Rohit Ohri Curated

Chairman & CEO at FCB India

CURATED BY :  

This profile has been added by users(CURATED) : Users who follow Rohit Ohri have come together to curate all possible video, text and audio interview to showcase Rohit Ohri'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.

  • FCB was a surprise element as far as Cannes 2019 was concerned, and you brought home India's only gold. You had great ideas like Project Streedhan, Out and Proud lined up for this year, so how did cancellation of Cannes Lions due to this pandemic this year affect you?

    Yes. "Out and Proud" was supposed to go this year, we also had "Punishing Signal", and "Project Streedhan”. So we had many big bets for this year. But I think the decision that Cannes lions took was the right decision. I think it made sense from this perspective. Also the thing is that, like what we said was we're looking at completely containing discretionary expenditure. So, I would rather not have cancelled award entries than have job cuts and salary cuts for people, right. So If I had to make a choice, then I would stay away from entering Cannes because that's glory, but we stand behind it and that's the most important.

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  • Are pay cuts and lay-offs imminent as far as FCB India is concerned during this COVID-19 crisis?

    Honestly, right now what we're doing is we are preparing for different scenarios and different things that the way we're looking at it, it all depends on what the recovery and how long and how big the recovery is going to be. So, you know, luckily for us this time, the festive season is pretty late, Diwali is in November, so there's a chance that the Q3 and Q4 could see a good recoverY, I mean, it's not going to be back to normal, but, but we see a relatively improved situation there. So to that extent, I think it's important for us to maintain the resources and the people that we have, because if we want to come out of this hole, then we have to have the talent and capability to do that, right? It can't be that you have a weakened organization or a weakened creative agency. And then hope to deliver extraordinary results, because it will be extraordinary time when we come out of this people will need to be really smart and clever and resourceful and effective and conscious of the fact that there will be limited resources, but how do you maximize impact and positivity with that. So that is really important. Depending on what the scenario is, obviously, right now, we are only restricting cuts to discretionary expenditure. We've always meant without, obviously, travel and all discretionary expenses have been cut, but any case movie can travel so that's that works out quite well.

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  • Even the brands which are currently advertising, how heavily are they cutting down on costs, is your agency suffering during this COVID-19 crisis?

    A lot of our clients that are doing really well like for instance Amul for instance. But the thing is, that's a small thing I mean advertising plays a very small part in this whole thing, when Amul says "Doodh Peeta Hai India", if you look at it today, they are maintaining the milk availability in large parts of the country wherever they were, they are distributed, there, they are working night and day to make sure that milk is available. the essentials are available to all consumers. So, that is something that is truly, remarkable for an organization to to bring all the resources together to make that happen. So many other clients are doing this like Mahindra's manufacturing masks and other equipments in preparation of the COVID crisis, so that's something that everybody is doing and thinking. And I think now, all clients are thinking about what's the big comeback strategy going to be right? So what do we need to do? what strategy do we make to have the fastest recovery that possibly we can do under the circumstances. Otherwise, 2020 will be a year which needs to be erased from the world timeline.

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  • You think in the face of adversity, we're seeing better ideas emerge during this COVID-19 crisis?

    Creativity comes alive in a crisis, Creativity is sparked off by crisis in a way. That is truly an inspiration. What about now, have majority of your clients put a stop to advertising owing to a halt in production, and others because they are not able to get customers to complete the purchase cycle. Or are they rising up to the occasion to engage with or help consumers in such testing times? The thing is that , there's a first phase of a shock, where you go into a freeze moment, right saying that, Oh, my God, what's going to happen? If the factories are down and the sales are down? so there's that shock moment, I think every brand and manufacturing and companies coming out of that shock moment saying, Okay, this is the new reality, we need to figure out now in this new reality, what do we need to do? That's what I was saying earlier they were pivoting on on their promises, right. So, for instance, Domino's, which we handle now, their core is always been delivery, right? So Domino's delivers. We know that it's something that Indians have grown up with for the last 25 odd years. So Domino's decided to partner with ITC and deliver essentials, right? Even though their orders were coming down, but they wanted to still be helpful to consumers and say that okay, if delivery is what we are known for, so if you go to the Domino's app, you can actually buy dal, atta, rice, oil, also. So that can be delivered to you as well. So I'm saying that's something we haven't really communicated. But you know, there's been a lot of brainstorming around how you can do that in a more effective manner. Also zero contact, right. So the whole thing of the zero cost pizza delivery. So we have done work around that as well. So how do you actually promote that, so there's all obviously work even in a you know a time where things are not looking so good and things are under this enormous amount of challenge so each of our brands are looking at how they can be still connected with consumers, obviously not at the same level that they were earlier but really maintained a dialogue.

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  • While your agency has been quite responsible, work from home may not have come without its own share of troubles. What kind of problems did you end up troubleshooting?

