Ashish Bhasin Curated

CEO APAC and Chairman India, Dentsu Aegis Netwo...

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This profile has been added by users(CURATED) : Users who follow Ashish Bhasin have come together to curate all possible video, text and audio interview to showcase Ashish Bhasin's journey, experiences, achievements, advice, opinion in one place to inspire upcoming advertising professionalss. All content is sourced via different platforms and have been given due credit.

  • In 2019, the FMCG sector saw a slow down which is the largest contributor towards Advertising Industry. Do you see a decrease in Ad spends from FMCG sector in 2020?

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  • 2019 was a difficult year for Indian economy, due to that do you think the Ad spends will shift towards digital in 2020, primarily because it is cheaper than other traditional mediums?

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  • Despite Digital being the frontrunner in the Ad Industry today, there is no standard measurement system on the ground. What do you have to say about this?

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  • In which segment of Digital do you see the largest Ad spends?

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  • Digital is overpowering Television and Print is going to lose its relevance soon. What do you have to say about this?

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  • According to the report of FY 2020 of Dentsu, Advertising Industry is going to see major changes in this year. What are this major changes?

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  • How optimistic are you about the outlook of this festive season?

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  • What will be the Acquisition protocol for Dentsu India in the coming days?

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  • What to do have to say about the initiative "Ad fellow" by Dentsu? And What should Advertising Industry do to retain their young talents?

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  • You are the first Indian to join Global Executive Board of Dentsu, What does this speak about Dentsu's plan for India?

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  • As CEO APAC of Dentsu Aegis Network, How will this change your work life?

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  • What do you want to say regarding the lockdown due to this COVID-19 crisis?

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  • For you, What are the possibilities that lie beyond what meets the eyes?

    I did not have the resources and opportunity to study in a global institution like Harvard or Oxford. I studied from the best ones in India though. I always wanted to go for advanced learning in such global institutions but never got time or opportunity for it. Maybe one day I may still land up there!

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  • Which is Your biggest leap in making the person that you are today?

    I believe that it does not matter what you do. What matters is that you be the best at whatever tasks you take in your hands. I have always been very competitive by nature. At a very early stage in my career, I realized that I had the ambition to be at the top of the game and decided to be the best in my profession and industry. I am not sure if I will ever achieve that, but it keeps me going. The hunger, desire and ambition have always pushed me to be better every day.

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  • Marvel’s Venom has shown the world that sometimes it takes a little bit of bad to do some good. What is your meaning of embracing your inner evil for a greater good?

    When you are in a leadership position, you have to take some hard decisions that you know may hurt some people and end up making you unpopular. But your instincts know that it is for the larger good. Hence, right decision making is a duty, which no leader can escape.

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  • What is that one superpower that gets you going?

    I think it is hard work and resilience. I think what people do not realize is that advertising is a tough business. You cannot just be good one day, but you have to be at your best and top of your game every day. I have been working for 30+ years with equal enthusiasm and energy. The day you are not hungry for learning more in business, I think that you should hang up your boots.

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  • Which is the one superhero you relate to?

    My Father is my Superhero. I learnt a lot from him. He had the right balance of courage, determination, a sense of achievement and love for his family. The way he balanced the principles and the values he adhered to is something that I have always looked up to. I hope that in a small manner I can emulate some of it.

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  • To avoid getting stuck in the rut, What is your secret sauce to leaping forth into a world of unlimited possibilities?

    Though it’s easier said than done, but maintaining balance is key! If you enjoy your work, you always get the balance right. I hear a lot of people talk about work-life balance, I believe the answer to that question is different for different people. When work is your passion, then the line between work and life balance blurs. You should have a higher goal in life or a mission or something that you are aiming for, which is more than just the ordinary and routine. As long as you have that in mind and you are ambitiously working towards it, there will always be something driving and pushing you.

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  • What is your idea of #EverydayLeaps?

    I just love my work and when that happens, in some ways both work and pleasure become one. This is what keeps me driving towards achieving my goals.

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  • What about your suggestions to agencies on how they can navigate this volatile advertising landscape when a pandemic of this stature affects the industry?

    I think first of all, you have to look after the safety of your people. Nothing is more important than human life. Make sure that all precautions are in place and if any help is required, provide that. Second thing is to focus on your business continuity planning. I mean, look at us, nearly 3500-4000 people, almost overnight had to adopt work from home. It sounds easy but it needs a lot of preparation. From your VPNs, bandwidth licenses, etc, everything should be in place. So Make sure that a robust BCP is in place as a second step. I think the third step is that you've got to communicate more with your teams to establish clarity in this situation of uncertainty. I think the best way to handle it is to be very honest, and very transparent. This is a global medical based emergency which is now becoming a financial emergency , and therefore everybody is going to get impacted. As leaders, we've got to make sure that we dissipate or reduce and mitigate the impact as much as possible particularly for people at junior levels. Last but not the least, you have to give confidence, you have to be optimistic as leaders and as citizens of India. The mid-term and long term future of India is very very bright. And we will emerge stronger from this.

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  • How long should it take for revival to come for Advertising Industry during this pandemic?

    Unfortunately, it’s not going to be short-term. The next two quarters are going to be very bad. I mean, this month of April, of course, is a total lockdown. So therefore it is going to be pretty bad. May also we don't know how it’s going to be, whether it will be fully functional or partly. I think one thing people forget is that once an economy is in a shutdown mode, it’s not a switch that you can switch on and hope that next day, things will be back to normal. So, for example, if a factory is shut, labour has gone to the villages, raw material procurement has stopped, you cannot just switch it on and hope that things will get back to normal. It takes over 3-5 months for the production to start coming back to normalcy and for all the offtake to start happening at a retail level, etc. On the positive side, the good news is that prediction at least is that the monsoon should be normal, and should be on time. We underestimate the importance of monsoons in the Indian economy, though it’s something a large part of people are dependent upon. It accounts for around 20% of the GDP, but the number of people who are employed directly/indirectly or partially employed by or influenced by agriculture, are substantial in India. It plays a very important part not just of the economy but if there is a good harvest, if there is a good crop, then that drives more consumption. So they'll buy more soaps, motorcycles, etc. So if the monsoons are good, then I expect that around the Diwali season, the festive season, things will get better. The earliest you'll see some semblance of normalcy coming in is not going to be before the fourth quarter of the calendar year. And that too will be in phases.

