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In-depth: Indian media agencies getting future-ready (Part-II)

Big data, artificial intelligence and other tools to map the consumer purchase journey are the buzzwords for media agencies in the digital world. finds out how agencies are enabling their digital play to deliver better results for clients

In the first part of our series on media agencies getting future ready, we talked about why the agency network heads are convinced about a digital-driven future growth and how are they’re enabling their firms to embrace the digital play. We also discussed the challenges of automation and the importance of changing skill-sets.

In the second part, we analyse the initiatives taken up by agency networks to automate and how aggressively they’re investing in data and artificial intelligence. We’ll also find out which agency stands where on the road map of their digital journey.

Just to give a sense of relevance in the media agency ecosystem, several large players are getting more than 30 per cent of their total revenues just from digital. Some agencies even have more than five specialised digital sections as a part of their stable.

IPG Mediabrands hosts a few digital agencies including Interactive Avenues. Dentsu Aegis Network has eight digital agencies with expertise in search engine, performance marketing and everything digital. Publicis too owns Performics.Resultrix and Convonix among others. GroupM, on the other hand, has digital specialisation within media agencies, and recently brought Essence into India, which is a digital marketing expert.

Digital Tools: Simplifying tasks

While everyone is walking the digital path, the agency networks have created various tools and software to automate as many processes as possible. Digital is not limited to digital platform for advertising, there is so much more to it.

Debraj Tripathy

Debraj Tripathy, Managing Director, MediaCom India, explained, “We have developed tools and means so that both (TV and digital) can be planned together. Especially for videos, we have something called video neutral planning (VNP). So, if I have a video that the audience is exposed to, how can we optimise it on both TV and digital. We have had these VNP tools around for about four years now in India.”

Shashi Sinha

Going a step ahead from the tools that are created by the agencies, IPG has tried to take the digital solutions beyond marketing and tried to apply it to sales and after-sales point for the client. Shashi Sinha, CEO, IPG Mediabrands explained, “We are doing customer relationship management (CRM) for some of our auto clients. To my mind, data has to be managed by soft skills. Before you send the mailer to the targeted person, the CRM team gets into making the sale. There is a call centre that speaks to the targeted customer. Farida Sabnavis and Satish Ramachandran are doing this part of the business. This team handles customers till the after sale moment with grievance redressal. People keep talking about AI, data and machine learning but my personal belief is that we have to take it beyond that with personalisation.”

Kartik Sharma

Wavemaker, (earlier Maxus) has also had instances wherein call centres and CRM support was extended to the clients. As Kartik Sharma, MD, South Asia, Wavemaker, explained, “We have strong strengths in the areas of CRM and we are delivering that for some of our clients. It can be a small or large set-up depending on the clients’ needs. We have done a lot of call centres for clients whenever we have felt the need to.”

Mayoori Kango

Mayoori Kango, Managing Director, Performics.Resultrix, describing the oldest media optimiser tool at the agency, said, “Because of Tardiis (media optimiser), Publicis is actually ahead on the television platform, at least. Tardiis became Tardiis Fusion including BARC panel data into it, and now they are layering digital data into it.”

When asked why automation is so important, Kango answered, “What did Google do? All the automation tools and the bid optimisation tools that came in the US are because of the human limitation of scale. Automation is not so much a cost factor as it is an intelligence factor because you cannot deliver on the KPI unless you can look at the entire ecosystem.”

She is quick to add that tools alone cannot build a plan. “However, it can’t happen that by putting in details, the system will spit out a media plan. It will only give you directional indications. Something like our Scenario Planner, which tells you how you should be allocating your budgets between mainline and digital. The third of our tool is Marcel (launched recently by Publicis globally) and fourth is People Cloud.”

The consumer data that sits on a cloud is like interest marketing. Based on the product and client, the research will spit out the audience size and within that, if a certain kind of targeting is needed, then what is the type of audience available. People Cloud is something that they have built in a couple of European Markets and is now being rolled out in India.