    The big thing that was top of mind for all of us was really the impact that would have on the business right? Because this is an unprecedented Black Swan event and many of our clients have had to shut down plants and factories and there is no production. Obviously, people can't come out of their homes so the need for advertising is also becoming less because what are you going to be advertising? I'll give you two or three examples of what we're doing, basically to look at and reduce the economic impact that this is having on the agency. So one of the big things that we've done, and that I believe will be an interesting part of the new normal is our collaboration with this company called XP&D Be.Live. We did a conference and a launch of this whole technology platform which will help and enable brands to move offline experiences online. So you could do like a big launch online. We've just recently worked and done the Sangeet Setu, which has been a supremely successful music concert over three days. And the Prime Minister also tweeted about it, which basically had 17 celebrities who all came online, and we had a concert over three days. So that worked out very well. I think that's been a great experience for everybody. And what that does is, it helps and enables clients to think differently because in times like this, you have to be creative, you have to be resourceful, you have to think out of the box and I think this solution is something that is great, and you're looking at really now taking this to the next level. So that's one part of the thing that we've done. We've also done an initiative in FCB called "ideas unlocked". Basically, what we're saying is that our factories don't have to be locked, because our factories are in our heads, we manufacturing ideas and, and at this time, we are the only industry actually which has got millions of factories all active. So these factories really need to actually produce new ideas and new ways of thinking which will help clients and brands actually transit into the post covert era. And I think that's something that we created this whole initiative and every week, there is brainstorming in the agency and we go back to clients saying that what are the new things that they can do? What are the ways that they can communicate with consumers at this point in time - which is tone sensitive, which actually creates a special bond with the consumers? I think that is really, really important. One of the things that I keep talking about is that there are lots of brands and marketers and we all know that this is a long, dark tunnel that we're walking through. So we have two options right now to wait for the light at the end of the tunnel. And there's another option, which is really about lighting up the tunnel. And I'm saying that the most important thing at this point in time is that if you wait for light at the end of the tunnel and say, okay, let this thing pass and then we will start something it's just the wrong strategy because this tunnel is very long and we don't know when we will see the light at the end of the tunnel. What the consumer needs right now is to brands to light up for them, light up the tunnel with creativity, with ideas, with helpfulness, with connections that are truly special. And that whole thing of walking this journey with the brand, walking this journey with the consumer is very, very important for brands. And that I think is our approach. And we've actually brought that approach to a client saying that let's light up this tunnel together for consumers. The third initiative that we are going to be launching very soon and you're the first person I'm talking to about is really to look at contactless connections with consumers and how do we provide that to some of our clients. So whether it is a contactless way of actually selling a automotive - how do you actually do that entire chain from end to end; from actually searching to your test drive to actual purchase and post purchase. How do you make it a completely seamless, zero contact kind of programme? So that's something that we are looking at for different industries and seeing how we can actually create that because zero contact will be another reality post COVID. So whenever the lockdown is lifted, it's not that we will all start coming out into the streets and they'll be back to absolute 100 per cent normal. That's not going to happen. So there will be a phase opening out, there will be the continued concern about social distancing, so that I think something that brands will need to take into consideration for a period of time because we don't know when the vaccine is going to come in. So till the vaccine comes in, there will be an imminent threat, there will be a threat of sudden spikes back again, and you've seen some countries where this has happened. So that whole thing of maintaining social distancing, and how brands will actually then connect with consumers, whether there are some needs of brands to get physically connected, because if I'm buying a car, I will want to test drive it right. So how do you do that in a way that is totally sanitized? It totally works to reassure consumers that's something that is great. And finally, a big research which is actually looking at what are the consumer big shifts that are going to happen? In my opinion, there will be a line drawn in the sands of time of the mankind, right? So, there will be a pre-COVID and a post-COVID era. This will mark a whole new way in which we consume in which we connect in which we communicate about our brands. I think that is something we as advertising agencies really need to understand - what are those big changes, what are those big triggers that will actually spark off each category or brand to talk about their benefits in a way that is relevant at that time. So, post-COVID health is going to be a very, very important part of the narrative right for every brand. Health and your safety is going to be very, very important. They will be the top concern for everybody. And how do brands actually take that on in their communication programme in their connections and interactions with other brands. But once the lockdown is lifted will agencies become that much more important for brands or will advertising take a backseat till production is back on track? My sense is that every company will want to spark off the consumption again? So there are two ways to approach it - you can't shrink yourself to greatness, right. You have to aggressively tackle this huge issue. We're looking at a huge depression, it's not a recession, right? So, if we're looking at that, how do you kick yourself out of it is really important to actually find the right ways, the right mechanisms, the right offers, the right opportunities in which you can actually restart and kick start your brand’s demand, the category’s demand and the category’s growth. So, they are obviously very, very important and we've seen this historically, whenever there has been a big crisis - whether it's 09/11 or the Spanish Flu - that there may have been many cases where brands when they come back, they come back with a very strong voice, they come back to connect and reignite the demand because just retracting and going into a hole is not really going to help. So the important thing is brands need to have a voice and they need to continuously connect and reassure customers and walk with them through this journey. But the agencies still have relevance and creativity will be really important because finally, at the end of the day, in a crisis, creativity shines and creativity is really what comes to the rescue of people. And today, I mean, forget about advertising agencies, people are being creative. So every person is being creative in the way they actually source, the supplies. The way they keep themselves entertained the way, they're educating the kids the way and doing physical activities. Everybody's thinking creatively, right? So there's so much of stuff happening online, and then there's so much of creativity you could do like now. Yesterday evening I was doing a safari live of the Serengeti Plains. So they have a camera mounted on the Jeep, and they're taking you through the Serengeti plains, and they're showing you different animals and it's like virtual kind of Safari, which people hadn't heard of before. But it's just being creative. So you can do a pilgrimage online as well. So, I think the Good Friday, long weekend, saw the masses being done online so these are new things.

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  • We are living in unprecedented times. Tell us how has the lockdown been for you so far?