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  • What about global accounts? Are they shifting budgets to lesser impacted countries due to the pandemic?

    It's not like that. Different countries are responding in different ways. By and large, in many cases the general advertising scale and spend of advertising has significantly been reduced across countries. In some ways it makes sense because this is not a time where people are going to be buying cars or washing machines because even if they want to, many parts of the world are in lockdown. And other than essential goods, there isn't too much that's available, or there's not too much of consumption that is happening. So, in general, I think the consumption, therefore the advertising level itself has gone down across mediums and countries. What has also been noticed almost globally is that television and digital are showing an uptick in terms of consumption. But we’re in a strange scenario where a higher consumption of television and digital is happening but there isn’t enough advertising. So the supply and demand mismatch is significant and noticeable.

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  • Tell us a little about the impact of the pandemic on the global ad market. What have other governments done for the ad industry in those geographies that we can take note of?

    Well, of course, different countries have different packages. For example, Singapore has had two sets of relief packages. So there, for example, they gave up to $4600 and 75% abatement on salary for the month of April. So different countries have come up with different packages, but each economy is handling it differently. Almost all governments are trying to help in some way or the other. The Indian government is also working towards putting money into the pockets of the poor, which is the right thing to do at this moment but I think that was phase one. In phase two, it’s important to look at how smaller industries, medium-sized industries, service industries like ours can be supported to get out of these turbulent times. The pandemic has definitely impacted the global advertising in a significant way. China was the first market to be impacted but ironically today China and Taiwan are the only markets in APAC in my company which are working from office and not working from home. Ironically, they are back in business already, albeit still recovering. It's a different degree or a different level of impact for different countries, but most markets have now been impacted, not just in Asia Pacific but significantly in Europe as well as the US. So it's pretty much a global phenomenon. Overall, advertising which was expected to show single-digit growth, I think globally will show negative growth this year.

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  • Should the government give in to recommendations, how much of a relief will it be for the industry during this pandemic?

    We’ve not asked for a relief package as such. It will help the industry tide over some immediate liquidity crisis because people's costs are such an important part of our industry. Our industry is very unique. A significant cost for most agencies, around 60-70 per cent, tends to be people-related. So if there is no liquidity, then you're left with a very bad option of having to cut down on number of people, which is bad for the economy, bad for the people, and for all of us. That is what I'm hoping will be avoided. We have not asked for a revival or relief package or a grant. We have just asked for some sensitivity and kindness to help tide through these very, very difficult times.

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  • We don't want to be in a situation where we have to let go of a large number of people. So if there’s people’s cost but no in-flow, what do you do during this COVID-19 situation?

    So it’s in the government's interest and the economy's interest because advertising spurs the economy, it drives consumption, it drives demand. So if we are given a little bit of encouragement, it will help. If we are able to survive through this period, it will make a substantial difference to the economy.

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  • What key relief measures or recommendations has the AAAI suggested to the government for continuity in the advertising business?

    Amongst the various problems that the industry is going to face, one of the biggest will be that of liquidity. And liquidity is like a chain. If dealers aren't picking up goods then liquidity stops. If customers aren't going to retailers, liquidity stops. Then clients can't pay the agency fees. Liquidity in any economic cycle is like a chain, and therefore, one of the biggest impacts is going to be on liquidity. There are some easy possibilities to at least temporarily ease that out. One of which is that almost all agencies have crores and crores of rupees stuck in TDS with the government because ours is a very unique business model. For example, a media agency makes 2-2.5% margin but the rate of TDS is quite substantial. By the time you get refunds and so on, there is a lot of money which is blocked. This is our own money. So if the government can quickly release that, it will help the industry. So there are suggestions like that. Another suggestion was providing bit more time for the payment of GST. Another fundamental suggestion was that - is advertising an expense or an investment? We feel that it's actually an investment in building your brand and can that be allowed to be amortized over a period of time, or some incentives given to clients. Let's say for every Rs 100 that you spend on advertising, you will be given an abatement of say Rs 200. Therefore, you get a bit of a tax benefit on it. Encouragement like that would definitely help advertising at this stage. The government itself is an advertiser for many agencies and forms a significant part of theIr billings. And it's not just the government, as in the ministries, but there are a lot of PSUs and various government controlled entities, including state ministries who advertise. Crores and crores of rupees have been locked up for a long time and the payment cycle tends to be very long from the government. The government can at least pay up its own dues. That itself will help us in tiding over this crisis. You have to remember that even for agencies, people cost is one of the biggest costs.

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  • Tell us about the kind of impact COVID-19 has had on the ad industry in India? How much of a loss has the pandemic caused?

    The impact, obviously, has been very severe, and it depends upon what part of the business you're in. So for example, if you're in an events business or an outdoor business, the impact has been dramatic, severe and almost catastrophic because the business in that area is down to near zero. There is no part of the advertising, and media business that is not impacted. If you are handling an airline client or some other travel clients, the impact is extremely severe. But almost every part of the business has been substantially hit. The impact doesn't seem to be a short-term event because, for one, the lockdown itself now has been substantially extended. And even after the lockdown, it’s not as if suddenly everything is going to come back to normal. So, I think the impact is substantial and will be there for a reasonable period of time.

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  • What do you wish clients would do?

    Take more risks. In India, clients are relatively conservative. In a dynamic market like ours, we should be experimenting more, taking more risks, and pushing the envelope.

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  • What kind of specialisation/talent is missing in media agencies today?

    Specialised talent is being attracted, but the overall quality of people entering the advertising industry has come down.

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  • In the next 12 months, Where do you see, the solution to the digital ad fraud menace will come from ?

    I don't think digital ad fraud is that big an issue in India. Yes, it's something we need to watch out for, but there are bigger issues to deal with – we don’t even have a standardised way of measuring views; one medium might count a three second watch as a view whereas for another medium it could be ten seconds. If you don't even have standardised measurement, what are you measuring the fraud against?

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  • What consumption trends are you seeing in rural versus urban markets?

