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In-depth: What do creative agencies need to stay relevant in 2023

Leaders from the advertising industry spoke to about how the definition and functions of creative agencies have changed in 2022 and about their expectations from 2023

2022 saw a seamless integration of tech and innovation and this is why creative agencies will have to level up and act as business partners rather than just remain creative partners for their clients, as per industry leaders.

According to leaders, clients today don’t want to work with different agencies for different things but are looking for integrated solutions more than ever.

Sanjeev Jasani

According to Sanjeev Jasani, COO of Cheil India, in 2022 the mature clients pushed them to extract more value from the agency by adopting a data-driven marketing approach. “With these clients, the role of the agency got elevated and shifted from a communication partner to that of a business partner. We worked together embracing data, tech and content to build unique experiences for the consumer. This even helped us grow and build unique capabilities within the agency,” he said. 

Mithila Saraf

Mithila Saraf, CEO, Famous Innovations, said that we are now entering the era of deeper, more meaningful, high-value and selective relationships. She said, “Because of the rise of in-house creative teams, the fragmentation of our ecosystem (content creators, influencers, production houses, and OTT platforms are all competing for the ad agency's job) and the democratisation of creative capabilities, agencies can only stand apart based on their expertise on a brand, a category and a consumer.” 

“This kind of expertise however isn't possible if you are working with 50 brands at one time. Agencies will have to stop being machines and start acting as true partners, taking accountability for the client's business. That's our vision for 2023 as Famous and we already see the trend strongly underway in the industry,” added Saraf. 

Learnings and business of 2022 

According to leaders, 2022 has been a successful year as brands bounced back with spends after two muted years. 

“2022 was an exciting and rewarding year for us. We saw exponential growth in our content, tech and eCommerce businesses within the organisation. We saw big brands approach us and we found ourselves invited to large pitches. Till 5 years ago this was a distant dream. However, we worked tirelessly in building capabilities and let our work speak for itself. This has worked for us as we have understood clients want real work that can impact their business. They want a partner who gets their business, who puts skin in the game and covers all the bases for them. Our attempt is to do just that,” said Jasani. 

Saraf stated that 2022 was the best year for them as an agency, “2022 came in with the correction we were hoping for. We have recently bagged 5 new brands (which will be announced soon), our team size is larger than ever before and we saw our best-ever performance at GoaFest Abby's and Agency of the Year Awards this year. We are hoping to close FY '23 with 50-75% growth - not just over 2020 and 2021, but even over our 2019 numbers and more than 50% of this business now comes from digital or integrated mandates,” she added. 

She further said the second half of 2022 hit them like a hurricane, with brands, people and partners returning to the game with renewed vigour, not just at pre-Covid levels but far beyond. 

“Everyone was hungry for the fun, fame and fortune we'd had to let go of for the last 2 years and we realised that our worst fears were in the past. The learning from this was that, no matter how tough times get, if you stick to your values, you will prevail. Here we are, sitting on the other side of 2 of the scariest years we as businesses and people have ever faced. We've seen agencies get wiped out, people lose their jobs, brands shutting down and categories changing for good during this period. But we've also seen people do some of their best work, forge the strongest imaginable relationships and realise dreams they'd never thought they would during this period.” 

“We as an agency used this time to reconnect with what we value the most - our work. Our commitment to good work that builds brands has only increased in the last year, with which also comes a commitment to say no to any kind of mediocrity - no matter how much it pays. We're eager to enter 2023 with this resolution and use the rush of this post-Covid momentum to take our work to the next level,” she added. 

Mukund Olety

On the other hand, Mukund Olety, CCO, VMLY&R, said, 2022 was fantastic as they were on a creative high and put themselves on the map globally. They also got three entities VMLY&R, VMLY&R Commerce and The Glitch together this year. 

“Each of these entities comes with in-depth expertise and has enabled us to deliver to our clients the complete loop of BX and CX with Commerce at the centre. This was also the year of experimentation for us. We experimented with Re-generative AI, built stuff using the Unreal Engine, and tested projects in the Metaverse,” he added. 

Amit Wadhwa

Amit Wadhwa, CEO of Dentsu Creative India, said 2022 showed the industry that we are still figuring out digital. “There is so much more to digital compared to other mediums which are much simpler. There are so many components to digital, like social media, AI, UI, OTT, and E-commerce that the industry is still figuring it out. 

“In 2022, creativity took the front seat, when we went to Cannes this year we saw it’s just not about hard copies now, the tech matters, cinematography matters, and the digital experience matters. The way creativity is expressed is very different now. People are experiencing creativity in several different ways. Technology has made creativity so engrossing that the audience feels a part of the experience. Technology is aiding creativity.” 

Expectations from 2023 

As per Jasani, it will be imperative to embrace Data, Technology and Content. He said brands will look to optimise their spending as they shift to a data-driven marketing approach. Additionally, they will focus on building great consumer experiences, where Tech and data will play a pivotal role. Brands will also look for new ways to sell to the consumer. He also said that live commerce and social commerce will take off in a big way. In short, the future looks exciting but yet, very tough. “Needless to say there will always be a space for good creative ideas, however, we feel you will need a bit more than that to win the race for the consumer's wallet.” 

However, Olety said the year will be challenging with uncertainty. “But that also means we will need to innovate, think beyond the usual and find new ways to grow. We will need to be nimble and help our clients navigate these uncertainties.”

Citing similar views, Wadhwa said the expectation is for 2023 to be fantastic, but there is a global slowdown. He said it’s not business as usual, and hence there is a slight scepticism about what will happen. 

“However, the expectation from India is that it will do considerably well and grow much more compared to the rest of the world. However, we have to bear in mind that we are not isolated from the world. Creatively there are a lot of expectations from India, given our performance at Cannes,” he added.

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