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Ad land’s Young Guns: Dhirajkumar Mahale, Essence

Dhirajkumar Mahale is Director, Advertising Operations, India at Essence, a global data and measurement-driven agency which is part of GroupM. Joining in 2016, Mahale was Essence’s first advertising operations hire in India. He built a local team from ground up and currently leads the advertising operations practice across the agency’s Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru offices. 

Mahale exemplifies what it means to be a discipline lead in India. He not only takes full responsibility for his team, but also strives to make all cross-functional teams better. His strong experience and expertise in marketing technology, together with his constant appetite to learn new things, place him in a unique position to solve clients’ complex marketing problems using the best of advertising technology. 

Prior to Essence, Mahale was Senior Advertising Account Manager at leading mobile advertising network Opera Mediaworks (now AdColony) and Operations Engineer at advertising technology firm AudienceScience. He graduated from the Maharashtra Institute of Technology, Pune with a Bachelor of Engineering degree in Computer Engineering. 

What does it take to climb up the ladder in advertising? Here’s Dhirajkumar Mahale in his own words... 

How did you get into the role you are serving?
Marketing is all about reaching out to the right audience at the right time with the right message. When you’re so moved by that TV advertisement that you tear up, when you end up buying a product because your favourite celebrity uses it too – these are examples of various forms of marketing changing your everyday life. Add new age technology to it and boom! We are looking at the future of marketing. I enjoy showcasing my love for technology through the medium of marketing. What one can create with marketing, supported by technology and data insights, is a magic show I always want to be a part of. Here at Essence, I get exactly that, which not just keeps me motivated but amazes me with something new every day. 

What particular skill sets do you think you bring to the table?
I’m an explorer who doesn’t like to limit himself with job descriptions. Hence, I’m more than happy when I’m able to extend a supporting hand to anyone and everyone in the organisation for almost everything. As a manager, this helps me encourage my team to try new and innovative ways to tackle issues at hand, something we feel proud of. I’m more than happy to take up challenges which seem impossible at that moment, and to some extent, have a greater risk of failure. This attitude pushes my team and me to find new routes and break our own records. 

Another thing which helps my team and me is my eye for detail. Before sending out anything from my end, I have a habit of rechecking every minor detail to deliver the utmost quality. 

How did Essence come about?
Two words – goal congruence. When I started my professional journey after college, I began it in digital marketing on the publisher/ supply side of the business. After that stint, I wanted to focus on mobile advertising, so I decided to work in a hardcore mobile advertising network. This is where I learnt three important aspects of the digital industry – advertisers, advertising technology platforms and publishers. 

It was then time to experience and focus more on the third important aspect – advertisers/ agencies. Essence paved the way for me to learn and understand the demand side of the business and the omnichannel ecosystem. Essence not only tests my knowledge from my previous jobs, but also throws something new at me every single day. I’m proud that we started in India with a 7-member team in 2016 and now stand at well over 130 people across Bengaluru, Delhi and Mumbai, and are continuously growing at a rapid pace. 

Icons in advertising you look up to and how they have influenced you and your work?
I have been able to find an icon right here at Essence in our Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer, Andrew Shebbeare. His vision applies not just to an agency, but for the entire advertising discipline – our agency mission is to make advertising more valuable to the world. He’s someone who treats clients’ money as his own – a trait not everyone in the world possesses. His thoughts drive me to deliver not just quality product to clients every time, but also strive to refine it for the better. 

What are the five most productive things that you do in your everyday routine?

  1. A morning ritual to make a task list for my team and me: It starts with emails, chats with the team, incoming requests and meeting schedules to understand my team’s as well as my own deliverables.
  2. Prioritisation: Understanding the difference between important versus urgent solves most issues. I do it for myself and encourage my team to follow it as well.
  3. Reading advertising news and articles: Our industry is an ever-changing one, so it’s imperative that we are up-to-date with all the new developments in the sphere.
  4. Connecting with people: After all, we work with people and not just machines. I always make sure to meet and greet with everyone I know. This not only makes me more accessible to them, but also helps me to connect with them on a personal level.
  5. Leisure time: All work and no play makes one a dull boy indeed. I enjoy cooking and music in my free time. I started to learn how to play the keyboard – something I really look forward to at the end of my day.

Do you think a career in advertising is a viable one in the long term?
Yes. I believe this is one of the few domains which has been continuously evolving in accordance with consumer behaviour and new forms of media engagement. Who would have thought that users who pay to buy cloud storage to hold on to their photos and videos forever, would be comfortable with an app whereby pictures and messages are available for a short time before they become inaccessible forever. 

What does it take to succeed in a career like advertising?
Passion: Keeps you motivated.

Dedication: Putting in honest efforts is always a learning experience and gives results.

Determination: Belief and firmness towards your goal.

These can help in any job, role or organisation. 

What would be your advice to youngsters planning to enter this industry?
1) Why: Ask this question to yourself on why you want to choose this industry. Do you have personal strengths which can benefit you in advertising? For example, organised people can be good for operations/ process-driven work, while creative people can be good for innovation work. Or you might have individual goals to improve yourself with multiple qualities. 

The objective is to answer the question why. It will help to ask appropriate questions for the right role/ industry, which will lead in deciding the right path from the beginning rather than in between changes. 

2) What: Define time-based tangible goals.

For example, in one year, I want to learn the basics of the entire advertising ecosystem. In two to three years, I want to be an expert in a few things, such as the demand versus supply side of the ecosystem, or offline versus online advertising. In five years, I want to become a subject matter expert, or I want to manage bits and pieces of everything. 

These are just examples and are subject to change over time, however they at least give you clarity on what you want to do. 

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
In five years, I see myself becoming an expert who can solve any level of complex marketing technology issues and can provide advanced marketing solutions based on data and facts to make advertising more valuable to the world. 

Is there any agency/ organisation that you would like to work with in the future?
With the experience I have working in a global data and measurement-driven agency with some of the most innovative clients in the world like Google and Flipkart, I’d love to build upon this to work with any equally innovative global technology company in the advertising sphere.

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