    Rural markets are going to be very important because in many categories, urban markets have nearly 100 per cent penetration and have reached a point of saturation. A mega-trend today is the urbanisation of rural markets - with electrification and the availability of internet connections, there’s reason to be bullish. People across tier IV markets are coming out and becoming a consuming class. This is why vernacular communication and localisation of media is so important - a person in Meerut can't get the same message as a person in Mumbai. Also, a good monsoon will spur rural demand, which, in turn, will be good for advertisers and the economy.

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  • From a media spend perspective, which product groups do you suppose will be most affected by the economic slowdown that has crept up on us - and least?

    There is no economic slowdown. That’s a bit of a myth. Sure, there’s been an overall drop in growth rate, but there’s no need to panic. India is still one of the fastest growing markets in the world. When there’s double digit growth in a $10 billion market, it’s not a slowdown. Yes, we are used to seeing 15-20 per cent growth and that's not going to happen this year, because there is general sluggishness in the economy, but it is temporary. Every year, there are some sectors that do well and some that don't. But some sectors are evergreen advertisers, like FMCG and e-commerce.

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  • In the context of media planning/buying, what's the one global practice/trend India will do well to catch up with fast?

    Accountability. Nowadays, clients are interested in performance metrics and ROI. But in India, we don’t even have our key metrics and measures in place. Also, we’re ‘silo-ising’ our customers by thinking of ‘TV only’ or ‘print only’. We tend to see consumers uni-dimensionally. We need to use big data to target consumers more effectively, minimise media wastage, and personalise our advertising.

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  • In 2020, what is that big trend that ought to concern or excite media agencies?

    2020 is going to be a landmark year because it’s the first time we, as an industry, will cross the $10 billion mark. It’s also the first time digital will become bigger than print. In India, we never thought this would happen. For the first time, more than 30 per cent of all digital advertising spends will be on mobile. Voice, video and vernacular are the three thrust areas for Indian advertising. I’m concerned that we’re not attracting and retaining the right kind of talent. The quality of people coming in is worse than the quality of people going out. As agencies, our focus has always been on poaching talent from each other, instead of attracting the right type of talent into the industry in the first place.

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  • What, in your view, was your agency's best campaign of 2019? What about it impressed you?

    Our biggest delight was Dentsu Webchutney’s victory at Cannes Lions. They were way ahead of their competitors – established, old world creative agencies included. To me, that’s a watershed moment because we’ve reached a stage where there’s no distinction between a creative agency, a digital agency and other kinds of agencies. We also swept the awards at Goafest, Kyoorius and others. I’m not referring to just one campaign; the work includes campaigns like Flipkart’s ‘Hagglebot’ and Swiggy’s ‘Voice of Hunger’, that combined creativity and technology.

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  • What is going to be the road ahead for the Advertising Industry after COVID-19 ends?

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  • Someone from opposition party made an statement suggesting that the government advertising should stop immediately during this pandemic. What are your views on this?

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  • What are the steps you suggest for the recovery of the Advertising Industry from this pandemic?

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  • What is the impact of COVID-19 on Advertising Industry?

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  • Any advice for the young people in the industry during this crisis times?

    I think the first thing is to accept the reality. If anyone tells you it's going to be business as usual and life will be back to normal in 15 days or 1 month — either the person doesn’t know the reality or they are lying. So accept the reality that this is a difficult time and this will leave an impact for some time. At the same time, there is absolutely no need to be despondent, for the middle and the long term. India is in the best position possible, our economy will do well and advertising is very responsive to economy, and just how when it's going down, advertising goes down much faster; when it goes up, advertising will go up much faster. Use this time to upgrade yourselves. Look at the amount of courses that are available online today, not just digital courses, but hobby courses too. So use this time to upgrade yourself, it’s a reset opportunity, but be positive because there will be light at end of this tunnel. Advertising and marketing will come out stronger from this than ever before, but be prepared so that you are in for the long haul and the winter is coming so you have to be prepared. The more you prepare yourself and the more positive you remain, the stronger you're going to come out of it.

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  • What are some unthinkable takeaways you will have from this COVID-19 experience ?

    One is, you can be locked down in your house and you can still do work. I've never worked from home ever in my life for a single day. I hardly ever take leaves, unless I go out for a holiday. The fact that you can work from home if forced to is in itself a big learning for me. On the positive side, you get to spend a fair amount of time with your family. And it does give you time to catch up on your reading and for reflection and so on. But strangely I find myself working for longer hours now than during normal times as I handle APAC and the time zones are very different. As leaders, it is our job to be positive. You cannot let your team lose hope because these are very difficult times. And I keep telling them - yes it is very difficult and you must be transparent about it. But there is hope at the end of this tunnel. So one of the pressures you have to put on yourself is that you have to remain positive. Positivity is infectious in the good sense, so your enthusiasm cannot wane. Also, there is a need to over communicate because these are times of anxiety and people are worried – ‘Will I have a job?’ ‘What's going to happen?’ ‘Will my client pay?’ ‘Will businesses fold?’ And these are all genuine concerns. All of us have anxieties at this time and I think the more we talk to each other and the more we support each other, the better it is at times like these.

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  • With work-from-home and social distancing, our television and digital consumption have gone up during this pandemic but advertisers are still shying away from advertising. Do you think this is also the right time for certain brands to engage with people?

    It will depend on whether there is a need to advertise. If your production is shut, if your outlet is shut, if there is no need for goods, other than essential ones, which is true for almost every industry, what are you going to advertise for? The other big concern is, everybody is running a business, and the biggest problem right now is going to be liquidity, everybody is going to conserve cash. Will you pay wages first, or will you want to spend on advertising first? Unfortunately, advertising is one of the easiest expenditures to cut down. It is right that from an efficiency perspective this is probably a great time to be buying media because television viewership has gone up, digital consumption has gone up, gaming is a great opportunity because gaming is just going through the roof, and we saw this throughout Asia Pacific at times like these. For some FMCG brands and cleaning products, this is a great opportunity because their products may still be selling but at some stage even they will want to conserve cash because it's still life as normal for anybody. The one thing you must remember is that this is very unique. So in my 32 years of working life, I've gone through 4 slowdowns/recessions. During the 2008 recession, most countries were hit - some more, some less. India was relatively sheltered because we weren't that globally aligned. But this is different. This is a medical emergency, the whole world has been hit and the impact is as severe as a total lockdown. This is unprecedented. It's the kind of stuff your parents or grandparents told you about. Like the days of war or Partition when people were looking for food and survival was an issue and so on. So this is unprecedented. I don't think any managers of this generation, or maybe even one or two generations before have had the experience to rely upon to see how this will be tackled and therefore anyone who is trying to take this as business as usual is making a big mistake.