DAN has developed about 20 tools to ease out and automate the day-to-day processes. One of these tools is called DAN-the Man. This tool prepares the media plan for Google search engine for a selected product/service category for a selected region with a selected budget. All of this can be done in a matter of 30-40 seconds. The icing on the cake is that the tool doesn’t run on a boring black and white screen with a lot of keywords and data to be put in; it works on an interactive voice command feature on the iPhone.

Ashish Bhasin

To this, Ashish Bhasin, ‎Chairman and CEO South Asia, Dentsu Aegis Network, said, “We have a very young team. Over 70 per cent of our workforce is below 35 years of age. Interactive systems will only make things easier and more interesting for them. Digital is the way forward and we as a network have already started gathering over 40 per cent of our revenues from the digital streams.”

Apart from the media planning tool, DAN has another creative tool developed by a team under the leadership of its Chief Data Officer Gautam Mehra. This tool germinated from the thought that no two individuals can get impressed/ convinced by the same ad. The creative idea which can appeal to one audience might fall flat for some other person from a completely different demographic. Hence, there should be multiple creatives for a single ad, especially on digital and this number runs into millions.

Google has a similar tool called Display Campaign Optimiser (DCO).

Mehra said that about 10 out of their 20 tools are already deployed and scaled, while the rest are in process of evolution. “Our tools are in a state of constant development and each have their own maturity. Depending on that maturity level, we have different levels of adoption.”

Kango further added, “I think everybody feels when they are doing something that nobody has done this before. But everybody’s systems are still learning. And just when you think that now I’ve figured it out, something new happens. You have to be realistic that in the coming years, it will only get more complex.”

MA Parthasarathy

Before talking about the tools at Mindshare, MA Parthasarathy, Chief Product Officer, Mindshare South Asia (fondly known as Maps), explained the importance of data organisation, “Some tools are purely automated processes of data gathering, cleansing and reporting. Now over time, once you have a strong database across different types of audiences, industry verticals and use cases, then the machine learning layer will kick in. The first step is to ensure that the simple processes of data gathering, cleansing, reporting and organisation are automated effectively, as that is what takes up 70 per cent of people’s time.”

Explaining one of the many tools used by the agency, Maps said, “We have built a marketing and decision support dashboard which uses pattern recognition. It pulls in data from across media inputs like GRPs and impressions and also outcomes like brand health, social buzz, sales and distribution and puts it all together. Using pattern recognition algorithm, it delivers insights in an automated fashion. So rather than just having charts and reports, it actually delves into the reason behind the numbers, does correlations between inputs and outcomes and also has a predictive component built in.”

The first implementation of this tool in India was about six months ago.

Wavemaker, too, has a huge push on digital and automation both. Sharma said, “There are still investments being planned for digital and automation, which both sit under a super-set called technology. It is an ongoing process. Yes, there will be a lot of technology deployment and automation, with things like dashboard and optimisers which will allow teams to do less laborious work and spend more quality time thinking and delivering for strategic piece.”

Interactive Avenues has invested in four search tools which help in better and quicker search plans – Kenshoo, Marin, Double Click and Adobe. Amardeep Singh, Founder and CEO, Interactive Avenues, said, “These tools help to run search campaigns and social campaigns. These help you in bid optimisation process and automate most of it. But there is no parallel to human intelligence though the bid processes are completely automated.”

DAN’s ‘People Based Marketing’ initiative has led them to now have a pool of 120 million users in India. This enables DAN to be in a better position to decide and offer the creative that might be best suited for a certain age-group and demographic.

Connecting with the world

Publicis had announced Marcel in June this year. The AI based tool creates a network of all of Publicis worldwide connecting all the employees in a single string. On Marcel, any employee can put up a query about a campaign on a discussion thread and all the other employees across the globe can chose to get into the conversation. JWT, WPP’s creative agency too has a similar network called Pangea.

Adding his notes on MediaCom, which recently became a part of WPP, Tripathy said, “Digital is largely about how we work with people around the world on specific brands. Many of our big clients are global clients and it has to be a collaborative environment. We have a global platform called 20:20 Connections, where everyone around the world is able to contribute and work. Other than connecting the workforce, this platform also has all my planning tools so we can work on them in complete transparency as we go from stage 1, 2 and 3. Digital means higher accountability.”

