Exclusive | Evolve from being planning manager to a planning entrepreneur: Lowe's S. Subramanyeswar.

S Subramanyeswar, fondly called Subbu, the National Planning Director with Lowe Lintas + Partners has spent more than a decade and a half in advertising and marketing, having worked at Wipro, Publics, Rediffusion Y&R, Saatchi & Saatchi and Mudra. Some of the brands he anchored include Citibank, Colgate, Procter & Gamble, General Mills, Tata Tea, Nestle, Hyundai and Sony Ericsson.

At Publicis, Subbu was a key global planning resource on a number of brands and knowledge initiatives including authoring the ‘New Brief’ for the agency worldwide.

He was one of the five planners globally chosen to work on Citibank global repositioning directly under Vikram Pandit, CEO, Citibank Worldwide. While at Saatchi, Subbu was awarded ‘Gold’ for being the best strategic planner in Saatchi Asia-Pacific region in 2006.

In conversation with Adgully, S Subramanyeswar- National Planning Director- Lowe Lintas spoke about Lowe’s performance in the recent times, shared insights on planning and a lot more.

Adgully (AG): To begin with, elaborate on Lowe’s performance in the year 2013-14 on the parameter of ‘Effectiveness’ and what are the strides taken by the agency to emerge as the ‘Agency of the Year’ across multiple award platforms.
S Subramanyeswar (SS): It has been a year of spectacular performances at various award shows for ‘Effectiveness’. These recognitions clarify, amplify and glorify our belief in creating authentic and relevant work that works in the marketplace. The challenges for producing effective work are both internal and external. Speaking from internal perspective, (because effectiveness is not a solo sport); at Lowe Lintas, the collaboration between multiple disciplines – Planning, Creative and Account Management allowed us to capture each other’s fund of collective intelligence at every stage in the path to this success. It’s a culture. And strong cultures always produce sound ideas and generate the force to make those ideas effective. On the external front, the challenges to produce effective work are fundamentally the same, immaterial of the market or culture. Effective work is an agglomeration of stories (not one sliver) linked together by a clear business purpose. Stories that are inventive, engaging and persuasive, ultimately seducing the audience to the brand.

AG: How do you think ‘Planning’ as a function has evolved over the last decade and what according to you have been the alterations that have helped ‘Planning’ evolve as a robust tool hence giving the client's campaign a better reach?
SS: If one were to look at the brief history of planning, it essentially started out as a discipline, being a sort of ‘Union’s rep’ for the consumer, as well as being metrics and process driven, by virtue of its linear and research-centric approach. It then evolved into a specialist subject, setting out the science of the brand and what a brand could or couldn’t do and say. And today, this highly specialized field has transitioned into a more intuitive type of planning. In a fast changing world, where a lot of variables are unpredictable, the old models on how to compute and logic the brand have now become either confusing and contradictory or completely defunct. Rather than create rules and laws, today great planning lies in imagination, innovation and creativity. Good planners today are unrestricted by channels, mediums, forms or formats. They aren’t just about being influential. They are about being responsive in real time today. People, who are able to speculate the haze, do more and change faster in the face of overwhelming complexity. And increasingly, it is helping clients choose and believe in an entirely new fertile ground for their brands.

AG: Global Effie Effectiveness Index has ranked Lowe Lintas and Partners as the ‘Most Effective Agency Office in APAC’ and the second ‘Most Effective Agency in the World’ after Sancho BBDO, Colombia. What is your take on the achievement?
SS: For us, these aren’t just a couple of grand moments, but the culmination of year-long remarkable performances at various ‘Effectiveness’ awards shows. It is like raising the bar and setting higher expectations to better our own results with every show. Just like a Pole vault event in Olympics. In Pole vault, the goal of the jumper is not to be the fastest down the track, or to be the most efficient at hitting the mark with the pole. The goal is to jump high enough to clear the bar. Then, do it again, and again, and again each time the bar is raised. That has been the inspiration for us and we’re glad we did it. Honestly, we don’t like coming second best to ourselves. ‘Effectiveness’ if you ask me is doing the ‘right’ thing, and the degree to which stated marketing objectives are achieved and the extent to which targeted problems are solved. At Lowe Lintas, the key success factor has been our ability to solve business problems (not just communication problems) and the ability to suggest simple solutions to those problems. And our solutions are always based on understanding the larger cultural context in which brands exist because we firmly believe that brands are not part of marketing but part of culture. When you conceive brands/brand solutions as a phenomenon of society, culture, and politics rather than mind, opportunities for innovative expressions created by changes in society are never ignored. Our attempt has always been to give brands a cultural authority in society and not just brand authority in the market.

