Shashi Sinha Curated
CEO at IPG Mediabrands India
CURATED BY :
What are some of your strenghts?
I am not good at detailing but good at multi-tasking. I can keep five balls in the air at the same time.
What are your views on playing the crucial role of Chairman of the TechComm for BARC?
I wasn’t completely sure when they asked me to become the Chairman of the TechComm for BARC, but when I get into something then there is no looking back. I believe a revolution is going to happen in this country with BARC. It has really picked up momentum. My new challenge and passion at this point is BARC.
What kind of challenges do you face in IPG Mediabrands?
We face the challenge of quality of talent. I have a great stable senior team and great team leaders. The quality of talent in our business is a challenge faced by the entire industry and we need to do something dramatic to sort it out. We have a very good entry level recruitment pattern; we are one of the biggest recruiters from campuses. Getting good talent from zero to five years is not a challenge; it is retaining the quality of talent from five to 10 years. This worries me. I cannot wait for the industry to do something about it; I have to find a solution.
On the Publicis – Omnicom merger and how it changes Indian dynamics?
From a long-term perspective, it worries me. However, I truly believe that in our country, the ability to implement and make things happen is integral. One is the talk, while second is who does it – It is the ability to make things happen on the ground. I say to my teams, “You have a head-start if you make things happen on the ground.” There is no dearth of knowledge, there is dearth of execution.
Any comments on the core team at IPG Mediabrands India?
Initially, it was all about getting the right people at the right places and succession planning. I built a team of our core people Nandini Dias (now CEO of Lodestar UM operating from Mumbai), Anamika Mehta (now CEO of Initiative, operating from Delhi), Suresh Balakrishna (BPN CEO) and Amar Deep Singh (now CEO of MAP, which consists of Reprise and Interactive Avenues). I am a big believer in cultivating existing talent that has been with the company long as they are people who are anchored and trust the company and culture. We may not be the best people in the market, we may not be the brightest, but we know each other really well. We know how the other will react to a given situation. This is a complete advantage. There is complete trust within the team and we are lucky to have this team
Which is the turning point in the journey as CEO of IPG Mediabrands India?
In the first 90 days, you can sense whether you are getting it right or not. This is why the Sony pitch was so crucial. We gave it all we had and retained the Sony business. Not only did we retain the electronic business, they also give us the mobile business, which turned out to be a windfall, seeing how aggressive Sony has become in the mobile space. This, to my mind, was the turning point as Initiative strengthened as a result. It was not only about the business, but winning the pitch was symbolic, giving the team a boost.
The media buying market has become like a sabzi mandi. How much fun can that be for someone who comes from the old school?
This is the unfortunate downside of globalization, global clients and global processes. Truth is that internationally advertising is not a hot profession any more, it comes way down the totem pole. Though in India it still has a pedigree, there’s some respect left. Ten years later it may not be there.
What are the future goals you’ve set for yourself?
I think there’s a huge opportunity in the content space. And one would like to do something that’s related to advertising. It could be digital or television content. We have taken some baby steps in that direction but haven’t been able to ignite it. In fact, I have told our global parents they should offer quasi-entrepreneurial opportunities to the team members. In the sense that people within the company are given pilot projects to run, in which they have some stake.
Which is the one moment that made it all worthwhile for you?
Meeting Dr. Kurien
What would you like to tell young professionals who look up to you?
You have to like the business and enjoy what you do. There are things that are bad about an industry and there are things that are good – you need to be able to enjoy the positives it so as to take the bad things along the stride. Advertising is intangible – no one will tell you how the ad actually performed; you need to be able to enjoy your work to feel the gratification.
Which is the one challenge that forced you to become a better professional?
There were many challenges, but I think the main one was pressure – advertising teaches you handling pressure.
In your opinion, icons are born great or made? What do you think about icons like Virat Kohli, Kiran Bedi and many others like them?
When people start they don’t think I’ll be an icon, I won’t be an icon. Circumstances get you to a place where you are, what you are. I started taking a lot of interest in industry bodies in the last couple of years and so people started recognizing me. My belief is what you input is what you get. Icons don’t start with the plan of becoming an icon, they just do their job.
Who are the Icons who have inspired you to grow and strive for excellence?
Certainly Dr. Kurien. We were working on Amulya and discussing packaging options. When we asked Dr. Kurien, which option he liked, he looked at us and shrugged saying you guys tell me. Those 30 seconds were mortifying. No one said anything. Out of sheer fear, I picked up one pack and he said this is it and walked out. He told us there is no shade of grey in corruption, one paisa here and there and you’ll be out with the speed of lighting. That tugged at my heart.
What does a day in the life of Shashi Sinha look like?
I love talking to my people and I hate reading emails. Half the time I’m chatting up with different teams. There are times when there used to be late nights while growing up, now it’s different. I proudly say I don’t work late anymore. I meet a lot of friends and family, I love spending time with them.
Back when you started, what was the Advertising & Media industry like?