Mindshare, a leading media agency in the country, also has a centralised media planning function. Maps explained, “Our centralised media planning function is aimed to get consistency and rigour and also to enhance productivity in media planning – including TV, print, and digital video. There is a lot of automation that is built in – from pre-campaign to mid-campaign to post-campaign reporting, to ensure deliveries are monitored efficiently and enable swift learning and course-correction.”

DAN too has a number of AI-based internal tools but has chosen to not talk about those in public.

Data: Who has the biggest pool?

Data is the ultimate driving force of all advertising and targeting, especially on digital. With so many fancy options of targeting the audience right from behavioural retargeting, programmatic advertising and many more. All the agency networks worked well in time to either set up or to grab hold of the most prospective data company.

GroupM has acquired Xaxis, created (m) Platform, while Dentsu Aegis Network acquired Sokrati and SVG while IPG partnered with MediaMath recently to work closely with Acxiom.

Sinha said, “We are creating a big data hub. We have a global partnership with Acxiom and we have already started working with few of our clients on data management platform (DMP). Technology is from a company from MediaMath. The DMP helps clients target better, focused behavioural targeting.”

To add on the MediaCom perspective, Tripathy said, “We have Group M’s m-platform with over a 100 million current profiles. This gets integrated into every tool and our platform, which enables us to do everything seamlessly along with the basic data and higher insights and helps us do much better targeting capabilities and are ready to optimise across everything.”

Maps from Mindshare also refers to (m) Platform, saying, “It is a core asset of GroupM which is available for us.”

Explaining the way data should be processed and used, Kango added, “Data exists in different format and places. Everybody is working towards creating systems that will be able to understand different sets of data.”

The only way to identify a customer/ user is through mobile id or ad id or browser id or some unique identifier. Most systems have a window of 360 days. Which means the data becomes invalid after 360 days. Handsets change in India in about 13 months. So, what needs to be thought is how many of those millions of data prints that you have, are active and valid as on date.

Kango explained, “It’s a very interesting phase to be in because there are a lot of acronyms and many of these won’t exist tomorrow, they will probably become some other acronym.”

Who stands where on the road map to the digital future

All agency networks, DAN, IPG, Group M, Publicis, are moving towards the digital future. However, the strategies are different, and so is the pace and position. We asked the agency heads who according ti them stands at the forefront of this race to become digitised.

Kango answered, “Everybody is working towards a solution, but nobody has come up with a foolproof system, and I don’t mean just in India, but globally because the system is still learning since it’s a new ecosystem. I feel Tardiis, People Cloud, Marcel, etc., has given a better position to Publicis in the scheme of things. I would assume that everyone is making some strides or the other. If you have had a digital agency in your fold who was strong on technology and analytics and performance background, then you are in a better place today because it is already in your DNA and all you have to do is apply it across the group. I am sure everyone is at some stage, may be somebody is in stage 4 and someone else in stage 2.”

Sinha feels that while everyone is trying to move to digital, the size of Interactive Avenues is a great advantage. He added, “It’s also a full service agency – search, creative, planning everything. They have huge clients. About 50 per cent business is standalone. It's not about knowledge, it's about dearth of execution.”

Maps added, “I think every agency is thinking along these lines, it’s just that who has taken the lead – because it requires two to three things. First is significant investment in technology, which GroupM has done through the M platform. Second, a lot of investment in talent – both in terms of acquisition and upskilling. This is an ongoing challenge because the market needs to have the talent, otherwise we need to create and develop it from scratch. As industry leaders, we are trying to take the high ground on this and make sure we are able to invest in both the talent and the technology.”

Mehra from DAN was confident of their lead in the digital race. He said, “I don’t think any agency today can afford to not think of data and digital. However, it’s the commitment level and maturity of the organisation that matters. Because of our unique One DAN P&L model and eight digital agencies in our group, we are head and shoulders above our competitors in digital. For example, in search and performance, we are twice or thrice the size of our next competitor.”

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