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AGTalk: We are looking at an absolute growth of 15-20% in 2020: Amit Wadhwa

Dentsu Impact has been on an account-winning spree in 2019, adding several key accounts to its kitty, including:

  • Subway (Brand & Digital)
  • Tata Global Beverages (Digital Mandate for 8 brands)
  • Antara Senior Living (Brand & Digital)
  • Editorji (Digital)
  • Max Healthcare (existing client – Digital mandate won)
  • Fever FM, Radio One & Radio Nasha (existing client – Digital mandate won)
  • Carlsberg (existing client – Digital mandate won) 

Other wins include: Max Bupa (Brand), Vivo (projects), Netflix (projects), and V-Mart (Brand), among others.

When Amit Wadhwa joined Dentsu Creative Impact, as it was known then, it was already the fastest growing agency under then Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN) umbrella. It had been a creative agency for a decade, when erstwhile CEO Narayan Devanathan joined the DAN leadership team and took the more expansive role of Group Executive and Strategy Officer for South Asia in 2015. By then Wadhwa was heading operations for the newly rechristened Dentsu Impact which was headquartered in Gurgaon.

DAN had four digital agencies under their portfolio in 2015 – Isobar, iProspect, SVG Media and their most recent acquisition, WATConsult. Each of these organisations ran independently under one Dentsu P&L and went to pitch for business separately. But with the industry paying lip service to digital disruption, Wadhwa was dissatisfied that Dentsu Impact continued to remain the same in the new order.

After working with Lowe, Mudra, Leo Burnett and JWT, he had come to care passionately about brands and joined Dentsu in 2011 to take up a more action-oriented role in the business of advertising. He describes DAN, which was setting up shop in India back then, as an aggressive network which takes quick decisions, acts fast and changes things.

So, he pitched to the top brass at DAN and got a thumbs up. He recounts, “The good thing about DAN India is that there is a lot of independence to run the show. If what you are doing makes sense and resonated with the overall ambition of the group, you are given the green signal pretty quickly.”

Dentsu Impact set up digital and CRM divisions in late 2016, with Planning Head Kartikeya Sharma taking charge of the CRM division and brought in Binodan Sarma from Cheil India in Januray 2019 to lead the digital division, which comprises 22-odd experts in the domain.

In an exclusive interaction with Adgully, Amit Wadhwa, President, Dentsu Impact, speaks at length about the guiding principles of Dentsu Impact’s operations, enhancing its digital capabilities, account wins, the agency’s Bangalore operations and much more. Edited excerpts:

How do you look at DAN’s operational principle?

Dentsu Impact has always been an idea-led agency. That’s what we’ve been doing for a long time. I joined in 2011 and we’ve been a creative-led agency since then. We saw and heard the industry speak about digital, but it was lip service at that point of time. In the last few years, things have started to truly turn around and digital has started to become a really serious medium. That’s when we realised that creative has to manifest on the digital medium and began transforming ourselves.

We started Dentsu Impact Digital not with the idea of creating another division, but with an idea of transforming the way we function as an agency. While we hired close to 22-odd digital experts, the whole idea was that the entire strength of Dentsu Impact will be digitally-led idea generators in the next few months. The new digital hires were meant to transform the existing talent in this new domain along with a number of measures that we as an agency are taking towards it which include special courses and trainings for each and every employee in this domain. We were very clear that if we keep working in the traditional way like most creative agencies, we’ll soon be dead.

We started the journey in early 2017 and figured out various things on the digital and CRM front. We got someone from the consultancy world within the agency and also began the whole process of transforming the existing people.

This year, we can actually see the fruits of this transformation. We’ve won a few digital accounts, some existing clients and some new ones.

What does it mean to bring digital capability to a creative shop?

Creative is always about the idea and we will always be about the idea. That will never change in our set-up. How we manifest the creative and even the way of digging up insights has changed completely.

When radio came in, people changed the way they advertised and began advertising with voice. TV came in and people began advertising using audio and visual. With the advent of digital as a medium, it is time for advertising to adapt and use this new medium effectively.

What we wanted to create was the best of both worlds. We wanted to create people who understand brand and people who understand the digital medium equally well.

How did we do that? Well, we got Binodan (Sarma) to head Dentsu Impact Digital and we also got some very talented people under him. We got some CRM experts in the set-up, we got Ajit who has been a consultant all his life. These guys gave us a different perspective and what we gave them was the brand perspective. Along with them, we identified some very bright people that we already had and started a complete process of reinvention.

We are training each and every person through sessions and workshops on the digital domain. So that each and every person is prepared for, what we call, the new age agency.

What does a digital insight driven campaign look like?

Traditionally, there are two agencies that handle a brand. One agency handles the offline part and the other agency handles the online part. In such a scenario, usually when a brand communicates offline, the messaging is different from how the brand talks in the digital world, because when it comes to digital, technology and virality of content takes over and the brand essence gets lost somewhere.

