Ad land’s young guns: Abhishek Pujar, Partnerships Manager, India & South Asia, IAS

Abhishek Pujar is a Partnerships Manager, India & South Asia, at Integral Ad Science (IAS). In his current role, Pujar is educating and bringing awareness to the market on the benefits of ‘ad verification’ and how it can help marketers drive higher ROI for their ad dollars. He is leading IAS’ partnership efforts in South Asia by building strong business relationships with agencies and advertisers and ensuring engagement across events and conferences on behalf of IAS.

Pujar brings over five years of experience in sales strategies, client servicing, business development, and creating market strategies and programs to scale businesses. In his previous roles at InMobi and Zomato, he helped set up revenue processes and drive efficiencies.

Pujar is an alumnus of the National Institute of Technology, Karnataka. In his free time, he likes cooking, cycling in the Himalayas, and clicking photographs.

In conversation with Adgully, Abhishek Pujar, Partnerships Manager, India & South Asia, Integral Ad Science, speaks about his current role, as well as some common challenges that young professionals face when starting their careers.

Could you share about your career journey so far, especially your transition from InMobi and Zomato to your current role at Integral Ad Science (IAS)?

Although a mechanical engineer by education, I have traded wrenches for pixels and ended up in the world of Digital Marketing. By the end of college, I was sure I did not want to pursue a career in engineering so I went out looking for marketing/ sales roles and ended up as an account manager in an Indian consulting/ brokerage firm. I absolutely enjoyed trying to solve problems for our customers and this is where I learnt the basics of business etiquette and negotiation skills.

After 2 years, Zomato happened. My job there was to go out to popular restaurants, meet their owners and convince (educate mostly) them as to why it was important to advertise, let alone on Zomato. We had to tremendously simplify our communication to have them understand the fundamentals of advertising and how having their banners on Zomato - a platform that attracts food enthusiasts - is the best place to be present digitally. I later moved to a role that involved setting up an inside sales/ account management team for Zomato that could manage the growing number of accounts and scale the business.

At Zomato, a colleague and I jumped the entrepreneurship boat and started a digital marketing agency in Bangalore. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the start-up life and my friend is still running the agency (Just Jugaad) successfully, my curiosity to understand the digital landscape deeper had me join InMobi which is where I was introduced to the vast and complex digital ecosystem. It was here that I was introduced to terms like DSPs, SSPs, MMPs, Header Bidding, DMPs etc that we are so used to now.

At InMobi, I started as an account manager for the SEA market. In this role, I supported the sales teams that were on the ground in different countries while nurturing direct relationships with clients and maximising campaign impacts. I later moved to a sales role for the Indo-China region which was growing quite well at the time. Joining IAS was a natural progression for me as it allowed me to leverage my expertise in ad tech and digital marketing within the context of measurement solutions. One of the other reasons to join IAS was that I knew the team was small and lean - which is the way I believe you can make an exponential impact.

As the Partnerships Manager for India & South Asia at IAS, what are your responsibilities and how you contribute to the growth of the company?

My responsibilities involve conducting roadshows and forging strategic alliances with key stakeholders across both agencies and advertisers. I am also responsible for educating the market about the benefits and importance of measurement, verification, and media quality as a whole. Given how ‘ROI centric’ the Indian digital space is, this is a tough job but the landscape is changing slowly - Marketers are understanding the importance of measuring what they are buying and are questioning the quality of their buys. I work with my colleagues across different time zones to collaborate, develop and most importantly execute strategies that are tailored to South Asian markets which is unique.

Another part of my job at IAS is understanding what the marketers here need and then sharing this feedback with our leaders and product teams so that we can prioritise what’s critical for growth.

Could you share a specific example of a successful partnership that you’ve been a part of and the impact it had on the business?

If I have to pick one example from my stint here, it would be the work that went into winning one of India’s largest automobile manufacturers! Sales cycles here are long, and persistence truly pays off, from RFI’s to RFPs to the advertiser changing agencies — we had to navigate all of it with finesse and attention to detail, which MSIL appreciated. Today, they are one of the leading local partners for IAS in India and we continue to strengthen this partnership.

What led you to pursue a leadership role at a young age, and what are your long-term leadership goals?

I never planned to be in a leadership role, my focus has always been to deliver the finest for our customers by working with my team and growing together to the best of our abilities, leadership was only a byproduct. My early experiences taught me the value of taking initiative, embracing challenges and inspiring others to achieve their potential. Sometimes all you need is a helping hand, especially in a dynamic domain like Digital Marketing where there is something new to learn every day.

My long-term goals revolve around continuous personal and professional development while making a lasting and meaningful impact in the field of digital marketing. I aspire to lead diverse and high-performing teams that work with a sense of purpose fostering a culture of collaboration, innovation, excellence and where everyone truly believes that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

What strategies do you use to motivate and inspire your team members or peers?

  • Leading by example is something I truly embody. As humans, we have the innate urge to reciprocate and that's a great learning and motivating tool if used properly.
  • Clear communication, autonomy and empowerment are another. Being truly clear about what the outcome looks like and making sure that all the stakeholders are aware of this in a manner that there are no misunderstandings is important. Once that is done, empowering the team with the tools and environment they need while letting their drive figure the best solution out is something that has worked great for me.
  • Recognition, appreciation and personal development - I make it a point to recognize, the good and the bad, to appreciate the contributors and the achievements of the team regularly. This creates a feedback loop for continual improvement and a 1% improvement compounded over the year can bring in 37X the results.

What initiatives have you taken to develop your leadership skills and knowledge?

  • Keeping up to date is critical in this industry so you know what you are talking about and can connect the dots and identify trends over time. I do this by setting aside some time every week to read industry reports, new products, the business landscapes and both macro and micro industry shifts.
  • Engaging with peers and industry experts through marketing events and conferences gives me a chance to exchange ideas and learn from them about what is working, how I can improve myself and the way I work.
  • I am lucky enough to be in an organisation that personifies continuous innovation and puts it into practice. This means I have to also be up to date on our product updates, what's new and how we are adapting our tools based on customer feedback and also aligning with the industry trends.
  • Feedback, mentorship and reflection: Understanding how I am doing from my peers and my supervisors to identify areas for improvement while taking some time off to reflect on my approach and effectiveness.

What advice do you have for students and recent graduates who aspire to enter the advertising and marketing industry?

Given how much saturation there is today when it comes to content, opportunities and consumer options – marketing and advertising are becoming even more important to differentiate and stand out. This gives me the confidence that there is a lot in store for someone new to this industry - from anyone who is creatively driven to someone who is technology-oriented to someone interested in business. It’s a sweet intersection of science, creativity and business.

Some things I can share as advice and tips for students/ recent graduates:

  • Gain practical experience - Seek internships, part-time jobs and volunteer opportunities in agencies, marketing departments and related fields to gain hands-on experience and insight to gauge if this is the right fit for you
  • Stay informed - Stay updated on industry trends, emerging technologies and how they can fit into the industry will be key. Follow industry publications, webinars, and attend industry events, etc.
  • Seek feedback and mentorship from the industry - Find people who inspire you and start reaching out to them, ask for mentorship, and check for opportunities. You don’t get what you never asked for.
  • Showcase your passion and build a network by demonstrating your enthusiasm and passion for advertising and marketing in job interviews and networking events. People value folks who are genuinely interested and want to contribute to the industry.
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