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2021 isn't going to be easy, consolidation likely in advertising industry, says Dheeraj Sinha of Leo Burnett

In an interview with BestMediaInfo.com the Managing Director, India, Chief Strategy Officer, South Asia says overall recovery is going to be slow for agencies and only the robust ones will survive

Dheeraj Sinha

The impact of Covid-19 on the revenue of Leo Burnett India has not been more than 6%,” said Dheeraj Sinha, Managing Director, India, Chief Strategy Officer, South Asia, Leo Burnett.

Though 2020 was a very tough year, Leo Burnett managed to win more than 20 new businesses without any client defection.

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According to Sinha, overall recovery is going to be slow for agencies. “We aren’t looking at an easy 2021. It will take a lot to succeed in this tough market. The pressure test is going to kill the weak systems, but the robust ones will survive. My sense is that the need for resilience is not going away anytime soon.”

Sinha said working with Prodigious and Content Factory (specialised production and content agencies under the Publicis Groupe) has helped the agency pivot and create campaigns for the clients in lockdown. “The Power of One model is the need for today’s marketers. It helps us harness multiple expertise in terms of tech, data, media for enhanced client delivery. Something that was critical in these past few months.”

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“If you have to be the agency for the new age, you have to shed the trappings of the legacy agency,” Sinha said.

Excerpts:

How did the pandemic impact the agency's growth? 

From a revenue point of view, our impact has not been more than 6%. The key to this has been the pivot towards new-age solutions for our brands. We continue to focus on creating best-in-class, innovative new-age work, which in turn will fuel growth for the agency.

How has the PO1 model helped Leo Burnett in the unprecedented times, especially in the lockdown? 

The Power of One model is the need for today’s marketers. It helps us harness multiple expertise in terms of tech, data, media for enhanced client delivery. Something that was critical in these past few months. For e.g., working with Prodigious and Content Factory helped us pivot and create campaigns for our clients even in the middle of lockdown.

How were the festive season and IPL for the agency?

The festive season followed by the IPL led to a big upswing for most of our clients. We did some great for clients, which brought them conversations and velocity. Our work for PhonePe: the Karte Jaa, Badhte Jaa campaign with Aamir Khan Alia Bhatt, for PharmEasy:  where we created fun GIFS and stickers for the banter between cricket fans and our work for Acko around 'spot the Acko logo’, are some of the work that stood out during this period.

What is the overall growth that you are expecting in 2021, and what's your strategy to achieve that? 

2021 won’t be an easier year. We are bracing ourselves for a slow recovery of the economy. Our strategy is to give our clients seamless solutions – starting from solid upstream strategy leading all the way to execution of TV, content and digital. Our approach is to focus really hard on the business problems of clients and solve it using the tools that we need. We don’t come to the table thinking digital is a solution or TV is a solution. We are also extremely agile. If you have to be the agency for the new age, you have to shed the trappings of the legacy agency, which we have managed to do successfully in the last few years. Finally, it is all about talent. Our commitment is to bring in the best of talent to the business. We are one of the few agencies with a very strong campus recruitment strategy. We are hiring from IIT, MICA, Ashoka, SIMB and many other reputed institutes. Despite the pandemic, we honoured all our campus offers. Similarly, we have a very robust training and up-gradation roadmap for our present employees. We have direct partnerships with platforms such a Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and others on education and collaboration. Our talent base is new-age ready.

How many pitches did the agency win this year?

We have had zero client attrition this year. This reflects on our ability to deliver to our client needs and our ability to engage them. The agency has won over 20 pitches this year. We have a very strong roster of over 150 clients and all of them are key for us.

The agency launched three specialisations that are in great demand in these times — Leo Burnett Consult, Leo Burnett Design and Leo Burnett Digital. How have these offerings helped the agency and clients in maintaining their respective businesses?

The launch of our specialised divisions has not only helped us provide value-added services to our existing clients but also created an important revenue stream for the agency. We already have several projects running where we are helping clients navigate their brand architecture strategy or launch strategy with LB Consult. We have some highly talented people running Leo Burnett Design, our specialised design and identity offering and already have clients who hired us for our pure design services. Similarly, LB Digital is off to great start with more than 10 clients on its roster for digital AOR. What’s working for LB Digital is the seamlessness between upstream brand thinking, mainline campaigns which segue easily into digital thinking and execution. Our deep expertise and understanding of the platforms led by direct tie-ups with these platforms help us stay ahead of the curve.

Which are the best campaigns of 2020, as per you?

The pandemic was a time when brands needed to communicate with empathy and provide real solutions. Our work for Shaadi.com where we built the platform #WeddingFromHome, where we successfully conducted virtual weddings in the midst of the pandemic, is one such example. With the pandemic forcing many couples to postpone or worst cancel their wedding plans, Leo Burnett and Shaadi.com innovated a whole new way to help couples get married. #WeddingFromHome, a virtual wedding, wherein the entire wedding ceremony and all the celebrations, including mehndi, sangeet and all rituals are conducted virtually, from within the safety of their homes.

Another piece of work was the HDFC Bank #SafetyGrid campaign –in which using the outer grid of the bank's logo, we created physical markers on the ground to help people maintain the WHO-prescribed ‘social’ distance while waiting in the queue at a shop or an establishment. A simple but effective way for the brand to make an actual difference on-ground. Through the pandemic, we worked with our clients to take to the market over 70 pieces of work, which helped them stand up and get counted in these tough times.

What elements will help shape the Indian advertising and marketing industry in 2021?

I think there will be a polarisation in the market. The pandemic is pressure-testing our business models. The weak players will find it really difficult. Look out for some consolidation there. There are two things that will be critical for success. 1. In order to succeed through these times, the agency model needs to be seamless. You can’t just be a mainline agency or a digital agency. You have to be a seamless agency. 2. You need the talent to be high-energy and new-age ready!

How is the agency model evolving and what's its future?

We are entering an era where there will be only two kinds of agency set-ups, those who are ahead of the new-age curve and those who are behind. In order to be ahead of the curve, the agency needs the ability to stitch together solutions that go across mediums, platforms and channels. That’s what we are geared up to do. That’s really the future of the agency model. So yes, you will see the lines blurring and merging.

Many industry leaders have spoken about different shapes of recovery and various new normal. How do you see things unfolding at this stage?

As I said, the recovery is going to be slow. We aren’t looking at an easy 2021. It will take a lot to succeed in this tough market. The pressure test is going to kill the weak systems, but the robust ones will survive. My sense is that the need for resilience is not going away anytime soon.

Info@BestMediaInfo.com

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