When I got into Parle and was posted to all kinds of places – from Andhra, Bihar, West Bengal, MP, and then Delhi and Mumbai. The experience in Bihar was probably the toughest; Bihar was a very mafia dominated place. There used to be the water mafia back then; the Indira Gandhi Setu took 15 years to make, it goes from Patna to Muzzafarpur. There used to be those British barriers through which trucks and cars would go and they would charge. So, when I went with my local sales guy, I saw a huge fellow wearing a dhoti, lying on a cot. The local guy told me to try crossing this bridge without paying money, a fee of 50 bucks without any receipt. And I had to submit every receipt for my conveyance. 50 bucks were big money back then. There is one more funny instance which I till date don’t know if it was true or it was a con – we were in Bokaro and after the day my local colleague tells me to lock yourself in the room and don’t open if anyone knocks. I was like I want to go to the market and he said this is Bihar, there are no eligible boys here and they kidnap if they find a suitable groom. Even after so many years, I don’t know if that guy was a con. Such was the sales and distribution industry back then. My experiences grounded me very early.
Which is the Moment of Epiphany which changed your life for good?
The big moment of my life was when Dr. Kurien came to Ulka. It was a rainy day in July, 1986. He happened to come to our office; the top management of the company wasn't in due to rains. So, the receptionist got him to me; I must have been 27 back then. I knew who Dr. Kurien was and I was really scared. He said why don't you tell your bosses to come back and meet us.
Looking back where did it all begin?
After engineering, I went into Telco which is now Tata Motors, worked there for 10 days and then got into management school. I was the last person to join the management school in IIM Bangalore. There were no phones in those days, a TelEx came in and my mother tracked me down and sent me to business school. After IIM I got into sales at a time when everyone was getting into marketing. I went to Parle and was interviewed by Vijay Chauhan and Prakash Chauhan. They asked me why not marketing? And I said sales in a very tough profile. Much later I joined another brand, which had a very murky way of functioning. One of my bosses shifted to Ulka and eventually I moved too. I took a dip in salary to join advertising, which was a clean industry. I moved in for the wrong reasons but started enjoying it.
What will be the impact of COVID-19 crisis on broadcasting, print, digital, radio and out of home media agencies?
How do you feel, the Big MNC will behave during and post COVID-19 crisis?
If work from home becomes possible and gives optimal output, are you worried about the retrenchment that might happen because of that?
What are your learning and insights from the work from home culture at IPG Mediabrands during this pandemic?
What will be the impact on Brands, Media and Advertising sector, if IPL does not take place this year due to COVID-19 crisis?
What should brands do during and post coronavirus pandemic?
What is your advice to the brands during this COVID-19 crisis?
What are your views on novel coronavirus and its economic impact?
What do you expect from a client?
That they do not compromise on the quality of work just because some agency is offering a lower commission.
What kind of specialisation/talent is missing in media agencies today?
Now that the role of the media agency has evolved to that of a consultancy, clients are looking for business solutions which are media agnostic. We are focused on upscaling our mainline teams digitally. While other networks are focused on creating specialists, our teams are fluid and can seamlessly work on all mediums including digital. For most major clients across the IPG Mediabrands India network, we have offline-online integrated teams. Our endeavour is to bridge this gap through continuous training and to work more collaboratively.
In the next 12 months, From where do you think the solution to the digital ad fraud menace will come from?
increasingly sophisticated brand safety solutions and greater focus on transparent, named inventory sources by agencies and clients.
What consumption trends are you seeing in rural versus urban markets?
Despite the steady rise of digital, television remains the key medium for advertisers targeting rural markets. FMCG categories like personal care and food and beverages continue to focus a large part of their rural outreach on TV, accounting for a dominant share of TV spends. The medium delivers a potential 70 per cent of rural audiences, supported by robust viewership measurement from BARC. With easy accessibility of free-to-air channels and headroom for growth, TV will stay at the centre of the action for rural advertisers in the future. While TV also delivers cost-effective reach in urban homes, consumers are more evolved in these markets and media habits are fragmented. In urban markets, advertisers have several screens on different platforms to target these audiences through. The key to connecting with urban audiences is identifying and participating in the genres they follow. Besides FMCG, auto, consumer durables and telecom also drive urban media spends.
In the context of media planning/buying, what's the one global practice/trend India will do well to catch up with fast?
Gone are the days when global headquarters used to introduce new services that we would then replicate. We are completely aligned to all our global best practices, tools and services. Moreover, media solutions are all about building strategies and solutions that are custom-made for the client’s business problems. For instance, J&J India’s media solutions will be different from those in other global markets. We recently launched Spotify in India; the idea, strategy and execution factored in cultural nuances and local challenges.
In 2020, what is that big trend that ought to concern or excite media agencies?
I think it’s an exciting time for media agencies. They've been elevated to play the role of consultancies today. Clients look at media agencies as extensions of their marketing teams – extensions that will help them solve business problems. We are moving from serving to solving. Media agencies play a pivotal role in building and growing the client’s business, and to my mind, that’s the single biggest transformation we have undergone in recent years.
What, in your view, was your agency's best campaign of 2019? What about it impressed you?