    From an organization perspective, I think one of the big things is that is we were lucky and I think that worked to our advantage. We actually went into Work From Home a week before the lockdown was announced by the Prime Minister. So, we had a whole week to actually test and experiment with how we're going to transit to work from home. We were able to kind of help all our employees, get WiFi connections in their houses, move the equipments - the laptops and desktops and high end machines - to people's homes. We also did trainings on Microsoft meetings, team meetings, so everyone figured what platform to be used. Of course, Zoom came in as well. So we kind of prepared people for the trauma, and the resources and technology perspective to move to work from home. But work from home is a challenge for many people, right? Because few of us, we live in a large apartment and so it's easy to find isolated places. But, it's difficult for a lot of people to find a place in your home where you can have a Zoom meeting. We have tried to actually help people through this. I sent everybody on email at the very beginning where we said that the family is part of the team. So you don't have to lock away your children or your pets into different rooms all day. So, if the child walks into the meeting, peeps into the laptop, it's fine. So I'm saying it's important for us to make it as easy as possible for people to do. But the amazing thing is that I didn't think quite honestly for a long time as we've been thinking what about work from home and people kept saying that - Is work from home a possibility at all. And we all felt that, it's a very hard thing to do. Maybe people won't be so responsible about work as work from home is a holiday kind of a thing. But I'm actually surprised on how well every single person working in FCB has taken to work from home, the kind of work that we're churning out for clients. There's been a lot of requests on adapting as we say, brand pivoting on to be more helpful on the platform that the brand occupies, but to move that and really to look at how in a brand can react and be sensitive and helpful at this time. So there's been a lot of work there. I think people are doing enormous amounts of work. That has been great, very heartening. And when you talk about the new normal, one of the things we all say that maybe work from home will be part of the new normal, for sure, going forward.

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  • How have you handled the leadership crisis at Dentsu? (During his time at Dentsu)

    After the exit of the previous management, there was a serious leadership issue. During this period, many clients moved out of the agency. When I had joined Dentsu from JWT, I had to reassure faith, and rebuild the lost confidence, not only inside Dentsu, but also outside, with our clients. There was no leadership across the verticals; so we had to find people to head these, who could deliver as well. Many people joined Dentsu primarily because I asked them to. I leveraged a lot of my personal equity to build the current team. Now, we have three National Creative Directors - Soumitra Karnik, Titus Upputuru, and Swati Bhattacharya - who are the best in the advertising industry. [Bhattacharya heads Dentsu India's new Mama Lab project, which will try to help understand the new-age mother as a consumer and break the stereotypes.] The new team is a great mix of youth and experience. For an agency's growth, one needs to marry the youth's aggression with the wisdom of the experienced. We have become a far more strategic agency which looks at how best we can deliver integrated communication.

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  • Every brand is looking at digital. Will there be any paradigm shift in Dentsu's strategy in this regard? (During his time at Dentsu)

    Digital will form the core of Dentsu's marketing strategy. Over the next three years, I would like to take Dentsu India's digital revenues up, and ensure that over 25 per cent comes from digital. At present, the revenue is evenly split between the mainline (creative agency) and media agency. Dentsu Digital, born out of the Dentsu creative agency, will bring the digital capability to the heart of the group over the next two to three years. Webchutney (acquired by Dentsu India in 2013) will be integrated much stronger with the mainline agency.

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  • How is Dentsu different from other advertising agencies? (During his time at Dentsu)

    Dentsu has never been an unbundled agency. It has never separated its media business from its creative or digital sides. That's the way the Japanese like to work, unlike the West's fragmented way of working. Our network arranges itself around the client's need. We are collaborating around the client. Many agencies are doing it, but these are bespoke teams where agencies create such teams to offer an integrated solution, while we, at Dentsu, work this way. It's a way of life for us versus one of an assignment. Dentsu India grew at 65 per cent in 2013/14, and I am expecting it to grow aggressively to achieve a similar growth this financial year (2014/15), too.

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  • What are the challenges you envisage at FCB?

    The biggest challenge is about reorienting our mindset… to tell ourselves that we are in the manufacturing business as much as we are a service. We give birth to borderless ideas. Ideas that can be watched on TV, shared on scoop, create a chatter on Facebook, be alive inside a shopping mall or become an app on your phone screen.

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  • What is your approach to the new role at FCB Ulka?

    I have huge respect for the open, transparent, non-political collaborative and hard-working culture of Ulka. FCB Ulka is a great story built by great people, a story about hard work and courage, a story where there is no one hero and no one villain, a story about keepers and keeping. There is a lot of good work they have done in the past and I think all we have to do is bring out the true potential of our own people and go on a journey that takes us from being good to being brave.

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  • What are the immediate steps you will take to ‘up’ the creative quotient of FCB Ulka?

    I am extremely excited to have a mentor like Susan Credle (Global Chief Creative Officer, FCB) and one of the things she said to me is that there are three essential elements to build a creative culture: People, Place and Purpose, and once it all comes together, every other business challenge becomes irresistible and delicious. I don’t believe in messiahs, so I am not under any pressure to be one. I believe in meaningful journeys, and I will do everything to make this one meaningful.

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  • Where do you see FCB Ulka in 2017?

    I would like FCB Ulka to be the place where the best talent in the industry would want to work - where the talent creates magical work that delivers for our clients. And we become the preferred agency to work with, not only for our clients but also for our prospects. We have to bring out the true potential of our own people.

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  • How are you planning to infuse new energy into the system at FCB?

    My immediate priority is improving our creative product. With Swati (Bhattacharya) on board as CCO, the opportunity is to bring a new creative energy to everything that we do.

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  • What are the key areas of focus for you as CEO of FCB Ulka?