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  • Have you started making recovery plans for your clients during this COVID-19 crisis?

    It depends on which market. In China and Taiwan yes, in Hong Kong and Sinapore, maybe a little bit, but in markets like India we are behind at the moment, because we are still in the lockdown. So recovery plans are still slightly far away at the moment. I think the most important thing you have to remember, which I keep sharing with my colleagues is that there is a finite period after which the infection will come under control. I don't know whether it will be in a 1, 2 or 3 months but they say with the heat etc, and if the government has gone the lockdown, it will hopefully come under control and let's hope that happens fast. But the mistaken impression that people have, particularly for a market like India which is so complex, is that it’s like a switch, which when put on will brings things back to normal. Because remember factories are shut, labourers have gone back home, the liquidity that keeps the economy greased and working has dried up completely. So even when the medical part of the emergency starts getting more under control, or gets over, the economy is going to take much longer to come back. So the recovery plans are a distance away yet for India. We don't know how bad the medical emergency part of it will be, but I do hope the lockdown won’t get extended beyond what is necessary to flatten the curve. Beyond a point, it will have an impact on the economy that will be very long lasting. If we have a good monsoon - we always underestimate the impact of the monsoon - then we can start looking at recovery at around Diwali time.

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  • You are heading the entire APAC region and are managing many markets affected by this pandemic. Where do you see India in this? How long do you think it will take for India to recover, or are we recovering faster? Or is there something we can learn from other markets?

    We have been experiencing this from around mid-January. Our China offices were the first to go into a lockdown, before the Chinese New Year. We have been living with this in APAC for more than 2 months – in Shanghai, Beijing and Wuhan (where we have an office with about 275-300 people) – so it's not new in that sense. Ironically, today as we speak the only offices that are somewhat functioning are in Beijing and Shanghai, in Wuhan it’s still work from home, but it is quite likely that in a week or so even that will reopen. So that has taken about 2 to 2 1/2 months to come to that. Different countries will react differently. Some like Singapore have tried to keep the basics going but with distancing. Some of these measures were taken in a very controlled way pretty early in the game. Some like Taiwan have managed very well inspite of the fact that there were a lot of cases initially - almost a few hundreds. Thus, this is remarkable. Korea is a great example where it just went out of control for a while but things started levelling out. On the other hand, you're seeing some pretty alarming increases in South East Asia, like in Malaysia. So it is different in different markets. I think in India the next week or so is going to be very crucial because now everyone is doing a Ph.D in ‘WhatsAppology’ and everybody is an expert on flattening the curve and what's the trajectory in Italy and Spain and so on. So from information I have gathered from the experts – and I'm not relying on the ‘WhatsApp experts’ - it will largely depend on the next 7-10 days as to how much of containment we've been able to do and that will determine how badly India has been affected.

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  • In these times of COVID-19 crisis, how should we ensure that our businesses, our agencies, our brands remain relevant, healthy and active?

    I think we have to look at things step wise. Firstly, you have to look at the safety of your staff, all the people you deal with. Nothing is more important than human life and health. After that you have to put in place plans so that business continuity happens to the extent that it is possible. We had a business continuity plan which was well rehearsed, and leant from the fact that our China office went into a lockdown-kind of a scenario much earlier. And the unsung heroes at times like these are actually the IT guys, because you never have enough VPN licences, or enough bandwidth, and they are making sure we are able to operate in a secure environment as much as possible. So, these are the physical preparations that you have to make. I equally believe that in times like these, the best thing is to communicate more than communicating less, particularly as a leader, because there is anxiety among people. There is also a great need to be transparent. When you are in a crisis, there is no sense looking at it through too 'rosy' a picture or too optimistically. But, at the same time there is no need to be excessively pessimistic. You have to accept the reality and share that with your team so that everybody knows what's to come and prepare for it. For example, we know that the next few quarters at least are going to be terrible for us in advertising and particularly for some parts for advertising and it's going to be a long time before things start coming back to normal. So, first accept the facts, then accept that there is going to be light at the end of this tunnel. You've not hit a dead end, the world hasn't come to an end, this is a phase and it too shall pass. Then you have to make sure that you're gearing yourself up. These are times when you have to cut the fat, everybody is under pressure at this moment, but you mustn't cut the muscles because when it bounces back and things come back to normal — and they will come back to normal — you have to ensure that your company is in a good shape to take advantage of it as well. So it's a very fine balance and I would think it is the duty of the leaders to be positive and to communicate a lot with their teams and the teams in turn to communicate with their teams and so on. My daily mantra is while we are practising social distancing, we have to practise more of virtual proximity in times like these.

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  • What about your suggestions to agencies on how they can navigate this volatile advertising landscape when a pandemic of this stature affects the industry?

    I think first of all, you have to look after the safety of your people. Nothing is more important than human life. Make sure that all precautions are in place and if any help is required, provide that. Second thing is to focus on your business continuity planning. I mean, look at us, nearly 3500-4000 people, almost overnight had to adopt work from home. It sounds easy but it needs a lot of preparation. From your VPNs, bandwidth licenses, etc, everything should be in place. So Make sure that a robust BCP is in place as a second step. I think the third step is that you've got to communicate more with your teams to establish clarity in this situation of uncertainty. I think the best way to handle it is to be very honest, and very transparent. This is a global medical based emergency which is now becoming a financial emergency , and therefore everybody is going to get impacted. As leaders, we've got to make sure that we dissipate or reduce and mitigate the impact as much as possible particularly for people at junior levels. Last but not the least, you have to give confidence, you have to be optimistic as leaders and as citizens of India. The mid-term and long term future of India is very very bright. And we will emerge stronger from this.

