AgTalk | In 2012 LMG is going to be very different: Lintas' Lynn de Souza

She is a known name across the media industry in the country, her pleasant aura and leadership qualities is what stays with you like a binding memory. Accuracy personified, Lynn de Souza, Chairman & CEO, Lintas Media Group, has spent over 25 years in the industry, seen the industry grow and guided many brands to progress. In an exclusive interview with Adgully she talks about her treasured experience in the media industry so far and her plans for the agency in 2011. Excerpts:

Adgully (AG): What do you consider to be your career's highpoints?

Lynn de Souza (LD): Quite honestly, every point of my life is a highpoint for me. I say this because I like to look at life as a continuum of moments, in which every single interaction is of consequence ' even a simple meeting with someone is a high point to me. One learns from every single moment lived and experienced, that is how you grow. I do not like to look at only achievements or victories or recognitions of any kind as high points, because that would take away from the significance of every loss. Having said that I would like to add that I get immense pleasure and derive more happiness around animals, maybe moments with them can be termed as "higher points" for me.

AG: How has the industry evolved over the years?

LD: The media industry has evolved rapidly and it keeps evolving. The form of media and the way one receives and consumes media has changed. From the printed word to the audio visual experience and on to the real life experience of touching and feeling a brand, there has been an overall evolution. Now what is interesting is the whole new aspect of consumers being in control of, almost taking control of, the media. The consumer is more than ever in control of content, so this evolution of control passing from "those who speak to those who receive and then share' is the biggest change. Moreover what consumers share with each other has become more important to the fate of brands than what advertisers have to say. The way brands are looking at media has also changed and they are getting increasingly conscious that "brand speak' is not enough.

AG: What have been the most memorable moments in terms of client satisfaction?

LD: I feel pleased when I see our planners and buyers make an extra effort to understand unique aspects of the consumers they need to engage with. Our research team in Gurgaon has developed a special CAPI system to track daily media consumption of potential car buyers as they walk into over 30 Maruti dealerships around the country. That's real targetting. Our OOH team in Gurgaon has built from scratch India's first large scale interactive LED screens for Nokia outside the airports of Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. You can't miss those. Our content team in Mumbai has produced an adventure reality show called Ritz Jee Le Ye Pal which airs every weekend at 7.30 pm on Star Plus. It truly brings the brand promise of "living the moment' to life. Our OOH team for Hindustan Unilever has created the most unique forms of "instore media' I have ever seen, for your local bhajiwala. Every one of these, and many more, have been greatly appreciated by our clients.

AG: What are the key strengths of Lintas Media Group?

LD: I like to believe that first and foremost, Lintas Media Group has a very strong character, a soul, an integrity of purpose that I find less obvious in our competitors. Maybe it could be because the agency has heritage. So there is a culture that is deeply instilled amongst all of us. We have a strong performance based work ethic, and we are professionally and financially well managed. When we enter into an engagement with a client or a media partner, very often the reason for being selected is the integrity of our agency, and the focus on performance delivery rather than the mere promise of it. We choose the clients we want to work with carefully, and don't shop around or underprice ourselves, because I see a premium value attached to our sheer financial integrity.

The second strength I would say is that we are extremely stable. The agency can stand the harshest of knocks, since the backbone of the agency itself is so firm. We can withstand the pressure better than most of the other agencies in the country. We are not aggressive attackers in the market, we are not a predatory agency but if people try and prey on us we can face that in our own ethical way and protect ourselves.

The third key strength of Lintas Media Group is that we have a very open culture. People can reach out to anyone from the top-most level of the organisation hierarchy and discuss anything freely. It is a family in which people truly care about each other even when they are being pulled up, as often happens! And this as a practice is valued across various levels within the agency. There are a lot of feminine traits to this agency which makes it a much warmer place.

The fourth strength would be our diversified offerings. We have a strong presence in the non traditional spaces in out-of-home media, digital and content with specialized divisions and subsidiaries for each of these, so the client does get access to strategic as well as execution capabilities in one space.

AG: The environment becoming even more fiercely competitive¦what will sustain Lintas Media Group's success?