    FCB Ulka has a strong client and talent base. My key focus is to build on these relationships by adding more value to our clients’ businesses and rewarding our talent by creating growth opportunities.

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  • FCB is still viewed as old school by many, also may not be viewed as a great destination for young talent. What are your thoughts on this?

    Actually, this agency has a lot of talent in it. It’s just that there is a perception about this agency being ‘old school’. For some time, even the agency had started believing this perception and so did the people; it was so strong. This is when actually the problem starts because you start believing it. The big thing that I need to do is really figure out how to change it. To change that perception there is only one way, which is our work; to have campaigns that people talk about, sit up and notice. The fact is that in the past, FCB has done some fantastic work that has built brands from scratch. You can look at Tata, Amul and Santoor for example. The Santoor campaign has been running for the past two decades. These are fantastic pieces of work that have been done but people have forgotten them. What I want to do is refresh the heritage, which would invoke pride in working with a fabulous agency with a fabulous heritage and a fabulous future.

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  • What are the ‘unsaid’ things that you are picking up at FCB Ulka?

    The fact is that this agency is seeing a leadership change after more than 25 years. And that’s a big thing for an agency being led in a particular manner for so long. To this, add the fact that you have somebody from outside coming in versus somebody who was homegrown in the system. There are challenges here for the leader in terms of quickly demonstrating and understanding the culture, because your actions really talk about what is the culture you believe in and it is very important for me to signal to the agency that I truly believe in what the agency has stood for. What I am doing is not changing everything that the agency stands for; it’s just about building new things on that foundation.

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  • What are the objectives you aim to achieve at FCB?

    I did not come to the agency with pre-set objectives or plans. One of the things I sincerely feel is that if you are a leader and you are coming to an organization which already has a long legacy, a belief system and a culture, you shouldn’t come in with a plan. You have to organically develop the plan after you speak to the clients and understand what the real challenges are; get a sense of what is ‘unsaid’ in the agency and that I think is the most important thing. Very often, what is said is for everyone to hear but what is unsaid; the hidden strengths and weaknesses are what you need to understand to know what you want to change. So, the whole thing is really to find the unsaid strengths and weaknesses, which are not really easy for people to see. This should not be superficial either; it has to be fundamental to things that you have to change in the agency. This is what I think would create a new and stronger FCB Ulka, going forward.

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  • Are you moving to appoint a Delhi head? FCB Delhi seems under-leveraged and you are also very well connected in Delhi.

    We are currently evaluating our options. We have some internal talent and we have some external talent as well. So, we are just looking at what is the best bet for us in Delhi. Obviously, I have very deep connections in Delhi; I have been there for 16 years. I know lots of clients and lots of people there, so I will help the agency. I agree that we have underleveraged the potential of Delhi.

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  • Are there any acquisitions on the anvil for FCB Ulka?

    Yes, absolutely. We absolutely need a couple of acquisitions. The whole point is to accelerate the pace of change. We will look at an acquisition in the digital activation space. I think everything will start from defining what we want FCB to stand for in India. It’s defined pretty well globally, but in the Indian context, we have to decide what we need to say and everything else will flow from there, like the digital assets.

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  • When you switch jobs, you switch not just agencies, but networks - from WPP to Dentsu to now Interpublic Group. How different are all these systems?

    Barring scale, IPG and WPP are not too different. They can be put in one basket, versus Dentsu. Dentsu is very strong in Japan but has never managed to succeed outside of Japan. The success doesn't exist in the US, Europe... it's an Asia-Pacific brand. Even within APAC, they have pockets of excellence, versus uniform excellence. When I used to attend Dentsu's global meetings, I noticed how they struggled with things that other networks had done 15 years back. IPG is flatter and more empowering than WPP, which is like a large ocean... you could be swimming in it forever and nobody notices who you are. IPG is about people, not companies.

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  • Do you think Ulka lacks 'razzle dazzle' at the pitch level. For you, how important is it to fix this?

    I don't want to rush into a mad flurry of pitching, right now. We need to first answer a few questions, build a few capabilities and get our pieces organised; then we'll start pitching. I have a very good sense of what the grammar of winning pitches is. I do hope to bring that knowledge in. And it's not like the agency has not won pitches. It has. But yes, it hasn't been as successful as we would all like it to be on the pitch front. I really want to create campaigns that are talked about and shared. You can't chase razzle dazzle or fizz. You have to chase creativity.

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  • What are the other 'bits' you want to change at FCB?

    The big focus is around creative and the whole creative culture. While it's a solid brand building agency, the work lacks fizz. The agency has been built on famous campaigns, but in the last four to five years, we haven't seen much. I would like to bring a lot of that back in. Also, given the current context of the changing market and consumer, I see new challenges ahead; I don't think we're very well equipped to take them on. We need to seriously look at how we're going to build on those capabilities. We need to ask - What are the new skills the agency needs to pick up? We need to bring back the entrepreneurial streak - that's how Ulka started off in the first place. We're not a boutique or a hotshop; that, we may never be. But, we'd like to have that mindset.

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  • Now that you are at FCB, How do you plan to go about this?

    First, I want to look at the organisational culture, the people, their beliefs and the way they work. I want to re-look all that. While there are many good things about FCB Ulka, there are bits that need to change. That, I have made very clear to everybody. The fundamentals of this agency are very strong. It's just a question of building on that and adding new energy. Today, the biggest challenge for agencies is retaining talent and clients; Ulka has never had to struggle with this. If this is being fuddy-duddy... man, won't every agency want to be fuddy-duddy? So, it's more the perception of the agency that needs to be corrected; there's no fundamental 'fix' it needs. This agency is not broken; it doesn't need a turn-around. It needs a re-orientation. We could create three famous campaigns in 2016 that could completely change the perception around the agency. FCB Ulka is just three campaigns away from sexy.

