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Corruption is absolutely a no-no for any of the businesses, says Shams Jasani of Wunderman Thompson

Shamsuddin Jasani, CEO, Wunderman Thompson, South Asia, in an interview with talks about his ambitious plans for the business, his plans for the digital set-up and how he will be dealing with issues like corruption and more

Shams Jasani

“There is no reason why we should say that we need to live with it or it’s a part of the business. No, it’s not,” said Shamsuddin Jasani, CEO Wunderman Thompson, South Asia, on corruption.

In an interview with, Jasani said, “We need to make sure that the right kind of systems are set up so that these things don’t happen and I think it’s possible to completely do away with it.”

Jasani also stated that, as per him, it’s the responsibility of top management to stop any kind of malpractices within the agency business.

He says, “There’s a continuous process and it needs to come from top to bottom saying what is going to be important. We need to continuously work with people. This is what is critical, this is how we need to operate and these are the Dos and DONTs. This is very important that things like corruption do not take place.”

Further speaking about his plans and targets for the business, Jasani says that he is aiming to achieve 2x growth in three years’ time.


From running a digital agency to now a creative agency. How different and challenging is the role at Wunderman in comparison to Dentsu?

First of all, I think taking a legacy brand is a big challenge. Wunderman Thompson is pretty much the oldest and the most respected agency in India. It's almost 9-decades old. So, the challenge is very different because Dentsu was a relatively young entrant versus where Wunderman Thompson is.

The challenge is really making sure that people understand the importance of what our history has been as Wunderman Thompson as JWT, as HTA and realize what they’re a part of. I think getting back to the surface is one big thing that is there and of course, then building this newer part of the business that is my vision and that’s where the challenge arises.

Scale is not a challenge. Wunderman Thompson is a very scale agency and Dentsu comparatively was scaling up as things were going. So, I think that’s the difference coming from a person who was digital all in and out for pretty much the entire career to now joining a creative agency.

It’s extremely exciting where Wunderman Thompson globally is going. So, I am happy because there is a meeting of minds between what I thought and what Wunderman Thompson wanted us to make.

Last year, we heard about several cases of corruption and malpractice at a few agencies. How can the leaders at agencies ensure that it doesn’t happen at all? Is there even a way to stop it or is it way too deeply embedded in the way agencies function?

I think it’s more important to sensitise people in terms of what’s important. There’s a continuous process and it needs to come from top down saying what is going to be important. We need to continuously work with people and talk about this is what is critical, this is how we need to operate and these are the Dos and Don’ts. And this is something that is very important that corruption does not take place. Corruption is absolutely a big no-go in any of the businesses that are there. And we need to make sure that the right kind of systems are set-up so that these things don’t happen and I think it’s possible to completely do away with it. There is no reason why we should say that we need to live with it or it’s a part of the business. No, it’s not.

With you joining Wunderman, does it also mean the agency will be further getting aggressive on the digital front?

Yes! And No! and I’ll tell you why, because I have this big problem with everyone saying Digital. I mean what is digital? I think digital has become so mainstream now that you need to be media agnostic as an agency. We’re a creative agency. We need to give solutions to clients which will be able to make sure that we’re reaching out to the consumers and interacting with the consumers in the right environment and in the right way. And then each medium has a role to play here.

So, if digital is going to be the best medium, absolutely. We’re going to make sure that digital plays big. But yes, my perspective – Yes, we will up the amp as far as digital goes but we’ll also make sure that our history as a great brand experience agency and a great creative agency gets stronger. We’re always going to be a creative agency at heart.

Digital will become a big part of what we are. Not only digital and comms, that we’re talking about communication business, but the rest of it, evolution into the consumer experience, powered by technology and commerce – I think those are two big pillars that we are making sure that it’s not just talking but also delivering to the client's needs.

We have Mirum, which is a part of our group and an amazing Martech company. We’ve got Wunderman Thompson commerce, which is 500 people based in Delhi, which does global work for commerce for Wunderman Thompsons across the world. So, yes, we’ll be building on top of that a new age, a new world that clients require us for.

You specifically mentioned Mirum and Wunderman Thompson Commerce. Is something big already in the pipeline?

Yes! The two big announcements are going to be around Wunderman Thompson commerce and on Martech. These are two big plans in the pipeline. So, when we talk about brand experience, of course, we are going to tell great stories on all mediums. Make sure that we’re getting newer people into the system to arm our digital centre, but at the same time upskilling teams to be able to be digitally ahead of the race.