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  • How long should it take for revival to come after this pandemic?

    Unfortunately, it’s not going to be short-term. The next two quarters are going to be very bad. I mean, this month of April, of course, is a total lockdown. So, therefore, it is going to be pretty bad. May also we don't know how it’s going to be, whether it will be fully functional or partly. I think one thing people forget is that once an economy is in a shutdown mode, it’s not a switch that you can switch on and hope that next day, things will be back to normal. So, for example, if a factory is shut, labour has gone to the villages, raw material procurement has stopped, you cannot just switch it on and hope that things will get back to normal. It takes over 3-5 months for the production to start coming back to normalcy and for all the offtake to start happening at a retail level, etc. On the positive side, the good news is that prediction at least is that the monsoon should be normal, and should be on time. We underestimate the importance of monsoons in the Indian economy, though it’s something a large part of people are dependent upon. It accounts for around 20% of the GDP, but the number of people who are employed directly/indirectly or partially employed by or influenced by agriculture, are substantial in India. It plays a very important part not just of the economy but if there is a good harvest, if there is a good crop, then that drives more consumption. So they'll buy more soaps, motorcycles, etc. So if the monsoons are good, then I expect that around the Diwali season, the festive season, things will get better. The earliest you'll see some semblance of normalcy coming in is not going to be before the fourth quarter of the calendar year. And that too will be in phases.

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  • What about the global accounts of Advertising firms? Are they shifting budgets to lesser impacted countries due to the pandemic?

    It's not like that. Different countries are responding in different ways. By and large, in many cases the general advertising scale and spend of advertising has significantly been reduced across countries. In some ways it makes sense because this is not a time where people are going to be buying cars or washing machines because even if they want to, many parts of the world are in lockdown. And other than essential goods, there isn't too much that's available, or there's not too much of consumption that is happening. So, in general, I think the consumption, therefore the advertising level itself has gone down across mediums and countries. What has also been noticed almost globally is that television and digital are showing an uptick in terms of consumption. But we’re in a strange scenario where a higher consumption of television and digital is happening but there isn’t enough advertising. So the supply and demand mismatch is significant and noticeable.

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  • Tell us a little about the impact of the pandemic on the global ad market. What have other governments done for the ad industry in those geographies that we can take note of?

    Well, of course, different countries have different packages. For example, Singapore has had two sets of relief packages. So there, for example, they gave up to $4600 and 75% abatement on salary for the month of April. So different countries have come up with different packages, but each economy is handling it differently. Almost all governments are trying to help in some way or the other. The Indian government is also working towards putting money into the pockets of the poor, which is the right thing to do at this moment but I think that was phase one. In phase two, it’s important to look at how smaller industries, medium-sized industries, service industries like ours can be supported to get out of these turbulent times. The pandemic has definitely impacted the global advertising in a significant way. China was the first market to be impacted but ironically today China and Taiwan are the only markets in APAC in my company which are working from office and not working from home. Ironically, they are back in business already, albeit still recovering. It's a different degree or a different level of impact for different countries, but most markets have now been impacted, not just in Asia Pacific but significantly in Europe as well as the US. So it's pretty much a global phenomenon. Overall, advertising which was expected to show single-digit growth, I think globally will show negative growth this year.

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  • Should the government give in to recommendations, how much of relief will it be for the industry during this COVID-19 crisis?

    We’ve not asked for a relief package as such. It will help the industry tide over some immediate liquidity crisis because people's costs are such an important part of our industry. Our industry is very unique. A significant cost for most agencies, around 60-70 per cent, tends to be people-related. So if there is no liquidity, then you're left with a very bad option of having to cut down on number of people, which is bad for the economy, bad for the people, and for all of us. That is what I'm hoping will be avoided. We have not asked for a revival or relief package or a grant. We have just asked for some sensitivity and kindness to help tide through these very, very difficult times.

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  • We don't want to be in a situation where we have to let go of a large number of people during this COVID-19 crisis. So if there’s people’s cost but no in-flow, what do you do?

    So it’s in the government's interest and the economy's interest because advertising spurs the economy, it drives consumption, it drives demand. So if we are given a little bit of encouragement, it will help. If we are able to survive through this period, it will make a substantial difference to the economy.

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  • What key relief measures or recommendations has the AAAI suggested to the government for continuity in the advertising business?

    Amongst the various problems that the industry is going to face, one of the biggest will be that of liquidity. And liquidity is like a chain. If dealers aren't picking up goods then liquidity stops. If customers aren't going to retailers, liquidity stops. Then clients can't pay the agency fees. Liquidity in any economic cycle is like a chain, and therefore, one of the biggest impacts is going to be on liquidity. There are some easy possibilities to at least temporarily ease that out. One of which is that almost all agencies have crores and crores of rupees stuck in TDS with the government because ours is a very unique business model. For example, a media agency makes 2-2.5% margin but the rate of TDS is quite substantial. By the time you get refunds and so on, there is a lot of money which is blocked. This is our own money. So if the government can quickly release that, it will help the industry. So there are suggestions like that. Another suggestion was providing bit more time for the payment of GST. Another fundamental suggestion was that - is advertising an expense or an investment? We feel that it's actually an investment in building your brand and can that be allowed to be amortized over a period of time, or some incentives given to clients. Let's say for every Rs 100 that you spend on advertising, you will be given an abatement of say Rs 200. Therefore, you get a bit of a tax benefit on it. Encouragement like that would definitely help advertising at this stage. The government itself is an advertiser for many agencies and forms a significant part of theIr billings. And it's not just the government, as in the ministries, but there are a lot of PSUs and various government-controlled entities, including state ministries who advertise. Crores and crores of rupees have been locked up for a long time and the payment cycle tends to be very long from the government. The government can at least pay up its own dues. That itself will help us in tiding over this crisis. You have to remember that even for agencies, people cost is one of the biggest costs.

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  • Tell us about the kind of impact COVID-19 has had on the ad industry in India? How much of a loss has the pandemic caused?