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  • What does occupying the CEO's seat at FCB Ulka - one that has been vacant for over 18 months - mean to you?

    This is the first time the agency will have one leader across the group, versus being run by a board. That's the philosophy they had earlier - it was a board-managed company. The operating, executive board ran the company. Now, it will, very clearly, be individual-managed. There will be one clear face for the agency, versus a group of people. I would like to leave a legacy in this agency... I'm going to look at every single piece of this jigsaw puzzle and see what we can do to make it more competitive, more cutting-edge. The currency of the agency needs to be energised. That is something I'm looking at very, very clearly.

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  • You have been in Delhi and in Singapore. How do you feel about moving to Mumbai for the first time ever in your career?

    Oh, yes. I have built a career in advertising without ever stepping foot into Mumbai. When I was at Dentsu, we were building a Mumbai operation with the acquisition of Taproot and then Webchutney. But you know, Dentsu as a creative agency didn’t have much of a presence here. So I used to come to Mumbai, but infrequently. Now I will be here and I am looking forward to it.

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  • The agency hasn’t done much on the awards circuit. It may have won some awards, but not too many. Do you see that as an indicator of the quality of work that’s being done?

    That’s a big conundrum and [references the] question of what kind of culture do we want to create. Are we going to chase awards for the sake of awards and do a lot of scams, or do we want to create famous advertising -- campaigns that build famous brands and as a result, fame for the agency as well?

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  • You have existing long-standing relationships with many clients. Do we see you pulling them now at FCB that you here?

    I think now my first priority is to look at our client base here. I think we’ve got fantastic list of clients and there are some deep, deep relationships. Protecting a relationship is almost a heritage. If you have 50-year-old relationship with a client, that’s really something to be proud of and something to build and grow. So the first port of call is about existing client relationships and that’s I am going to focus on. And of course when we go out, we will be looking at every other opportunity.

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  • FCB Ulka has a lot of offices. Are you going to integrate some of them?

    Not integrate because FCB Ulka and Interface are separate agencies, and it’s important to keep that separation. But we are going to put a working methodology in place. To work closely with Lodestar, and the digital agencies FCB, then there are opportunities in activation. The fundamental cultural shift that I want to bring in, is the resource and capabilities of thinking in a holistic manner. But Shashi and I are going to partner and work together to take this thing forward. There are a lot of occasions for Lodestar and FCB Ulka to work together. So in today’s day and age, if you can leverage that, the value we can give to the client is enormous.

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  • Dentsu was a new project, but FCB-Ulka is a 54-year-old agency. You have some rather large and old clients there. If you tinker around too much, other sharks will grab the clients. What are your views on this?

    There are sharks everywhere, but I am one too. With a lot of clients, we have a deep-rooted relationship, but as far as creativity is concerned, you need to stay current and fresh. So what I’m going to bring to these agencies is new energies, some fizz and fun.

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  • So what made you join FCB Ulka? What was your perception of the agency when you took the decision?

    This is a question a lot of people have asked me. And you know one of the reasons I decided to join FCB was the fact that it was the people and the quality of people in this organisation for the longest. I have the deepest regards for Arvind Wable as a friend in Delhi, for Ambi, Nagesh. And Shashi. So you know there were bunch of people with a great degree of integrity. And not just integrity in terms of professionalism but also intellectual integrity. They have always kept that as you know like the holy grail of the FCB. And to my mind I had the deepest regard for it because one of the most important thing in an agency is the quality of people there you know. And fact is I have seen lots of people now at senior levels, mid-levels and junior levels and there is a lot of integrity and honesty. There’s a very ‘let’s get the work done’ and ‘let’s not get in to politics’ kind of environment here, which is really for me kind of like home you know.

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  • Four creative agencies… How do you manage to stay away from the constant risk of overlapping? (During his time in Dentsu)

    The reason why we have these different agencies is because we have conflicting businesses. As far as Dentsu is concerned, we treat our agencies as completely separate. So while Dentsu Communication is in Bangalore, Dentsu Marcom is in Delhi. This geographical differentiation also helps them to focus on the markets they are in, and reduces the risk of overlapping.

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  • Internationally Dentsu has partnered with Aegis. Do you have plans to partner with any media agency in India as well? (During his time in Dentsu)

    We have three media agencies, and then digital agencies, outdoor agencies, etc. So it is a full suite of services for our clients. Depending on which client and what is their need, these individual agencies work together. In terms of other acquisitions, it is on the charts, but nothing is close to finalisation. We are always on the lookout for acquisitions that will help us build our full capability.

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  • When it comes to Taproot, what are the clients you have worked on together? What about the integration with Webchutney? (During his time in Dentsu)

    We have worked on Akzo Nobel, Nourishco Group (a Pepsi-Tata JV which looks into value-added water). There are about six projects that we are looking at working together going forward, hopefully in the next three to four months. As for Webchutney, it was an easier task to integrate because primarily it was not creative and creative, but digital creative and mainline creative agencies coming together. We have worked together on many of our clients. Over the next 3-4 months, this should really come together. The way I am looking at it, Webchutney and we will work together more because that is the way Dentsu works in Japan. Dentsu is an intersection of creativity and technology. That is something which is powerful and will differentiate us from others. Dentsu has an enormous leadership on what is the technology platform that ideas can fit on. Technology today has to be interwoven into the creative process.