2019 was a stellar year for IPG Mediabrands India and its agencies – Lodestar UM, Initiative, Interactive Avenues and Rapport. It’s difficult to choose one campaign. In 2019, we created a Guinness world record with our campaign for Too Yumm! at Ardh Kumbh Mela; the account is handled by Initiative and Rapport. Initiative also launched Mission Paani for Reckitt Benckiser; it’s a campaign close to my heart. The agency continues to do well on the Amazon business, which we have been handling since its launch in India. I am proud of the work Lodestar UM is doing for Samsung, Spotify, Amul, Tata Motors, Mahindra & Mahindra, Johnson & Johnson and so on. Interactive Avenues won the IAMAI Agency of the Year award for the sixth consecutive time. As a network, in 2019, we won 42 gold, 39 silver and 38 bronze awards.
Agency business is directly proportional to the economy. Is there any assessment on the impact of revenues of agencies during this lockdown?
It’s very early to comment but if the coronavirus isn’t contained within four months, it will be devastating for the economy and all the players in the industry, including us.
Do you think India’s digital video streaming industry is likely to gain from the lockdown?
It will help. But I’m not sure whether it will become a habit as content has to resonate with the masses. Currently, it does so only with a particular profile of audiences.
Organising the Indian Premier League looks highly uncertain in today’s time. Do you think brands would be spending the advertising money kept aside for the property on other mediums?
The money will be decided on the economic conditions prevailing in the country, along with the desire of brands to spend. It doesn’t automatically mean all the IPL money will go to the other mediums.
Do you see brands spending big on the news genre during this lockdown?
Yes, that is why news is doing well.
While TV and radio might be facing lower advertising revenue despite high consumption, print and outdoor are not even being consumed and are the worst-hit mediums. Print also got hit because of the misinformation on social media. How challenging will be their revival?
Revival will depend on the duration of the spread of coronavirus. Shorter the effect, faster the recovery. I must point out one thing, print has shown tremendous value from a credibility point of view, which will stand the industry in good stead in the long run.
It is said that audiences are more amiable to ads or communication during such a time. Would you suggest brands, even if they fall under the non-essential category, to continue with certain communication? Also, is it necessary that every communication should be around Coronavirus?
I have a contrarian view. People are so sick and tired of coronavirus. We must do different things. People want positivity and small drops of positive emotion and empathy. Whichever brand can deliver this through their product offering or communication is good. Otherwise, the advice would be to stay away as the downside to brands can be more. One example currently is Amul. The brand is running its ads with ‘Ma ka pyar’ communication. I think it is very appropriate considering the equity Amul has in the market.
How can the industry improve media research in this nation? There are too many question marks on television audience measurement and print readership studies.
Someone has to put money on the table, it’s as simple as that. The solutions are all known, I know very bright and talented people in research, what needs to be fixed is known. The problem is: No one is wiling to invest. Today, if television measurement costs Rs 20 crores, what if Rs 100 crores was spent on it? Or, for readership surveys, which cost Rs 4 cores today, what will happen if they had Rs 15 crores? So it’s nothing but lack of funds. Neither the newspapers nor the media agencies nor the clients want to put down that kind of money. And that’s the only problem.
What are the key challenges the buyer faces in a highly fragmented media market?
Everyone chases the rate game and how to buy it cheap. To me that’s stupid. For most of the organized media there are metrics in place to measure the media efficiencies. So in media terms how many consumers we’ve reached is all bull. The big challenge is to find whether that’s working for my brand or not. That, no one is able to answer.
How many years do you give the print medium in this country?
I can’t say about Bombay, Delhi and Bangalore, but as a country, print will be here for a very long time. The smaller towns are under-leveraged. Secondly, even if there’s internet access, there’s no power supply in these places. So how much can one use the computer, how much can one read on the mobile? If the time spent in Bombay on a newspaper is 15 minutes, for a town in UP it would be forty minutes. The entire family reads it.
Which one, out of all your super media innovation you are most proud of having effected?
It’s always teamwork so it’s embarrassing to say I did it. We have enabled many, but the one I am most proud of was for Nerolac Paints about five years ago. We took up a Mumbai local and deposited the shades onto the train. Nerolac deposited their paint on the outside of the train and made a shade card out of it. It was a wonderful idea.
You started out as an account planner in Ulka. How did media happen?
In those days planning was an unknown concept. Bal Mundkur used to run the agency at the time, and he thought planning was an airy fairy function, that it had lost steam. He asked me to do some ‘real work’. So I started doing odd jobs like running the financial advertising cell, selling sponsored prorgammes, etc. Later I shifted to client servicing. Along the way my interest in media grew. When the FCB guys decided to make India the regional hub, Anil Kapoor said the time had come for me to fully move to the media function.
What attracted you to advertising, when you were a sales manager with the UB group?
I actually came into advertising for the wrong reasons. I grew reasonably fast in the UB group at a young age and I was in sales there. But I wanted to migrate to marketing and that would have been an effort. Then a friend said to me I should work in advertising as I would get to work on many brands at one shot. And so I joined the ad world in 1986 and stayed on.