    The impact, obviously, has been very severe, and it depends upon what part of the business you're in. So for example, if you're in an events business or an outdoor business, the impact has been dramatic, severe and almost catastrophic because the business in that area is down to near zero. There is no part of the advertising, and media business that is not impacted. If you are handling an airline client or some other travel clients, the impact is extremely severe. But almost every part of the business has been substantially hit. The impact doesn't seem to be a short-term event because, for one, the lockdown itself now has been substantially extended. And even after the lockdown, it’s not as if suddenly everything is going to come back to normal. So, I think the impact is substantial and will be there for a reasonable period of time.

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  • Will a standardised digital video measurement system be a reality soon?

    Not having uniform digital video measurement is a big weakness for the Indian digital industry. Today, we are at a stage where it’s not enough to have a measurement for digital alone but to also have measurement systems that can measure across multiple screens. It will take one to two years before this project sees the light of day.

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  • How long before a consensus is reached on issues such as pitch-fee and undercutting?

    Media agencies that are known to undercut each other now have a good general understanding and alignment. We have all come to an agreement that unhealthy business practices will not be followed. There is a need to do the same in the creative agency arena as well. Some initial steps have been taken, but I think we have a long way to go still.

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  • Is the advertising industry losing talent to consultancies and tech companies?

    The biggest problem this industry faces is attracting and retaining talent. Today, the options available are significantly more, and as an industry, we are concentrating more on poaching from each other rather than increasing the universe. We have defaulted in our responsibility of creating fresher, high-quality talent.

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  • The perception in the industry is that agencies have lost their place at the table as business partners. What’s your view?

    Yes, we have gone down the value chain and become vendors in many cases, rather than strategic partners; and therein lies the big opportunity. Digital is offering that to us because in the case of digital transformation, we are able to lead the way for the client. Consultancies are very good at strategy, but they are not going to be able to implement at scale and at a price that we can. It will be much easier for us (agencies) to move up the food chain, than for them to be able to move down and work at the cost structure, speed and implementation capabilities that we do.

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  • DAN (Digital Agency Network) hasn’t made acquisitions since two years. Have you hit the pause button on inorganic growth?

    Earlier, we were coming from a small base and therefore, there was a need to quickly build skill sets. Now, with a robust client offering, the need for inorganic growth is relatively lesser.

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  • The past year has been a tough one for the ad industry. What do you think 2020 has in store?

    The next year is going to be the first year when digital will become the second-largest medium in India and overtake print as a medium. By 2022, the reach of digital and the reach of TV will come very close to each other. In markets that have been ahead of the curve compared to India, like South Korea and China, that inflection point has led to a huge shift in advertising. It will be interesting to see whether India also follows that path.

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  • How does India compare to markets like China, Singapore and South Korea?

    Compared to the size of our economy and population, our advertising industry is still very under invested. Part of the reason is that we have largely been a TV and traditional media market. The cost per spot on TV is probably the lowest in India, compared to any other market. India should at least be double its current size; China is probably seven to eight times bigger than us. So, amongst all the major markets in the world, India has the maximum headroom for growth in the next 10 years.

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  • What have been your focus areas as the CEO for the APAC region?

    Earlier, I was involved in the Greater South markets and had relatively less exposure to markets like Australia, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea. I am working on building a good team to streamline all the operations going into 2020. One of our strengths is that we have one P&L, and we have done well in markets where this model has worked for us. I want to make sure we utilise this strength in every possible market.

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  • what would be your piece of advice for business leaders across categories during this COVID-19 crisis?

    I’d advise industry leaders to be very truthful, transparent and authentic. Secondly, in times like these, you have to communicate more and not less. You can practise social distancing, but you must practise virtual proximity. Everyone is working for long hours at home in comparison to office. You get more ideas, and your teams get more reassurance. This makes the whole organisation knitted closely. The third important thing is that this is not the end of the world. As a leader, you have to have optimism and instil confidence in your team.

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  • Digital is said to have an edge over other mediums during this lockdown and as it forms a large part of DAN's business. Do you find yourself a bit comfortable?

    While all media will be impacted, digital will be least impacted, and it will still grow. If the original growth prediction for digital was 27% for 2020, it might struggle to cross double-digits. When the recovery starts, performance marketing will be paramount because all the businesses will focus on sales and leads.

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  • Would global leadership come to the rescue of businesses in different countries during this COVID-19 crisis?

    The impact is global, and everyone is facing more or less similar situations. Every country leader’s task is to handle the business in his/her respective country in the most efficient way. When every market is in trouble, no country will be in a position to save the other.

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  • Government across the world are helping their businesses, including reimbursing the salaries of employees. What do you expect from the government of India during this COVID-19 crisis?

    Every government is handling this crisis in their way. From the Indian government, what best we want is that we should get our own money, which is TDS. As AAAI president, I have given all the suggestions to the government in a way that it does not impact the exchequer. We have not asked them for sops. If they give our money back in time, we can use that to tide over the current situation.

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  • How are DAN (Digital Agency Network) agencies preparing during this lockdown?

    DAN agencies are taking stock of the situation on a weekly basis and taking whatever steps possible to protect our people’s and company’s future. As far as salary cuts are concerned, we are doing our best while keeping in mind that junior-level people should not be impacted as much as we can resist.

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  • Many businesses have already started taking drastic cost-cutting measures, including layoffs during this lockdown. How would you react to this?

    Every business will have to take all the drastic cost-cutting measures as much as they can. They have to conserve cash. Different companies will have to react in different ways depending upon their bit. It is also important that you have to take some steps because it is not business as usual. But it is not time to overreact. You shouldn’t take this as an opportunity to do what you otherwise may have wanted to do. Your steps should be measured in a way that you are in the position to start reversing those steps when the recovery starts.

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  • How should a leader react on every stage of this COVID-19 crisis to protect business along with its people?

    In such a crisis, you have to first and foremost worry about the safety and security of your people and keep in touch with them. Nothing is more important than human life in my view. Covid-19 came to India much later than China, where we had already implemented WFH and that learning helped us plan the infrastructure here. Unsung heroes in all this are IT people who made 3,700 people working from remote position simultaneously. Then comes the continuity in business. The third thing is stability once the crisis is over. Making sure people are not losing hope while taking all the precautionary measures. The recovery phase is the last phase for which you have to plan. At every stage, you cannot think of your targets. At the same time, if it is about the safety of your people, it should also be about the safety of your business. If you tell people at the top what the real situation is, and tell them that they all need to come together, then everybody rises to the occasion.