LD: Without a doubt, it is our integrity. If there is one thing that sets us apart in any pitch, we win because of our integrity. We only go in for those businesses where the dealings will be professional and mutually profitable, and have been known to stop working for accounts where this comes under question. We have very strict credit norms, we don't give extended credit and we make it a point to analyse client balance sheets thoroughly before we take them on a client. This approach keeps us financially afloat. I believe that much of the value erosion in the media business as expressed in lower rates to media owners and lower compensation agreements for clients, is a direct outcome of the erosion of ethical business practices in the industry. This needs to be addressed wholeheartedly and dispassionately by all the players.

Having said this, the most important success factor is and always will be our product quality. We don't waste time needlessly chasing awards, we would rather chase business success for the brands we handle. And we do handle some of the most successful brands in India. That is why we place a lot of emphasis on strategic intent, guided by proprietary research. One of our global tools, Connections, done annually, measures 78 touchpoints used across a large sample of 9800 people spread over 17 cities ' and the insights drawn are uniquely beneficial to clients who make use of the learnings.

AG: What is your approach while providing solutions to clients?

LD: At Lintas Media Group, we believe in partnering, we genuinely partner our clients. We do not pay lip-service to it. We believe that we can only grow when we enable and partner our clients and media partners to grow too. We cannot grow by devaluing them or at their expense. It is not about being mere advisors, it is also about learning together. It is about having the guts to question the status quo. The market is so complex and changing at such a rapid rate, there is a lot of unpredictability and those who are willing to learn together are best placed to win together.

AG: What growth path have you charted for your team?

LD: I can tell you that in 2012 the agency is going to be very different one from what it is now. There are lot of wheels that have been set into motion, we have already had a lot of senior-level meetings and we are looking at putting in a lot of work for shaping a new future. All I can say today is that Lintas Media Group of 2012 will be a completely different agency. We as a team believe that the entire business is moving into an era where the distribution of content in all media is going to be digital rather than analog, giving rise to a range of possibilities. So we are immersing the whole agency in the digital space. So we started off with LMG CyberQuest, which is a whole month when every person within the agency including me was first trained in online search, then social media and gradually moving across to mobile. Those who refuse to be immersed will find it very hard to work here in 2012. So the idea behind this was to take away the fear ' "I do not know, so I will not do it".

I see discontinuous growth emanating from areas which are new and exciting and yet to be explored. And a shift in our revenue model to areas with higher margin offerings. I also see a lot of change in the way our resources will be trimmed and skinned to wean away the unproductive areas.

AG: What do you think have been the pros and cons of the separation of the media and the creative function within agencies?

LD: The positive side of it was that the media function grew; it came into its own. It would not have happened if it was under the banner of a full service agency. I think the separation is what enabled the media agencies to develop and probably run away with the baton. What I particularly miss, because I grew up in full-service agency culture, I miss rapping with the creative professionals because I would draw inspiration from them. Even today, when I am looking for an "idea break", to bring in a new innovation in the agency, whether in HR, or systems, or technology, or some financial investment, I will still go grab a cup of coffee with a creative buddy. I think media agencies have to develop ways to groom creative skills within the media professionals who work in the agency. Those who aggressively target awards do this better.

AG: What are some of the things that the agency is doing to retain the talent?

LD: We are doing a lot to retain talent, besides we have over the years seen very low attrition levels. We did have some attrition in January this year which was more or less planned, when we lost a large account in one city and could not relocate everyone from there to other cities where we had won new accounts. I was a little more strict than ususal this year and asked a few mid-senior level non-performers to move on. But other than that we have very high retention rates. We do engagement studies because through this we get to know how engaged our employees really are in their work. Engagement reviews cover both employee satisafaction and contribution and help the organisation identify good performers who are burning themselves out, or average performers who have dug themselves into a nice comfort zone ' always something to watch out for in heritage agencies like ours. We are also plutting our senior most leaders through a year long executive coaching program, where they are mentored by objective outside parties.

AG: Any advice for young media talents?

LD: I think everyone should do more for the community. Indians are family and community minded, but are slow to work in causes supporting the underpivileged. But I find the younger lot who are coming in, really wanting to do something not just for themselves but for the community and the industry at large. This is really a healthy trend. I would like media professionals to be extremely social-conscious and get out there and do something for the fraternity every single day. | By Prabha Hegde [prabha(at)]


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