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  • Where does Dentsu stand right now in the pecking order of large agencies in India? (During his time in Dentsu)

    We are a pretty sizeable group right now. For me size has never been the desire. It is the quality which is more important. Look at Taproot. They started small. But today clients are ready to wait for Taproot to actually look at their product! The problem right now is that the noise in the ambience is so much that it is very important for brands to connect in a way that no one has done before. Ninety per cent of ads on TV are really bad advertising... you cannot distinguish between two ads! That is why clients are putting a huge importance on the creative quality. Big clients like Airtel, PepsiCo, TOI…they work with Taproot.

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  • You have been very aggressive with the takeover policy in India. What was the rationale behind it? Is a similar kind of policy being followed elsewhere in Asia?

    We look at it as a partnership and not a takeover. And we partner with talent and capability. The way we look at it, when Dentsu had started off, the biggest challenge was to up the reputation from the consumer standpoint. The quality and the product needed to kind of shine through. I needed to partner with the best creative agency we could find. Taproot was and still is a very desirable agency. And Aggie (Agnello Dias) and I have worked together in JWT, so we understood each other's working ways. From the strategic point of view, we needed a tug boat to pull the big ship out into the ocean. Taproot was the tug boat that we needed to pull Dentsu into the ocean. The partnership has been fantastic. We started working on Akzo Nobel where Aggie does the creative concept, and then the whole integration – 360 degree – is done by Dentsu. We have taken the strengths of each and combined them together. While Martin Sorrell went and slashed an agency into bits, Dentsu never did that. That was never the Japanese way. Here also, the media agency, the creative agency, the digital agency, they all sit together. That doesn't happen in any other agency in India. This helps us work better together, collaborations are possible.

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  • You built a really strong team. What was your strategy at that point of time? (During his time in Dentsu)

    When I look back now, from a talent perspective, it was always a bit of challenge for Dentsu. When I joined, it was very hard to make people consider Dentsu. The organisation had gone through a lot of turmoil, the previous management had resigned all together, etc. The people we met would say 'we can't say no to you, but I am not sure if I will say yes to Dentsu'. That, I think, over a period of time we managed to change. Some people joined in the earlier years because of their faith in me. They believed that I would be able to create an organisation that we they would want to work in. I am really grateful to them for believing in me at that time. Today, people do consider Dentsu when they are looking for a job. I think the ability of the organisation to pull some of the finest talent in the market has a lot to do with making sound moves in the industry – such as the acquisition of Taproot and Webchutney. All this has kind of upped the profile for the Dentsu branded agencies in India.

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  • You joined Dentsu as Executive Chairman after a long stint of 21 years at JWT. Did you feel there was any cultural difference between the two agencies?

    When you work in an organisation as large as JWT, there is a lot of system cushioning that exists. You start to expect that from your work. When you move to a smaller organisation, like when I joined Dentsu India, a lot of that system cushioning was missing. When I joined, my objective was to build an organisation that was global and of the same standard as that of Dentsu in Japan. Certain quality standards had to be brought in, and that is what we did in the first phase.

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  • What are your five top takeaways from Cannes Lions 2019?

    1. Keep it real 2. Relevance is King 3. Platforms & ideas make the real difference 4. Humanity over all else 5. Where is the rosé?

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  • According to you, what worked in favour of the agency’s campaign in winning the Gold in what appears to be a tough year even from a juror’s standpoint?

    The category ‘Sustainable Development Goals Lions’ celebrates the use of creativity to solve some of the world's biggest problems. Today, India is facing a crisis in education. Over 90 million children in the age group of six to 14 are out of school. The Open Door Project, an initiative of Millennium Schools, seeks to make quality education accessible to underprivileged children. The idea of 'second shift' schools is simple and truly sustainable. I'm delighted that the jury saw that in our work. For 'Open Door' this Gold Lion is not the end, it is the beginning of a long journey of change.

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  • What is it like being the only Indian agency to win a Gold Lions this year?

    This win is now undeniable proof to the creative transformation of FCB in India. Last year, we were the most awarded agency, while this year, we are the only Indian agency to win a gold. Sustaining creative momentum is the key to growing our creative reputation, and I’m feeling blessed and happy.

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

    I don’t obsess about the possibilities that lie beyond what meets the eye. If I can do justice to all that meets my eye, every day, I’ll be very happy. That’s my stress-free path to a successful future.

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

    Theatre helped me make the biggest leap in self-belief. Through theatre, I found new confidence and a new voice. Leadership Training Service (LTS) was an organisation that I was a part of, in my school. Being a part of LTS activities helped me discover my true self, unearthing my true talent. I morphed from being an underconfident and underachieving individual to one who made a positive impact and impression in school.

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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?

    I use jealousy to push harder and higher! In the world of creativity… jealousy is a negative emotion that can help create a positive momentum. Great ideas inspire greater ones, provided one recognises great ideas in the first place and uses them as inspiration to fly higher.

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  • Which is that one superpower that gets you going?

    Discovering a new paradigm of time and space, enjoying some exhilarating me-time, and hanging out with birds are some of the things that excite me about the ‘ability to fly’ superpower.

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  • Who is your one superhero you relate to the most?