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  • When the entire workforce of an agency looks up to the leadership, how challenging is this COVID-19 crisis time for you?

    In many ways, it is also a test of leadership. You cannot ignore it. When you are cutting, you have to make sure that you are cutting the fat and not the muscle. Because there will be a rebound at some stage and you have to be ready for that situation. In this litmus test, there will be some who will come out to be better than the other in the post-Covid world. You have to be very honest, transparent and authentic. You have to tell your people that there is a big problem and everybody will have to feel the pinch, eventually. You have to be kind and sympathetic and make sure that you can minimise the impact and make it temporary. Communicate much more with your people. I feel that you have to tell them the truth and give them a real sense of the situation. At the same time, you have to be optimistic as leaders and cannot lose hope. Keeping the balance of authenticity and optimism is very important in such a crisis.

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  • How are the agencies reacting to the current COVID-19 crisis situation?

    Profitability will be significantly hit. Agencies will have to tighten their belts and they will have to cut all expenses. We are renegotiating office rentals. On people’s cost, certainly, there will be no increments. Bonuses will go away. At some point and places maybe, there will be salary cuts. And last, I hope that scenario does not come, but there may be layoffs. People will have to find different solutions depending on what their agency structure is, what their holding power is, and how long this crisis lasts. Hopefully, all these will be temporary measures, and once the business is back on track, things will be back to normal.

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  • Businesses except essential services are shut, and media platforms are almost running without advertising. With the two stakeholders bleeding, how much brunt agencies are bearing during this COVID-19 crisis as the third stakeholder in the ecosystem?

    Agencies are bearing the brunt like any other stakeholders in the business. The single largest cost for any agency is its people, which is between 60-70%. And that is the cost that you have to bear irrespective of the income. Some businesses are badly hit. Events, out-of-home and sales promotion businesses have come down to near zero straightaway. If you have an airline or hotel as your client, the business will obviously come down to zero from them. Some parts may remain encouraging but overall I do not think that there is any part of the business that will remain unaffected.

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  • There is a notion that life will return to normal after a few months, and there would be a bumper growth in the second half of 2020. This seems to be quite an optimistic view because even if the situation improves, the market may open up gradually, and hence recovery will not be as fast as expected. What is your realistic view?

    I wish this comes true, but I do not think it is a likely scenario. The next two quarters are going to be very tough. This quarter is already going to be very bad looking at the lockdown until May 3. Who knows how much the market will open up after this. When factories and industries shut down, they don’t resume operations at the click of a button. An industrialist told me that it would take four to six months after the situation starts normalising, even for coming back to the Jan-Feb level when the economy was already low. Labours have migrated, and there are other people in the chain on whom the industries are dependent. Raw materials have to come in. Above all, liquidity is going to be a major concern. Even as RBI tried to pump in some money, the liquidity crunch is a real and significant issue for medium-sized businesses at the moment. Amid all, advertising will be the worst hit being the relatively easiest expense to cut specially at a moment when everyone wants to conserve cash. So the talk of V-shape and U-shape recovery is not going to be the reality. Besides the longevity of the virus situation, the monsoon will play a big role in recovery, on which 22% of the GDP depends. India is a very sentiment-driven market. If all goes well like if rains and crops are good, Diwali season could speed up the recovery. But by no definition, 2020 is going to be a great year for advertising for sure. At the beginning of the year, most of the agencies predicted advertising growth between 11-12%. We will be lucky if we end this year flat or even slightly negative. The most realistic scenario would be slightly negative to zero per cent growth this year. Undoubtedly, India will do very well in the medium term and long term. Will Indian advertising outperform all the other countries in 2020? Indian advertising will definitely outperform all the other countries. We will remain one of the fastest-growing major markets in the world. But, our benchmarks are not relative to other markets. We were used to growing by 15-18%. Then we came down to 10-11%. This year, we were looking at a growth of 11-12%. Let’s assume that we will grow by 2% but we will not feel great about it. 2020 was the first year when we were going to be a major market with $10bn (Rs 75,000 crore). So our relative share is continuing to grow. But relative to what we were expecting, it is going to be much lower.

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  • Which international market will lead the way for your industry over the next 50 years and why?

    I feel very positive about the future of India as a market 10 or 20 years from now. The reason is it is going to be one of the few scaled markets that will continue to grow over the next 10 years but more importantly, I think it is going to be a huge net exporter of talent. There is great advertising and marketing talent in India, of a global standard, which over a period of time will get more and more globalised. And, hence, will start leading the way for the advertising and marketing industry 10 or 20 years from now, I feel.

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  • Do you see E-sports as an opportunity for marketers?

    It is definitely an opportunity because anywhere consumers go with high engagement is always a marketing opportunity. It is how we use Esports for marketing that will determine whether it was a waste of energy or an opportunity. For many brands it will be an important element of the marketing mix going forward.

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  • How long will it be before ‘voice’ becomes a force in marketing?

    I think this will happen sooner than later. Earlier this year, I was at Google’s Mountainview HQ and the amount of work going on in this area surprised me when I first saw it. Like everything else, the real impact of any development is when it builds critical mass. We are at best, 18-24 months away from that inflexion point. It’s coming and its going to be here in a big way. And it will catch the laggards off-guard.

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  • What are your views about the rise of artificial intelligence and its effect upon your industry?

    I am actually optimistic because I feel that the holy grail of advertising, which I hope is achieved during my working life, is to be able to create advertising for the person it is meant for; in the manner he or she will receive it best and serve it only to them, with the least amount of wastage. This won’t be possible unless artificial intelligence is used to the fullest.

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  • How valuable is creativity in the modern industry landscape so dominated by technology and automation?

    I think creativity is the last unfair advantage that you can have over your competitor in today’s day and age. Technology and automation are great ways of bringing in efficiency. Creative is what will make the difference. I would like Dentsu Aegis Network APAC to be creatively led, data driven and technology enabled. All these will have to go hand in hand.

