all the aspects – learning and engaging the consumer. Thanks to all the technology, solutions and content that enables us to do learn all this.

Same is with digital. Ten years from now, you may say there is a legacy in digital. Ultimately, we are responsible as to how we shape this. Why should we leave the traditional business? We should not be caught napping after 10 years and say that we have left our traditional business and then in some more time, we feel we left digital.

Fundamentally, it's about the consumer who you are chasing. Either from the point of view of learning about a person or engaging with him. I believe even in 10 years, a consumer will be available on both traditional and digital channels.

India is a very large country, we are talking about 1.3 billion population. We are probably talking about one of the most diverse countries in the world and the fact that there are multiple Indias within the country, multiple cultures/ habits/ behaviour, which is proof that there is room for everything.

This is the only country where every media is growing. Each has a different pace of growth and everyone feels that this growth will remain. This is the only country where the density of youth is much more than anybody else.

So, you are saying that digital and traditional media will co-exist for decades to come?

I don't know whether X is replaceable with Y and whether X will become extinct. But one thing is sure, there will be a lot of value-related discussion from every side to enrich some of the practices and in that process, some practices may die. It is bound to happen. Some markets/ categories may crop up. If somebody would have asked 10 years back, ‘do you feel that there will be a new category?’ Nobody would have invented e-commerce then. But a great category was born and it has got amazing growth.

May be there will be new category in five more years. I think the responsibility will be on us to shape up this. This is a fast evolving space. Let’s get prepared for it. Let’s keep improvising. Many answers are not known yet but one thing is sure, if we are able to understand the consumer well and relate to business from a client’s business point of view, most answers lie there. Many innovations are born out of those insights, whether it is from sharp targeting/ insights perspective or creativity perspective.

What do you think about the tech giants entering the media space with Accenture Interactive leading the lot? Are they posing as threat?

They are more like technology consultants. I don’t think they are a threat, rather potential collaboratirs. In fact, we would like to play with stronger people. That’s the only way to work in the future. Whether it is a consultant or technology firm or our own, I don’t know where to place ourselves now (laughs). No consultant or tech company will be able to do for the clients what we are doing. The client's confidence is growing. We are not threatened by them. We actually welcome the stronger people. It's not a challenge, it’s good ambience. It's positive energy ambience, when you get into a shuttle court and you see the people with whom your rallies can be interesting. We would love to have some excitement every day.

What do you think about creative and media agencies coming together and each providing solutions across the board?

An idea can come from anywhere. A great idea should win. We don't term anything as media, creative, consultancy or technology. But, people want to specialise in some areas and people chose A against B.

We have chosen that we will be more into solutions from ‘media and insights’ perspective and it’s only now that we have involved content perspective. We don't do much on creative advertising, communications and the 30-seconders side. But for some clients, we do even that. We chose to be on the media side because we feel that media is at the front of giving solutions about consumers.

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