What we are trying to do is create one single brand, whatever the medium may be. The brand language that we create for a brand will seamlessly flow from offline to online. I think we’ve done it for most of our brands like Maruti, Subway, Carlsberg, Ikea, etc. All the campaigns that we handle are medium agnostic now as we think of the idea and execute it across whichever medium works best rather than the other way around.

What are the gross billings for the agency?

I can’t reveal the billings, but we’ve had a good growth. From year 2012, we would have grown around 18-20 per cent YoY. 2018-19 was an investment year for us, but we still would have managed closed to a 20 per cent growth.

Has the agency fortified under one Dentsu umbrella?

We are also driving the vision of our parent company – DAN. As a network, we take decisions, act fast on them and change things. That’s true for Dentsu Impact as well, we haven’t rested on our past laurels. Each agency needs to change with the times and that’s what we’ve done.

How has the recent economic slowdown affected your business?

The slowdown has had its effects, but overall, we have managed it pretty well so far. In fact, we have managed quite a few new wins in the last 4-5 months.

Besides some of the new wins, we have also been lucky to have some longstanding relationships with our clients, who have partnered us in this journey into the digital transformation by awarding the digital duties of their brands along with the existing mandate. That has helped us grow.

Besides the Gurgaon office, our Bangalore branch has also been doing pretty well. We’ve obviously consolidated Ikea, where we won digital along with Webchutney and the recent Tata Global Beverages win.

Because of the slowdown, have you seen campaigns shelved or pushed for a later period?

They have delayed it a little, but not extensively. In a slowdown, most marketers have realised that you cannot go silent, you need to keep the brand relevant and most of the brands have done that.

Starting next year, do you see uptake in launch of campaigns? Will the economy show positivity?

There is some positivity already. The festive period was decent and there was growth. A good yardstick is car sales and for us, Maruti is a big client. We are seeing things pick up on all fronts. I’m quite certain that things will be good next year.

Why did you choose to launch operations in Bangalore? What are the other markets where you intend to expand to?

Ikea was there for us in Bangalore. They were pretty happy with us taking care of the account from Gurgaon, but we realised that this was an opportunity for us to start our Bangalore operations, as this is an upcoming market and a great place for an agency like us that understands brands and is digitally savvy.

Right now, Bangalore would account for up to 15 per cent of our overall business. I would expect it to go up by 20-25 per cent this year.

What is your vision for 2020 and growth prospects for the agency?

Digital itself would be about 15-20 per cent of our kitty. We want to increase that further. At an overall level, we want an absolute growth of 15-20 per cent next year.

Agencies and clients are evolving. What does an evolved agency-client relationship entail?

I think an agency has to be a partner to a brand. They will only treat you as a partner if you show an enthusiasm to grow the brand. For us, investing in digital is one way of showing it to them, where we take care of their brand holistically.

In your experience, are clients amenable to drive that culture?

If the client sees that passion in the team on the other side, I’m sure every client will surely support that. There are quite a few examples that we have around. We have a longstanding relationship with many of our clients, such as Maruti Suzuki, HT, Carlsberg, Max Healthcare, etc. We’ve had these long relationships because the people on the other side really value what we as an agency bring to the table. That’s what keeps us going and constantly re-inventing us to stay relevant.

What are your views on calls for a pitch fee?

It’s an agency’s call finally. Some clients do pay a pitch fee and then there are many who don’t. As an agency, we need to take a call that if we aren’t being paid a pitch fee then we should be sure that the opportunity is a big one which is worth going after even without a pitch fee. In short, it’s only fair to be remunerated for the effort we put in, but finally it’s our call to go for a business given the possible return we see.

Looking back, what are the trends in advertising that shaped the industry in 2019?

The industry itself is changing. You’ve seen it turn towards digital and technology has evolved and become more important in marketing. Lastly, agencies have come into play a part in the last mile, which is the sales conversion. Our task used to be creating awareness and consideration, but with the advent of CRM and hyperlocal targeting, the interesting thing is that we can influence a customer and turn that into a sale.

Hence, our role is widening is some respect as it starts with creating awareness and can very well end in closing the sale. From just marketing to influencing business, is the trend I feel will shape up our industry.

Do you see the lines blurring between the brand strategy and performance?

Both are important. Consideration and awareness are the top funnel. If you don’t do the brand building campaign, then the funnel on top will shrink and the numbers below will shrink as a consequence. Creating people who love the brand is really important. Then when you have interested customers, converting them into buyers is also very important. It is a complete funnel that you need to take care of in totality. You can’t say I’ll do only brand building and not the conversion. There is an inter-relatability between the two.

Read More: Dentsu Impact bags creative & social media mandate for Antara Senior Living

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