"Schbang, a creative and technology transformation company founded in 2015 with a few hundred employees today has grown to become a team of 1,070 employees. Founded by Harshil Karia, Akshay Gurnani, and Sohil Karia, the agency is on the journey of taking India’s advertising talent and putting it on the global map."
The founding trio spoke to BestMediaInfo.com about the company’s approach to expansion, creativity and talent.
Harshil said the past seven years have been an enriching experience for them as the agency has expanded its offerings across video production, media, SEO, tech and consulting.
In 2022, the agency won some key accounts like Akasa air, H&M, Tata Consumer Products (salt, Sampan, and Tata Q), Tata Neu, Estee Lauder, Dabur, Pepsico, Pidilite Industries, Disney, Marvel Entertainment, Jones Lang Laselle, Finolex Industries, Crompton, Abbott Pharma, and Britannia Industries.
Expectations from 2023
Sharing details about their strategy for 2023, Harshil said that they place themselves as a truly integrated agency and have been appointing the right talent for the same. “We are bringing a lot of strong traditional minds into our set-up. There are a lot of key hires that we have made coming from a traditional background but who have a strong understanding of digital as well. We believe we are better suited to handle a client’s integrated needs.”
“The macroeconomic trends are looking good for India, the latest RBI Index is also looking good, however, the Covid scare is back. So, we will be taking a measured approach. I don’t think we will not be going overtly bullish but will be taking a measured approach to our growth,” he said.
Upon being asked how they view competition in the space at a time when even traditional agencies claim to be integrated, he said, “While our competitors like Wunderman Thompson or Ogilvy are strong with digital creativity, we have a technology-first approach. If you look at the work we do for Tata Communications which won an ITSMA Award - which is a pioneering marketing award, is a testament to the strength that we have in technology. There are many players in the market and clients are looking at all of us.”
On expansion plans
The agency has been in an expansion mode and it recently announced its expansion in the UK and appointed Martin Vinter as the EVP. Vinter comes with almost 20 years of experience and has been across all the major holding companies like Dentsu, WPP and Publicis. Schbang UK has signed five clients as of now and continues to grow.
Karia said they are inspired by the IT sector and companies like TCS, Wipro and Infosys who have pinned India’s tech talent on the global walls.
“In our line of business, we have Havas and Publicis - which are French, WPP and S4 capital - which are British and Omnicom - which is American. There is no dominant Indian player which has taken the amazing talent that rests in this market across the world. We are poising Schbang to be that player,” said he said.
“Around mid-January, we will be announcing a very marquee investor who is investing in Schbang UK. One of the living legends of advertising will be investing with us. We will also be announcing an expansion in mid-February. We are investing in a company in Amsterdam which will give us access to the European and Dutch markets.”
“Towards the end of 2023, our eyes are towards a very strong offering in the Middle East. We think that Indian talent coupled with European talent will be a very strong suit. In 2024, we will probably be eyeing the United States and South East Asian markets. We are doing all this in a step-by-step manner. We also need the right talent to join us and build businesses accordingly,” explained Karia.
Asked about how he views the competition in the digital space with players like LS Digital also bullish on expansion, he said, “Competition is only good because clients will be used to understanding that Indian homegrown agencies can also deliver them great services. In some cases LS will win, in some cases, we will win. Our strategies are slightly different, LS is private equity funded and we are self-funded. It makes a lot of difference in the way operations are structured. So, we will see how it plays out in the next few years. I think in general, it's a very good move for the industry if more Indian players are out there.”
On industry talent
As per Akshay Gurnani, the Co-Founder and CEO of Schbang, the past few years have been challenging in terms of onboarding talent in the space. To solve this issue, the agency has launched an employee upskilling programme called ‘Schbang Academy’. Wherein the employees of the agency can upskill themselves through certified courses and lectures.
“So, we've made a program where our own team members can teach and they get paid for the number of hours of spent teaching, they can conduct sessions and build curriculum for us. We also do sessions outside the Schbang community but the big focus is upskilling our teams internally.”
Sohil, Co-Founder and Head of Business Transformation, said the digital marketing scenario has evolved. He said a digital marketer doesn’t only need to know how to handle social media pages but also how to build customer experiences on owned assets.
“We have been equipping our teams with marketing automation tools to deliver the most seamless experience for our customers. This is keeping the talent excited. We are also giving our teams the liberty and the ownership of owning a budget and having a P&L under them so they also get an understanding of the business side of things,” he added.
The agency has also expanded Schbang Academy to equip the upcoming young talent. The academy has currently been working with 10,000 school students across the country and has been making them job-ready.
“Once these kids have passed Class 10th we bring them into vocational training around design, code and writing and making them more job ready. Our vision is that if we are employing 2,000 people we will empower 20,000 kids. 10x of the number of people we employ at the grassroots bottom level is what really feeds into the industry.”
Digital trends in 2023
Sohil said 2023 will be about offering connected and seamless customer experiences across offline and online channels. He also said that it will be interesting to see traditional agencies equipping themselves to give tough competition in the digital world.
“We have seen a big wave of start-ups coming in the tech space. It will be good to see how traditional companies pivot. That again is why we are strengthening and building our team on. How can we help them migrate from the traditional tech to the newer tech?”
Akshay added that it will take a lot of skills for brands to succeed on platforms like the Metaverse. “There are a couple of brands that use the metaverse internationally. In India unfortunately, we've not seen too many stellar pieces of work coming out.”
“Metaverse being used for launching movie trailers, for small amplification activities and I think that that's typically where a lot of the metaverse uses are currently resting. We as a company are a little bullish on the Web3 space and currently are looking to build a metaverse for Britannia. It all eventually ties down to the value of the consumer's life,” Akshay said.
“However, seeing where we are in India, a lot of education needs to be imparted around these topics,” he added.