But the other two businesses that we really are going to focus on are Martech and making sure that there is a larger integration with Mirum, which is a part of the Wunderman Thompson Group. And make sure that there is a better integration between those two teams.

And Wunderman Thompson Commerce, what is coming up is something in health that you will hear in the next two weeks. We will be launching something in the healthcare space which has a very big digital element to it. Unlike a lot of the competition that exists, we do have a lot of firsts which you will see.

You will see the launch of a new product from our side which will use digital quite a bit and advance a lot of health needs.

After two years of pandemic, everyone has started to believe that we have to live with it. With this thought, what is your strategy to drive growth?

The first six months of the year are going to be to make sure that we do great work across all mediums be it digital, be it mainlined and being on top of the game as far as creativity goes.

That means also I’m going to talk about awards, making sure that we do such great work that we’re going to win awards across mediums. Whether it’s interactive, digital or television, it’s about doing great work and being recognised for it.

Then it’s about our evolution into the consumer experience. So, from the beginning of 2022 to the end of 2022 the focus will be on how do we upskill ourselves and how do we talk about user experience and we talk about how at every point in the consumer journey including post-purchase journey, how are we working with clients to be able to deliver solutions where they can enhance the consumer experience.

Commerce is going to drive a lot of growth that is there. You’ve seen the last two years that the pandemic has made sure that commerce is driven and e-commerce is really driving a lot of the agenda forward. So, I think e-commerce is going to be a big part of it.

And finally, all this will be on a layer of technology and through the marketing technologies, and the Martech stack that we have. I think we’re going to work with clients to be able to drive more and more automation in marketing technology so that they can gain more and more out of it. So, I think that is a roundup of what I feel this year is going to be like and what parts of the business and of course as I said, health is going to be a critical focus as well. 

Are you chasing any predefined targets in terms of revenue or growth? What will be your strategy to achieve those targets?

It’s a three-year goal that we have. We have set a target of doubling our size in terms of revenues in the next three years and with the scale that we have, it’s quite a big challenge that we’ve put ourselves to. But I think the newer parts of the business, and with our focus on brilliant creatives and working on an integration of digital and traditional I think we’ll be able to deliver that kind of a scale but yes, that’s the target, of 2x growth in three years.

One way to grow business and revenue is through strategic acquisitions. Would you also be looking into acquiring smaller agencies/companies?

Not exactly agencies, I think we’re very clear in terms of what we want to acquire and which spaces we want to acquire. So, as a part of the 2x growth that we want to achieve, we will be acquiring agencies within the data, commerce, UI-UX, technology, consumer experience kind of domains.

These are the domains where the focus is more in terms of growing that because from a creative agency’s perspective we are already scaled. I don’t think we need to acquire that space. The spaces will be more strategic acquisitions that we will look at. The newer parts of the business that we look at, anything that drives and fuels growth tomorrow which we see setting up which is complementary to things that we have is going to be the acquisitions that we’ll be doing.

 Would you like to tell us about a few account wins this year? Also, what are the categories you’ll be focusing on?

There have been quite a few account wins and each one of them is valuable for us. Though we have a long list of account wins. To name a few, I would like to quote Vedanta, Dell, Shell India, Tata, Birla Estates, L&T Realty, Century LED. And we’ve also got Britannia’s digital business, HSBC’s digital business recently. And there’s a list of clients who have been with us for decades.

Now, I think we are also, with digital as I said, a big part of where we want to push, it’s very heartening to know that this is the new part of the business that we are harbouring. The categories where we’ll be focusing on, for 2022, its Health.  

There will be a new-age economy business that is going to be there. By new age economy, I mean fintech. There are crypto currencies, foodtech and all of the new age businesses are going to get a big focus as well as the traditional businesses.

You were talking about getting aggressive about awards this year. Please tell us more about your plans.

We will be aggressive but choosy. We’re Wunderman Thompson, so we make sure that we participate in award shows that also reflect the brand that we are. It’s going to be a mix, but yes, we’ll be aggressive about awards.

In this role, where you will be looking after the entire South Asia for Wunderman Thompson, do you have any specific plans for India?

India is going to be the driver of South Asia. How much ever we talk about the rest of it, India fuels all the regions in South Asia. India is going to be the first mover. A lot of the innovations, a lot of the technology is going to be based out of India which the other countries can kind of dip into.

