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Difficult time for creative industry, but it's not all gloom and doom

In an exclusive interview to BestMediaInfo, Kapil Arora, Co-Chairman and CEO, and Sumanto Chattopadhyay - Chairman and CCO, 82.5 Communications, say that the slowdown should mean greater opportunity, because it brings with it more problems for the agency to solve for clients. The duo said the biggest challenge the industry faces is the accelerated rate of change

(L) Kapil Arora and Sumanto Chattopadhyay (R)

The looming economic slowdown in the country has thrown some challenges to the creative industry as well but for Kapil Arora, who recently took over as Co-Chairman and CEO of 82.5 Communications, a slowdown offers greater opportunity because it brings with it more problems for them to solve for their clients. “And we love problems,” said Arora.

In January, WPP-owned Ogilvy Group rebranded its creative agency Soho Square as 82.5 Communications India. Today, the India-specific agency handles mandate of a number of brands, which includes ACC, Bhim app, Bisleri, Havells, Himalaya, Lava, Luminous, Marico, Sabkadentist, Tata Motors, Wipro and many more.

Currently, 82.5 Communications is as big as any of the mid-sized agencies in the country. However, there have been major changes in the key leadership positions in a very short span of time.

Last month, Arora was elevated as Co-Chairman and CEO of 82.5. Previously, he was serving as President of Ogilvy North. Arora took over the role from VS Srikanth, the current CEO of the agency.

Arora, along with Sumanto Chattopadhyay, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer, 82.5 Communications, will lead and grow the agency business in India. The only significant addition at this stage the agency is looking to make in a month’s time is a national lead at strategy.

Chattopadhyay and Srikanth, by the way, have done most of the heavy lifting in the first six months to actually get the venture off the ground. Srikanth leaves the agency this month and then will concentrate entirely on his new independent venture outside of the communications industry.

“There is a time and role for everyone. One person may be better at launching something, while another may be better at putting it into orbit. The Ogilvy Group management and Chattopadhyay’s faith in taking me on as a partner to lead this phase of the journey is also a commitment to 82.5 and clients. I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to build culture across three Ogilvy offices these past 18 years. Now is the time to use all of that learning to mould and grow another successful Indian agency of today,” says Arora.

In an exclusive interview to BestMediaInfo.com, Arora and Chattopadhyay talks about trends that will shape the future of the Indian advertising industry and the challenges that the industry is facing today.

Excerpts:

What does the future hold for 82.5 Communications after VS Srikanth moves on? What will the management structure be?

Arora: Our core leadership team across the country includes Vijay Surve in finance, Samrat Bedi, Anurag Khandelwal and Mayur Varma in Mumbai, Naveen Raman, Mukund Sharma and C Ravikumar in Bengaluru, Chandana Agarwal and Ranadeep Dasgupta in Delhi and Sharmista Dev and Saurav Ghosh in Kolkata. That’s 260 + years of proven communications experience being brought to the table. In addition to these leaders, we’ll also be announcing the appointment of a national lead of strategy in the coming weeks. It is a tightly knit team, with immense experience, talent and energy. I am not a crystal ball gazer, but what I do know is that we have a winning hand in the talent here. So you’ll certainly be hearing much more of our work and us in the coming days.

At the time of launch, the senior leadership said that the agency won’t say ‘No’ to any brief just because of a specialisation the shop might not have in-house, and that the gaps can be plugged by bringing on-board partners from anywhere across disciplines. But has the market actually accepted this new age structure?

Arora: Clients are interested in partners who can co-own their problems and orchestrate solutions for them. We aim to be those partners to our clients. I’d like to refer to ourselves as expert orchestrators with a unique ecosystem of partners within WPP and outside it. I’ve led teams that have won the WPP Global Partnership in practice award thrice in the past, so I know a thing or two about collaboration. Also, given our modular structure, we find integration to be much easier than most others. We’ve already started to see some of this work, but it will take a little more time to become a way of working.

We are probably the smallest full service Indian communications partner a client can go to in the market today. Full service because even as an open platform model we have the advantage of access to the power of the WPP network, in addition to an organic network of partners that we have cultivated.

