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AgTalk | Now I get to paint on a larger canvas of iProspectCommunicate2!: Vivek Bhargava

Amidst numerous developments that took place in the media, marketing and advertising domain off late, a major event that caught attention was the acquisition of one of the natives in digital advertising and consulting in India, Communicate 2 by the Aegis Group. Communicate2’s expertise lies in the field of contextual advertising, lead generation and performance marketing. It offers digital consultancy as well as standalone services such as SEO, search marketing, social media, analytics, display, video content creation, mobile advertising, application development, ORM and many more. As sophisticated Digital architects, the company helps clients leverage different digital media services and platforms in a strategic manner to achieve their business goals.
Beginning its journey in 1997 when the Internet and the Web had just taken its first baby steps in India, Communicate2, started by visionary Vivek Bhargava went on to evolve as one of the leading search engine marketing companies in India.
Vivek Bhargava has over 15 years of experience in the field. He currently guides the Digital Strategy of companies such as ICICI Lombard, HDFC Bank, Religare Group, Cleartrip etc. He is passionately committed to the merged entity - iProspect Communicate2’s mission of being the biggest performance marketing firm in the country and leading offshore firm in contextual advertising.
Adgully caught up with  Vivek Bhargava on the various facets of the deal and the road ahead. Here are the excerpts from the conversation.
Adgully (AG): With the merged entity 'iProspectCommunicate2', how do you plan to continue as a part of the entity?
Vivek Bhargava (VB): Post acquisition, I will continue to lead iProspectCommunicate2 as CEO. I love what I do; I am going to stick around for many years to come!  Post acquisition I get to paint on a larger canvas. iProspect will give us access to global tools and access to the best practices of the iProspect network. Globally, over 35 per cent of Aegis Media's revenues come from digital (highest amongst all media groups), which made it the best choice as our partner.
AG: You have been one of the early adopters of digitization and in a way you have evangelized the medium. So has anything changed from the last decade till date?
VB: Those were the early days of digitization. At that stage, the medium itself was in a nascent stage; although almost all large brands did some Digital activity, however, as spends were small, senior management spent very little time in understanding its potential. Let’s take a small example, I remember pitching to a large group where they were not convinced to even the need of a website. . But over the years, brands have realized that digital is the most effective medium to acquire new customers.As the awareness about digital is increasing, brands have further realized the importance of digital and that it is not only helpful in customer acquisition but also in information dissemination, brand building and in understanding consumer trends. Most of the change has been witnessed in last three or four years, more acutely in last one or two years. The brands have now realized that digital has two roles to play. One is customer acquisition and the second is an advertising platform that enhances brand building. Over the last few years, Digital acquired the reach through mobile and also, social media has allowed digital to deliver frequency and duration of ad unit exposure; thus enabling Digital to become an effective medium to build brands. Digital has become an effective platform for a lot of marketers across verticals; where one does many things and can choose from among community building, customer acquisition, information dissemination to brand building and understanding consumer trends etc. One other change I see is that the CEO’s and promoters of companies are investing time to understand Digital. I think this clearly demonstrates the arrival of Digital in India.
AG: Do you see a kind of trend in India, where many big communication agencies are trying to strengthen themselves by investing in digital agencies?
VB: If you see, the reach of digital (all put together) has reached 3 times that of television; the number of internet users in India is about 120 million, which is very significant. Like in the UK, digital is the biggest medium among all advertising mediums (television, print and outdoor). I see this happening in India too in the next few years. This is because in the last 3-4 years, brands have realized that once you use digital as an effective branding and advertising platform it performs way better that the conventional mediums. This is the trend that all the communication groups have realized. Building and retaining a digital team that has experience of working for large enterprise customers is extremely challenging, thus most conventional agencies are choosing the inorganic ways to grow.
AG: What will be the essence of this partnership and its success?