From a brand perspective, in Nepal and Sri Lanka, of course, you have. But as far as the newer parts of the business goes, technology goes, innovation goes, digital goes, India is going to lead the way and the other countries are going to look at India to fuel their growth. That’s the role that India will play for the entire region. And why only in South Asia, we have the talent to be able to be the best, not only in India but Asia and then the world. The world is an oyster. Why not look at that.

There’s a lot of buzz around Metaverse and NFTs. What do you think? Is it really that big?

Different parts of the world are moving at different speeds and I would say India will move there at some point in time in the next year. I would say, yes people are experiencing the metaverse space right now, but it requires a lot of technological push. People are getting used to it and I think the youth of India are of course going to be the major drivers of the Metaverse because they live a lot of their lives on Instagram or in the virtual world.

I think that’ll move slowly to the metaverse where you will have an entire life which is digitally based. And of course, that entire digital life will be based on commerce and on technologies which are going to be driven by crypto currencies and NFTs. So, it’s this completely digital world where the currency will also be driven by digital and hence by blockchain and things like that. So, a lot of people will be living a lot of their lives in that space but the majority of their time.

I’ll give you an example. A typically heavy user spends 8 hours on their mobile phones every day. Now imagine, 10 years from now, when my kids are 16-17 years old, they’ll spend more time in the metaverse space, meeting each other. Because you don’t know where they’ll be in the world. It’ll also bring people together a lot. So, I think it is a part of it. Where people will go and hence how do brands then become relevant in that space. How do you create an experience on this completely digital medium where there is no physical element involved at all.

So how do brands create an experience, how do they interact with consumers, in a space where there is no physical involvement at all. It’s all Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. And how can you take advantage of that and become relevant and create experiences for consumers I think that’s going to be relevant for the brands side.

How prepared is Wunderman to help brands navigate through the Metaverse world and the NFT craze?

We’re working hard. Everyone is kind of exploring the possibilities. I wouldn’t say anyone is 100% ready but they’re all exploring and I think the next 6-8 months will be about evangelising the metaverse. It’ll be about understanding much more, it’ll be some win, some losses, things that are going to happen. It’s all about experimenting right now. We’re all experimenting with the metaverse. But I think it’s important to get in early so that you have first-mover advantage. Whether you’re a brand or you’re an agency.

And yes, the idea should be that it’s in the experimental stage, so you shouldn’t be scared of taking risks and getting in and maybe not succeeding in the first place. But yea, I think that's how we need to go about it.

Are you currently working on anything in the Metaverse Universe for any of your clients?

We’ve had three clients with which we’ve had initial discussions on metaverse and all the clients are very kicked about it. Hopefully you should see rolling out of the campaigns very soon.

That was about Metaverse. But are you equally involved into NFTs as well?

NFTs I think is going to take a little more time for brands. We need to create certain assets for brands in the NFT space which are going to be very unique to them. We haven’t reached that discussion but I think Metaverse is going to be quicker for us in terms of getting in.

However, if there is any requirement, we would welcome that. So, when we talk about from brand experience to customer experience and there’s a customer in the metaverse space who wants to experience something, whether that’s buying an NFT or experiencing anything, every experience is something that we need to come up with and give a solution.

How can we become that partner for the client is where the vision goes. Whether that’s in the physical space or whether it’s the digital space, or metaverse, that’s something that we need to help create experiences for clients and consumers.

According to you, what are the marketing trends that will dominate in 2022? Also, what are the challenges associated with them?

It’s an ever-evolving landscape and the biggest thing is being at the right place at the right time. The trends that I feel would dominate are -

'How do we get a seamless kind of interaction between what’s happening on TV and what’s happening on digital. So, how do we treat that as one? We’re not talking about TV or digital. We’re talking about video. And we need to have a video kind of a strategy. So, when we talk about creating great campaigns for clients, we need to be platform agnostic. The approach has to be where we think of a video first approach.

How can you use platforms to define what you want to do? There are several platforms and how is creative helping you to utilise not just what message you want to talk about, but also how do you utilise the platform itself and the inherent strengths of the platform to improve interactivity with the consumers. With TV its standardised but with digital, every platform has its own strengths.

 Non-programmatic advertising – Media agencies have been able to do that, creative agencies need to start doing that. I think programmatic advertising has come to its age. But as media agencies have been able to utilise that better how do we create micro-segments and messaging for the micro segments that becomes relevant to them at a large scale.

Content. Because OTTs are becoming so big and so important. How are you evolving your right content strategy that is also going to be a part of what the overall advertising buys and how do you interact.

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