Sumanto, you had mentioned in an interview with BestMediaInfo.com last year that Indian ad agencies were not future-ready as they were not adapting themselves to the new realities. And that one has to have the courage to reimagine and reinvent ourselves in a deeper way. How do you see that coming across at 82.5 Communications?

Chattopadhyay: The starting point for us was that we should not say no to any brief because we lack the specialisation to take it forward. We also believed that instead of developing all the silos in-house, we should tie up with relevant partners and deliver a seamless solution to our clients. We have put many of these tie-ups in place. We have leveraged some of them. As and when, our present or future clients give us new-age opportunities, we will bring more partners into play.

I had also set myself a personal goal of becoming more ‘new-age’. To that end, I started The English Nut, along with the 82.5 team, in January this year. This social media property is a tongue-in-cheek take on the nuances of the English language. Its following has grown quickly and it recently picked up a gold award for us at the ScreenXX Awards.

The English Nut has given us a hands-on nuts-and-bolts understanding of the world of social media communication. It is invaluable experience for digital non-natives such as me.

Can you quote a few examples of some the great works/award-winning creatives that the agency has produced in the past six months?

Chattopadhyay: It isn’t often that a product innovation suggested by an agency sees the light of day. So, we’re proud of the fact that the scented banian we proposed to our client Lux Industries has made it to market. In a hot country like India, where air-conditioning and deodorants are far from universal, a vest that manages odour is a good idea. This is an example of the new kind of thinking we were talking about. Our biggest award-winner in the past months has been the Bisleri ‘Camels’ campaign.

In terms of monetisation, how has been 82.5 doing? How much business the agency has been able to make?

Arora: We’re doing very well. They are a handsome mix of local and national entities, with an enviable set of brands. And we’re itching to share more pieces of good news with you in the near future as well. Having said that, we have a greater appetite for growth and will clearly be aiming to better our own benchmarks continuously.

How much has economic slowdown affected the business? And going forward, what is the growth strategy you plan to adopt?

Arora: I think it is important to not use a single brush stroke when analysing the current market situation. Just as some sectors have been severely affected by lack of consumer spending today, there are others where growth is still robust. And then there are those where spending is restricted due to extraneous factors.

So, is it a difficult time? Yes. But is it all doom and gloom? No.

In fact, a slowdown should mean greater opportunity, because it brings with it more problems for us to solve for our clients. And we love problems.

What major trends you are seeing will shape the future of the Indian advertising industry? And what are the challenges that the industry is facing?

Chattopadhyay: One of the trends we have noticed is the rise of user-generated content platforms such as TikTok. Earlier, it was believed that Indians are passive users of social media, not going beyond likes or, at best, comments. What role can an ad agency play in this scenario?

The biggest challenge the industry faces is the accelerated rate of change. Today it is TikTok, tomorrow it is multilingual chatbots. Day after, who knows? The nimbleness to continually adapt is the key to surviving and thriving in this environment.

Arora: Honestly, that question deserves a listicle by itself! But there are enough and more trends and predictions about our industry out there and I wouldn’t want to attempt another way of saying the exact same things.

Every day, we hear of what’s wrong with the industry and what’s ailing it. I’d rather suggest we focus on what makes it such an exciting time to be in the business. Look around you. Everyone is getting comfortable with change. More people, processes, structures are unlearning to learn. New talent is elbowing its way into contention. New contexts are defining new thinking and solutions. And in finding a balance between performance and brand building, there is a crying demand for brand stewardship all over again. It is up to us as an industry, to step up our game and claim our place at the right end of the table.

What key challenges the agency faces today? Is there anything that holds you back?

Arora: I think the key challenge has been building a coherent culture internally and a consistent image externally, given the name changes we’ve had in the past. But we have got our foundation right. All that remained was activating the right levers to greater growth. And that has begun. Within the last month alone, for example, we’ve closed three large businesses, which we will be ready to announce soon.

Info@BestMediaInfo.com

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