    The superhero I relate to is Batman… because he has ingenuity, not super powers. Although he is not the most powerful hero in the DC Universe, Batman is certainly the most dangerous. What he lacks in super powers, he makes up for in other areas. He has a vast fortune, access to highly advanced technology, various martial arts skills, and possesses a genius level intellect. In other words, he is a self-made superhero, and that’s why I can relate to him.

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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?

    My secret sauce to stay out of the rut is to make friends with people who are smarter than you as they help bridge the knowledge-gap and also, help with self-realisation. I also believe in the reverse Russian doll principle. I enjoy meeting people who are doing different and exciting things in life as they add new perspectives and bring fresh inspiration with them. Being humble, being a learner and not letting one’s ego get in the way, are the key ingredients of the secret sauce that not only keeps you motivated, but also alive as it helps me to embrace new possibilities.

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  • What is your idea behind #EverydayLeaps?

    My idea of #EverydayLeaps is something new that you learn every day. To be able to take the everyday leap, I strive to lead an interesting and curious life, embrace the ‘The uncomfortable zone’, live things and consider one’s brain as a sponge.

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  • With the lockdown, do you also see opportunities for the launch of new brand products and services across sectors which were getting imported before?

    A lot of manufacturers globally will be looking at how they can produce spare parts themselves for which they were dependent on other countries earlier. Dependency on other countries for products will decrease, and a lot of manufacturers will start building capabilities to make products economically within their own country for the people. There is a fair chance of the launch of new products and brands across sectors.

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  • How are agencies preparing to help their clients prepare for the post-Covid market, especially with limited budgets, resources and mediums?

    One of the big things we have done with our partnership with XP&D is creating a platform to empower brands and helping them migrate their offline experiences to online. We are doing a large-scale India research, which will down tail to the large-scale global research that is looking at understanding and predicting the new behaviour of consumers in the post-Covid era. We are hoping it will help our clients with great insights on how they need to pivot their communication, tone and manner of the brand’s quality and quantity of communication in the post-Covid era. We will be able to tailor our messages and get to the right consumer perks to purchase the right points so that we can give the right messaging in this new world. We are looking at partnering with clients and creating zero contact experiences; that is going to be the new norm and reality. As an agency, we are building the capability of helping clients recreate retail experiences online. In the next four-five days, we are planning to launch our service in that as well.

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  • Most of the global networks, including IPG, have revised or removed their targets for 2020. How challenging would it be to for agencies to bounce back from the current turbulences due to coronavirus?

    Brands will invest in kick-starting and reigniting demands and it would be essential to do. It’s hard to say anything right now as we are in a fluid situation, which is continuously changing. Assumptions are Q3 and Q4 will give a sharp and robust recovery. A lot of brands will come into the market and advertise. As we emerge from the crisis, it is crucial to boost and bolster consumer sentiments, which is very depressed and negative. Brands must come forth and connect with consumers. Advertising is the key medium to connect with consumers at every touch point.

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  • OTT players who were spending crores of rupees on each show to make people habituated are becoming people’s habit due to this pandemic without even spending in the absence of TV shows. Do you see a turning point for them?

    Yes, suddenly there are lots of OTT players who are giving access to entertainment to consumers for free, creating a whole sense of demand that consumers would generate. There is a big push that OTT players are doing at this time, but obviously those who will win are the ones that have the best content. Content is king; the viewers are enormous, and just because now they are sitting at home, any rubbish will be seen. If you have the content and access at this particular time, those brands will now do well in the market. A lot of people who got familiar with OTT in the lockdown will continue to watch it post-Covid as well. The crisis has been a turning point for many OTT players and can continue in the new post-Covid world by focusing on their content and what they deliver to viewers. By doing this, they will do good for themselves and the economy.

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  • Newspaper as a physical copy has a similar danger of going out of people’s habit due to this pandemic, at least for those who were somehow sticking to it. What’s your view on this?

    The crisis has severely impacted the newspaper industry as people have stopped taking newspapers due to the fear of the virus spreading through the paper. I feel that the newspaper industry has missed a great opportunity of connecting with their readers. Rather than rolling an e-newspaper that replicated the offline version, they should have recast the newspaper into a completely new mobile-first form. This time of crisis could have been the perfect time for newspapers to reinvent themselves. E-paper formats being used today make them very hard to read. Readers are not going to put in effort to read these when they have the option of other online news portals that give easy news updates by the minute. The print industry needed to have come up with reader-friendly ideas. It’s at times like these that new consumer behaviours are created. Unfortunately, most publications seem to be missing the bus.

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  • So experiential and events will have to bear the brunt for a much longer duration due to this pandemic. Do you fear these mediums will go out of the minds of people and brands?

    There will be concerns about large gatherings or being part of huge events. People will follow social distancing till a foreseeable future until we have a proper vaccine for the virus. Brands will have to look at addressing health and safety issues.

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  • When you say virtual experiences will be the new normal after this pandemic, does this mean an unprecedented boost to digital marketing?

    Because of health and safety concerns, there is going to be an increasing amount of interaction of brands with consumers and that ecosystem will migrate online. As a consequence, one could say that there will be a rising amount of reliance on online.

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  • The coronavirus outbreak has changed the world when it comes to consumer habits, albeit temporarily. What according to you will become a new norm or stay longer?