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  • With internet peer reviews now driving the last mile to purchase for consumers, is the traditional marketing funnel dead?

    I don’t think it is dead, but it is changing very rapidly. What started of as an AIDA [attention or awareness, interest, desire and action] model several decades ago is probably turned on its head as years have passed. I think traditional marketing funnel has somewhat changed its course, largely thanks to ecommerce. Peer reviews are definitely contributing to the change.

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  • If your children wanted to enter this industry, would you say it was a good idea or a bad idea?

    I would say it is a great idea. No better proof of the fact than that my son is, indeed, in advertising and enjoying himself very much. My children are free to do what they feel is best for them, but I feel this is a great profession. If I were to be starting a career again today, I am pretty sure I would still get into advertising. I say this with a bias because this is the only industry I have worked in and I’m only on my second job in the last 32 years.

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  • Are you as a leader doing enough to combat the effects of stress within your organisation?

    I think all leaders are trying to maintain as much of a balance as they possibly can. What makes it doubly hard for me personally is that I myself am a poor example of work/life balance. It should not be a taboo topic, it should be discussed and addressed. It is equally true that advertising, because it is a service industry which is very deadline oriented, is a high-stress profession. One of the key success factors of making a career in this industry is the ability to withstand stress. If you cannot manage your stress you can literally die in an industry like this and, hence, we owe it to ourselves to manage this as well as possible.

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  • Looking at industry talent – is it more difficult to find the right people now than say 10 years ago?

    Yes, it is getting more and more difficult to find the right people because the options and choices available to people are much more today than when they were 10 or 20 years ago. Also, advertising is hard work. Most people see a supposedly glamorous industry, but they don’t realise how difficult it is to consistently perform in a service industry governed by deadlines – day in and day out for decades. I see the difficulty of getting top quality talent and then retaining people as the single biggest challenge the advertising and media agency faces all over the world today.

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  • Can you outline the opportunities ahead, as you see them, for the industry?

    I think at times like these, when clients are hard pressed to compete in the market, it is a big opportunity for agencies to move up the food chain and provide a greater level of consultancy services – in addition to just implementation, for which agencies were known in the past.

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  • If you had to pick one thing that has damaged the industry as a whole, what would it be?

    The desire of agencies to create advertising just for the sake of winning awards has definitely outlived its ‘benefit’ and is now damaging us as an industry.

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  • What work or innovation during your tenure are you most proud of and why?

    I am proud of having built Dentsu Aegis Network India from a loss making 40 to 50 staff agency into a hugely successful and profitable 3,700 plus staff marketing communications giant in India. We managed to overturn 88 years of ranking in India. I think the single biggest reason for that was that we saw the digital wave coming well before our competitors did and future proofed our agency far better than most of them were able to. I am extremely proud of the team that helped me in this journey.

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  • What are the obstacles you see in moving the industry to a better place?

    The single biggest obstacle that I see is the quality of talent. The quality of talent coming into the industry is worse than the quality of talent going out. At one point of time the advertising and marketing industry was able to attract the best in the market. With the advent of technology companies and the state of remuneration in the advertising industry, this is an area where we have suffered. And I think that will be the biggest obstacle that we need to overcome, for us to move to a better place.

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  • What is the next big thing coming down the line for the industry whether it’s a technology, market trend or something else entirely?

    Things keep changing from time to time, particularly since the consumer is leaving a huge digital footprint in everything that he or she does; making purchases, travelling, anything. There is going to be a lot more emphasis on managing data, on developing martech capabilities. That is definitely the trend we will see. More importantly than it is today, voice will become key. Particularly in the area of search and performance.

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  • How fast is the media and marketing industry changing?

    The media and marketing industry today is probably changing at a faster pace than ever before and this pace of change is only likely to increase and not decrease, as we go forward. Ours is definitely an industry in transition, as we move from an era of broadcast to an era of personalisation. Every single rule of the game is rapidly changing and the digital era is bringing about a new set of winners and losers. I personally believe that legacy agencies, working in silos, who may have enjoyed a good run for tens or a hundred years or so are going to find themselves in a dinosaurish situation – if they do not adapt to the digital world and its changing needs.

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  • How does DAN’s entered into digital domain of advertising?

    We got into digital out of necessity. We still didn’t have much of an operation in India with only 40-50 people. My competitors, on the other hand, WPP and IPG had been in the market for 100 years before me. I was 18-19 years late into the market. But I found a funny thing when I attended a seminar by one of our competitors on marketing spends landscape, where he mentioned that digital is only 4%. There I discovered – it is where big opportunities lay for us. If our competitors aren’t looking at it then we should.

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  • What do you think is the future of digital?

    Talking about influential marketing,we as an industry in India need to understand that which of the influencers have genuine influence and on whom.Today when we talk about the measurement analytics on digital, there are none as such. This concerns the industry expert as well. This seems the medium which is more measurable where every metric is important but we as an industry haven’t evolved for a common currency to deal with.

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  • What are the things Dentsu consider while acquiring an agency?

    Any agency we look out for acquiring should fulfill three things,” Bhasin shared. “Firstly it should fill the capability we don’t have and that’s how we acquired Communicate 2 for Performance and it made us the number one player in the category. Now we are three times larger than our next competitor. Secondly, the acquisition should be something we add scale because I believe that it’s the business of scale and then come innovation. Over-riding all of this, chemistry and people are what matter. Anybody whom we partner with should have similar values because you spend a major chunk of your waking hours with your colleagues and if you partner with people who don’t have similar values it won’t work, it will always be an unhappy kind of an ending.

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  • What is that one thing Indian advertising needs to be improved upon?

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  • How is Indian advertising market perceived globally?

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  • How do you deal working with millennials?

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  • What is your leadership style?

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  • What is your 30 years of journey in advertising?

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  • According to you, what all responsibilities a leader has in a situation like COVID-19?

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  • In the time of crises like COVID-19, how should we ensure our businesses stay active?

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  • Where is the largest share of digital media coming from?

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  • How is digital booming in advertising sector?

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  • What are the major changes happening in advertising sector?

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  • What is one P&L structure?

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  • What has been the forecast of the advertising industry in India?

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  • How big is Chinese market for Dentsu in APAC?

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