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Content and digital evolving but businesses still need TV and print to build brands: Wavemaker’s Kartik Sharma

As Wavemaker turns one in India, speaks to the agency's South Asia CEO Kartik Sharma about some pressing industry issues, where the agency stands on its targets and its future goals

Kartik Sharma

For any agency, acquiring new business worth Rs 1,000 crore is no small feat. The challenge becomes even bigger when you have to steer a merged agency.

In November 2017, Kartik Sharma, CEO, Wavemaker, South Asia, was tasked by Group M to head Wavemaker in India, the merged entity of two of its legacy agencies Maxus and MEC. Both agencies had their strengths but it came with a lot of overlap. Sharma had to cut some flab and use it somewhere else as it was decided that the merged agency would retain all the talent. In the last one year, Sharma not only got big clients such as Mondelez on board but also cemented various new divisions such as digital and content.

“We are on the right path. Going into 2019, we will continue to grow the business,” Sharma told in an interview.

Talking about the future of traditional media platforms, he said businesses still needed print and television to build brands, adding that future growth of digital will depend more on technology.

On using consumer data to take decisions for clients, he said, “The availability of data on consumer behaviour has increased but it was important to distinguish good data from noise to deliver right results.”

He said media agencies were facing twin challenges because of evolving technology and retaining and attracting of right talent. Sharma said Ekam, the upcoming digital measurement agency, should be implemented after it is rigorously tested.


Wavemaker just turned one in India. How has the journey been and what targets have you set for the next year?

While we won’t be able to share specific details, we are on the right path on whatever we set to achieve in 2018. New business has grown significantly this year. Roughly, we will be touching Rs 1,000 crore in new businesses that we have added to the kitty. We have won some prestigious businesses like the Mondelez’s global account. Even before Wavemaker, we have had a growth mindset and going into 2019, I am pretty confident we will continue to grow the business.

Is the huge amount of data about rapidly changing consumer behaviour making the life of an agency difficult?

When there is more data, one can look at it in two ways. One side is that with more data, more insights and knowledge can be gleaned over a period of time. However, it is also a challenge because one has to constantly keep relearning about the various data sources and how to use them. Progressive agencies like us will always see it as an opportunity more than a challenge. As compared to 10-12 years ago, the only difference that has come in today is that now we have many more data sources to go through before we make our recommendation to clients. Also over time, we have learnt what good data is and what just noise is. Some data may not be relevant for a particular situation and that is where all the expertise and leadership comes in. With expertise, one is able to identify which information is relevant and which is irrelevant and take a very informed decision for clients. So, overall it is good. The dimension has changed from having to rely on the intuition and the gut feeling of an individual to more evidence-based decision making. This is, in fact, very good for the industry.

Investment in social media has increased rapidly. Yet, most marketers admit they still can’t measure its impact. So how can brands prove that their investment is paying off?

When you do any social media campaign, a lot of metrics are available to the marketer and the agency. The real question is how do these metrics link back to your business? It is true that not many brands are measuring the impact of their social media campaigns but for brands that wish to do so, many techniques are available. It all depends on the advertiser and their need. It is not an impossible task, it is just that we are at a stage where people are experimenting more and more and deploying some of these techniques.

You have increased your focus on content. How is that shaping up for you considering the stream itself is in the evolution stage?

For us, the content journey started much earlier. Investments have been made in content over the last seven to eight years. It has now become a pretty large practice for us and there are several experts from diverse fields related to content working with us. Year-on-year, our overall share of content revenue to the overall business is going up. Also, in early February this year, we announced a partnership along with our group company Ogilvy around content effectiveness. Through this partnership, we will come out with viewpoints around content effectiveness in partnership with Ogilvy. Content is very important for us and we have made the right investments at this stage.

Like social media, measurability of impact and ROI of a content initiative is a big barrier for brands. What are the possible solutions to this?

We are using various techniques to address this. Specific research techniques like facial recognition and neuroscience are some of the techniques being explored to see how does content really impact businesses and the consumers. There are multiple international companies with expertise in content effectiveness with whom we are in dialogue and discussion. The simple answer to your question is that content’s impact on businesses and ROI can be measured; the key is to know what you want to do before you start the project.

Within Wavemaker, how are the businesses spread across the mediums?

Given the evolution of where we are today, I think some of the legacy media like TV and print is still big because they are still important to build brands and businesses. Other diversified services like content or analytics are all growing at a healthy rate year-on-year. But the reasonable chunk still comes from the legacy media.

Digital was yielding a healthy margin in the beginning. Do you see it saturating like other traditional mediums as it grows in volume?

As the growth of any industry happens, it will have its own market dynamics and prices get adjusted. So, whether it is digital or any other media, it will keep happening. Today, there is enough traction and growth on digital. Where will it head and where will it settle is too difficult to say because technology plays an immense role in the evolution of any of the digital technologies. That is the nature of the platform and it will keep evolving.

With digital, many brands are either becoming publishers themselves or are trying to set up in-house teams for better control over their spends. How should agencies tackle this developing trend?

These, I believe, are trends that will keep evolving over a period of time. But the real reason why agencies or consultants exist is that there is a certain value that all of us bring to the table. Otherwise, this industry wouldn’t have survived for so long. It is an evolution; some advertisers are trying this model but it is too early to speculate where it will go or not go. But I genuinely believe that in the ecosystem of marketing communication, specialists do bring value.

Do you see Ekam, the third-party digital measurement system, being launched anytime soon? Isn’t the delay hampering the growth of the segment?

Whenever a new measurement system is being set up, it has to be rigorously tested. I think we should be supportive of the body trying to do this right thing so that tomorrow when it comes as a currency, nobody questions its validity. Setting up a measurement system is not an easy task; it will take its own time. We should not hurry up something just to get a tick mark; we should do what is right.

A very old but ongoing issue is TV media buying on CPT. Do you see it happening in some form anytime soon?

CPRP has been the metric for the longest time. Suddenly, changing it overnight is a difficult thing. There is a certain comfort in which you can compare your plans using CPRP. In the short run at least, I don’t see CPT coming up.

What’s that one big challenge media agencies are facing today?

There are two specific challenges. One is the advent of dramatically life-changing technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning. How do we adapt and use those technologies for growing our business and our client’s business is one challenge. Related to that is the challenge of talent. In general, there is a very diverse mix of talent that is now required to address the client’s problems and how to attract and retain good talent is always a challenge for everyone.

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