    There is going to be a pre-Covid and post-Covid era for sure. The crisis will change consumer habits and lifestyle to an extent. There are a few possible trends that we will witness in the post-Covid world. There will be a permanent concern about health and safety in people across generations. Every single brand and category will need to satisfy the concern of consumers about their ‘health and safety’ in consumed products. And it is not only how the products are used but how they are getting delivered to the consumers. Zero contact delivery by food aggregators will be the new normal going forward. It can also go beyond the food space to every category. There will be a clear understanding of how well peoples’ health and wellness are linked to the health and wellness of nature, environment and planet, which was not the burning issue earlier and is now taken seriously by a larger section of the mass. Also, experiences have now migrated from offline to online. A lot of brands and clients will want to create experiences for their consumers online by replicating the offline physical experience. Consumers are going to see the advantages and benefits of being virtual; whether it is virtual travel and others.

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  • It is known that the agency’s Delhi office is doing great in terms of business? How do you intend to up your game across India offices?

    While Dominos has been a big win for our Delhi office this year, our Mumbai and Bangalore offices have had significant wins as well. Reliance Smart (Retail) has been the biggest win for our Mumbai office.

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  • The agency announced the launch of Bushfire in 2017. How is the business fairing for Bushfire? How much does it add to the overall revenue of the agency? Which clients are handled by Bushfire?

    We have closed down Bushfire as it was not proving to be that effective for the agency. The original thinking around the agency was to service the demands of big and small start-up clients specifically. Very small start-ups didn't have money for advertising, and mature start-ups wanted large agencies.

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  • There is a notion in the marketing fraternity that creative agencies can produce good ads but not good content. One needs to think differently when it comes to creating content marketing and branded content campaigns for brands. What are your views on this? Do you have separate teams in-house to work on content and advertising?

    As an agency, we have, over the last three years produced some of the best branded content for our clients. ‘No Conditions Apply’ Sindoor Khela for TOI was India’s most-awarded branded content for 2018-19. We won four Cannes Lions and 79 other awards at some of the world’s biggest award shows. We have consistently produced content that has not just added value to brands but also defined their purpose. We don't have separate teams for content and advertising because we are brand storytellers. These divisions are artificial. The idea is to understand what a brand stands for and tell the brand story in a way which is truly meaningful and can impact change. Whether it is content or main-stream advertising, storytelling is the key.

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  • How is FCB’s content arm Fuel Content performing in India? How has it added to FCB’s growth in India? What kind of work has been produced by Fuel Content?

    We have seen a big move towards creating branded content. What we offer our brands is content that starts a new conversation around the brand’s core platform idea. Fuel content has been working with a host of clients across offices. And right now, we are more focused on capability building rather than revenue building.

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  • In an interview in 2018, you mentioned that in 2019, FCB India would aim to up the digital contribution by 25% to its overall revenue in 2019. How has the plan panned out? How do you see it changing further in 2020?

    Digital has contributed close to 25% of our overall revenue this year. Over the next two to three years, we are aiming to up the contribution to 40-50% of our overall revenue. To achieve this revenue percentage from digital, we have plans to scale up our capabilities. The agency has plans to have collaborations and partnerships in digital space to strengthen the digital business.

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  • You once told Media that creative excellence is your primary target in FCB? How have you been able to strengthen the creative team at the agency?

    We’ve been ranked the #1 Creative Agency in India and the 18th most Creative Agency in the world by WARC. The Cannes Global Creativity Report has ranked us as the #2 Creative Agency in India. This is the greatest testimony to our creative transformation in India.

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  • According to you, what is the next big thing that will shape the Indian advertising industry in 2020?

    Creative excellence needs to be the key focus of advertising agencies. There is a lot of conversation about how technology and new media are changing the advertising business. Consequently, AI, AR, VR, programmatic, machine learning, etc., become the prime focus of some agencies. Technology only powers creativity. It can never be a substitute for creativity. Technology gives creativity a velocity. And this velocity is directly proportionate to the quality of the creative idea. Understanding how to generate that velocity in the new world we live in should be the biggest focus of agencies.

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  • What were the agency’s significant achievements in 2019 in terms of businesses and awards?

    We have had a good year in terms of new big business wins and work acknowledgement. FCB India won 31 new businesses in 2019. Mumbai won 19 new businesses, Delhi won six, Bangalore won four and Chennai won two. FCB India Group won awards at distinguished National and International shows. We were the only agency to win gold for India in three of the biggest advertising festivals — Cannes, Clio and LIA.

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  • How was the year 2019 for the agency in spite of the economic slowdown? Could you share the growth numbers?

    The economic slowdown impacted our growth in 2019. It has been a challenging year for the agency — one of the big reasons being our large footprint in the automotive industry. The automotive industry, as we all know, has seen enormous headwinds over the last 18 months. This negatively impacted advertising spends. On the other hand, some of our clients from other industries have done relatively better and contributed to our growth. Overall, our growth in 2019 will be lower than our expectations. What overall growth are you expecting in 2020? What will be your strategy to drive that growth? We are aiming for high single-digit growth in 2020. Because 2019 was soft, the targets in 2020 will be harder to achieve. We are planning aggressive strategies to push our growth agenda. We’ve identified three pillars of growth — first would be to strengthen and grow our existing client relationships, second to focus on winning new businesses, and third to scale up our digital business by taking our capabilities to the next level. Digital-first businesses will be our new targets. That said, our continued focus on creative excellence is what will be at the centre of our growth agenda. We will continue to focus on creating platform ideas for our brands. Our belief is that platform ideas drive integration and create long-term sustainable growth for our brands. Platform ideas are born at the intersection of cultural, consumer and brand truths. They are media-neutral and spark brand conversations. Project Streedhan by DSM is our most recent pieces of work that won the hearts and minds of women in India: A brand platform that sparked unprecedented conversations around iron deficiency and anaemia.

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