VB: Essence of the partnership is very simple. They have acquired Communicate2, so they will be majority shareholders. I do not see any operational changes happening. I am still going to run the company as the CEO.  I feel that every entrepreneur has to go through the phase when a company reaches to the next stage of growth. Some discipline has to come in to manage bigger things. Whether standalone or in a big group, I cannot work according to my whims and fancies, if I do, growth will not happen. The only changes we’ll have will be access to the instruments of growth like best practices, clients, and global technologies, whereas earlier we had to create these ourselves.
AG: Any aspects of the partnership that you believe that the clients can benefit from?
VB: Absolutely. We are now going to play a leading role in all aspects of search and bring some of the leading global technologies to India. We will have access to the best tools, technologies and people in digital, which we will share with our Indian clients. The advantages of being part of a global network, is the buying power that comes with it. Tools and technologies such as Marin and Kenshoo will come at far lower rates; these savings can pass to our clients and thus deliver a far more superior service for them.
AG: What kind of growth is the merged entity looking forward to?
VB: Growth is not the problem as I think digital is growing very rapidly in India. Even when the partnership was not there, we were growing. I think the partnership will help us manage and sustain this growth. The biggest challenge is talent acquisition and retention. This partnership will help us with both these challenges. Firstly from the talent perspective, we will get access to a wider pool of resources globally and then from the retention perspective where we will be able to offer greater job prospects, more advance training and the kudos that comes with such a large network such as iProspect. Talent is an intrinsic part of managing growth and I see that being made easier through this partnership.
AG: Everybody is of the opinion that digital as a medium is growing rapidly, but are the clients actually spending that much money? Or is it just plain talk?
VB: The growth in digital as far as Communicate2 is concerned is really happening. I think there are so many of my partners today who spend 30-40 per cent of their total advertising budgets on digital. The growth in digital therefore is really exciting. We have clients who used to spend Rs 10 lakhs a month who now spend more than a crore on the same. The kind of growth that we are going through right now, I won’t be surprised if in the next three to four years companies begin to spend 50-60 per cent of their budget on digital. So I disagree that people believe that it’s not growing. The whole debate of “why digital” has now become irrelevant!
AG: Any specific trends that you foresee in the domain in the next 5 years?
VB: I strongly believe that, digital is going to become a very important and effective branding platform. All aspects of digital will grow but the growth of Video - on - demand and Mobile will ensure that no brand can ignore the reach, the efficacy and tangibility of the medium. Like in the UK, I see in the next 4 years digital surpassing the use of Television and print as the main forms of advertising.
AG: Do you see a situation arising from this new development that you may not be able to work for certain clients or agencies?
VB: Right from the beginning we have only worked directly with clients in India. Some large advertisers wanted us to work through their conventional agencies, we refused to participate in such pitches. I believe clients that wants their conventional agencies to manage outsourced Digital Relationships are underestimating the power of Digital, furthermore by creating filter to work with outsourced digital vendors, they are limiting their own understanding of the medium. If we were servicing clients through other agencies, we would have lost business, as far as Communicate 2 is concerned, we  do not see any hurdles.
AG: With your expertise on board at Aegies, do you think Search and other things that you specialise in will take centre stage?
VB: Yes. I think Search is becoming very important in India now, especially in the last two years. I feel that mobile search in India has a huge growth potential even bigger than PC search due to the fact that mobile penetration in India is huge and is expanding very fast. With 3G and smart phones this will accelerate. Therefore I think mobile search will be the fastest way forward in our business.
AG: Do you think that now, with things in place in a far better way, you will be able to take a holiday or sit back and read that big book you always wanted to read?
VB: Actually with the new agenda, I do not see a holiday happening in the near future. I want to grow iProspectCommunicate2 as much as I can. I read a lot during flights!
AG: Is there one specific thing that you would want to do or focus on?
VB: Conventional Consulting companies are going to find it extremely challenging to build a Digital Consulting Practise, as Digital requires hand holding the client through the implementation. I am very excited about our Digital Consulting division, I feel we are in a great position to offer a consulting solution that involves working with them through their journey, rather than attempting to give them a Blue Print and expecting them to execute the same on their own.

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