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Complete automation backed by data differentiates Wavemaker from others, says CEO Ajay Gupte

In a conversation with BestMediaInfo.com, the South Asia CEO for Wavemaker says the year 2020 has been good for the agency in terms of business wins, despite the economic slump. He shares his vision for the agency and the learnings from the pandemic

Taking over a leadership role and navigating the agency’s business right when the world was facing an unprecedented crisis could have anyone given sleepless nights. But newly appointed Wavemaker CEO Ajay Gupte took it as a new learning.

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Talking to BestMediaInfo.com, Gupte said it was an ‘oh my god’ kind of situation for him as he had to drive Wavemaker into a new direction.

In the challenge, he saw a great opportunity. “What I would have possibly done in two years, I managed to do in six months,” he said.

While agencies were struggling for businesses and clients weren’t willing to pay, Gupte managed to secure business worth more than Rs 700 crore in the last seven months.

“It has been good, However, the merger of agencies that we were implementing was quite challenging, But we still manage to pass through that,” he said.

Gupte said a long list of things set Wavemaker apart from other agencies and that was the reason the agency stood tall during this unprecedented crisis.

Excerpts:

While you just began to settle in your new role, India underwent nationwide lockdown. How challenging was it to tackle a crisis situation amidst lockdown in terms of managing employees, clients and business? Can you share some of your learnings?

When I started off, I said to myself “Oh my God”, what has happened. But, now when I look at it and retrospect, I think I have achieved a lot more than what I would have achieved in a normal year. I used to travel on Sunday nights, and work in Mumbai for 3-4 days either go to Bangalore or go back to Delhi on Friday and that was how it was. Connecting people and clients is easier today. What I’m saying is what I would have possibly done in two years, I managed in six months. What turned out in the beginning as Oh My God, I think we have managed to make most of it.

There have been challenges. It has been a difficult time and for a lot of people. I think the human touch has been missing; the corridor coffee has been missing. I would walk up to someone and have coffee, which I have not been able to do in six months. I think that kind of personal touch has definitely been a challenge. It has been difficult because of non-stop calls, and our people have had a tough time, but I am grateful for them having stuck to the task and helped us through 2020.

An office has its benefits which are very important in our business; we are a people’s business. We like to connect with people on a personal level, on one-on-one basis. In that sense, it has been difficult. Personally, I am much better because the travel is a lot less, and I am happier but I would definitely like to be in an office. I think the future would be very different now.

Wavemaker is celebrating its third anniversary. How has the agency’s journey been so far? What have been the most challenging aspects of running the business and also what has been the agency’s most significant achievement in three years?

I was in Indonesia with MEC for six years before it merged into Maxus. I have deep regard and love for both the agencies. For me, it was beautiful because I got to do the merger. When I bought them together in Indonesia, the challenges were similar to that of India. The biggest challenge was to bring the cultures together and create a new culture, creating a Wavemaker culture.

The second thing was people’s aspiration fears because you have two people doing the same role, how do you get them together? That was the two big challenges we faced as a company.

We were lucky in a few ways. One is the tools we used in Maxus and MEC were very similar. Over the last three years, we have been training our people on those tools and implementing these for our clients, sharpening them further. Today, we are in a position where we have implemented most of whatever we had together for most of our clients.

The second is “Momentum”, which is the study of our consumer purchase, which is done across the world. It’s a very powerful tool that we use for our clients. Then there is the automation that we put in place for importing and implementing our campaigns. Automation allows us to spend a lot more time with clients and brands.

So these are the three key areas where we have invested and we have now reached the stage where we are comfortable with each of these. I see a nice bright future for all of us.

Was merging the two companies more of a challenge than running a company during the pandemic?

The merger was a little more difficult because there was half the population you didn’t know about. There were half the clients you did not know. You need to build relationships, you need to get everyone together quickly; you can’t take time because you will lose people and clients. That to me was a very different challenge.

Despite such a challenging year, there have been several management changes at Wavemaker India in 2020. How did the teams at the agency and clients adapt to these many changes at the management level?

One of the three key elements for me is culture or is the way a person is. Whether he fits in the Wavemaker culture is extremely important for me. There is a lot of honesty, truthfulness, genuineness. Therefore, when a group of like-minded people come together, it's that much easier to make things work.

From a client's perspective, they look for value and a strong contribution which our people are delivering.

Wavemaker won several accounts like Sun Pharma, Chumbak, E-commerce mandate of Mondelez India, Supr Daily this year. Has the pandemic impacted the account size and the stiff competition you had to face to win of these accounts? These days, everyone is ready to work for less.

We won Rs 700 crore plus of business in these seven months. This is possibly the size of a decent-sized agency, in some cases, in some markets. We are very happy with what we've achieved, it was not easy. We were able to demonstrate the capabilities we have very well. There is a point beyond which dropping price looks senseless, even to the client. We've been able to demonstrate successfully that there is a product difference. I think clients have bought into that, and therefore we've been able to win or retain. This Rs 700 crore does not include the few more wins that we are likely to announce very soon; there is an embargo. So it has been a very good year in that sense.

What makes Wavemaker stand apart when compared to other agencies?

Complete automation capable of doing entire analysis with minimal intervention and minimal human error. That to me is automation. In India, we have made huge investments and created wonderful tools which have automated real effects. So there is a difference in calling something automation and actually doing it.

Second is when you talk about the consumer journey, “Momentum” was done across 150 categories in 150 plus countries. Each research has cost us a lot of money, we've invested behind it and this research is available to media planners sitting in Bombay across hundred 150 countries.

The third part of it is which medium will help you improve, that's the best part. Our tools tell you that investment in which medium will help you deliver a better share of mind. Now, this is a fantastic advantage that any client can get.

Now, all of this is backed by data, it's a tool, it's a software, it's available on the system for the media planner to use, and the beauty of it is that we've trained each and every one across the world to use it. So I think that is a major difference.

Wavemaker is known for its expertise on the content marketing front. How do you see the content marketing space shaping up in India? How ready are the clients to give content a larger role in their marketing plan? How do you see the road ahead for content in India?

Content is a brilliant way to engage with the consumer. It has become extremely important in these times, and clients have seen the benefit of it during Covid. Our engagement with clients on content creation has at least grown four times in this period. And once clients have actually seen the benefit of using influencers, using content, creating content, and engaging with consumers using this, there is a very bright future for it. I think more and more clients will access this. We really made massive investments, not only in the team but also in some processes like we've got a team called thrive, which is all about influencer management, starting with who is the right influencer right up to measuring whether they're delivering what they are committing is an entire, the entire turnkey, end-to-end solution that has been offered. So I do believe there's a bright future for content and that's what we've been investing in.

Info@BestMediaInfo.com

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