AG: When you plan a campaign for a client, what according to you is the ideal media mix which gives the campaign a better ROI?
SS: There is no formula to this. Each brand story is different and each context in which that story is delivered is different. Marketing today is a multi-way street, not a one way message. We know that it’s about ‘Conversations’ and not ‘Communication’. In a communication-led approach a typical marketing campaign is like a giant fireworks display. Pop and fizzle. Bug bang followed by anemic whimper. Zero follow-through; and the bigger the explosion, the bigger the letdown. There is nothing to sustain the impact or maintain or even build on the momentum. We follow what I call the ‘short head’ approach (as opposed to long tail), irrespective of the size of launch, it is what comes next that will define the potential, impact, and staying power of the idea and commensurate value proposition. We strongly believe that we aren’t in the ‘one-trick-pony’ Diwali fireworks business but in a relationship-building business that can endure any adversity. Remember, consumers are no longer passive recipients, targets or empty vessels waiting to be filled with marketing messages, products, and services. They are connectors; the nodes that connect the dots and enhance the conversation. As content creators, they are literally creating a world in which you just need to find your place. We don’t orchestrate campaigns anymore but facilitate conversations that are high on both strategic thinking and talkability. ROI isn’t Return-on-Investment but ‘Return-on-Involvement’!

AG: What according to you is the role of digital in today’s planning? Also, what do brands need to co-create to compete with each other?
SS: The digital winds of change that have been sweeping the developed markets for quite some time now have caught on the Indian market too by storm. And as is our wont, we skipped quite a few steps and jumped straight into mobile. The more the digital technology is permeating Indian society, the more it is uncovering the truths. Blogging, texting, tweeting, uploading and so on are unleashing both opportunity and caution. More content, on more screens, in more sizes, in more places, more of the time.Brands can both benefit and be damned by this new force. This is undoubtedly the best time to be in marketing and advertising in India. At the same time, it is also important to remember that our industry is in the persuasion business – the business of reaching out to large number of people and getting them to consider our client’s products as opposed to those of our competitors. The fact that we can now do that in a multitude of different ways should be a cause for celebration rather than sterile debate about the pluses and minuses of broadcast communication over digital. They’re both incredibly valuable in creating passionate relationships for audiences with their brands. The question that India should be debating is: how do we link the powerful world of broadcasting to the incredibly efficient developments of digital?

AG: What are the new techniques and strategies you feel that ad-agencies should follow with respect to planning as a function?
SS: As agencies, we are in the ‘meaning management’ business. Every brand personifies something and therefore attracts a certain meaning like a magnet. And all the ideas in communication are about ‘making’ this meaning, the creation of meaning portals. Today it is almost impossible to manage the meaning of brands across media and contexts, marketers are increasingly no longer in charge. The consumer is, if only because he is a co-creator, a citizen artist. In this scenario, consumer generated content, media and ideas have gained more importance than ever before. And in the future, successful brands and companies are more likely to be the open source brands and companies. Strategic planners are the gateway to this new world. Not surprising, considering planners are virtually ‘human software’ specialists with a deep understanding of human motivations, fears, anxieties, dreams and desires. Planners are unique in that they can access human creativity and imagination for the cause of business. The majority of answers to a client’s problem do not lie in advertising; they lie in creating new products, services or even new business models. This is something that Planners will organically have to follow. Therefore common sense suggests that they need to focus on the 3 other Ps of marketing and not just promotion. The threat to ‘Planning’ looms large. And it’s not exactly from within the industry. Consultants have started mushrooming. There is no dearth of trend spotters. And the media does a constant job of tracking and reporting trends in social psychology, much faster than agencies ever can. Besides, marketing websites ensure there is enough and more information available on the World Wide Web. Then there are the media contextual planners and research planners, and companies that blog, connecting directly with consumers. Even Creative department is under pressure to function on its own. Planners need to go beyond merely being account managements’ backroom boys, the clients’ sounding board, creatives’ partner or agencies’ pitch leader. Their portfolio should transcend beyond mundane creative briefs and routine strategy and pitch presentations. Planners need to have a body of work that belongs to them exclusively, a portfolio of their own. They need to pick specific areas of interest and expand their skill sets to include trend analysis, strategic content creation, media behaviour analysis, business ideation/ consulting, work-shopping and brainstorming, net scrounging and 360 degree real time research. Get them working on something extracurricular that’s not advertising to stretch thinking and bring something new to the table. It might be a Google 20% kind of thing. Let them work on a project that has the potential to create new revenue for the agency but also new ways of thinking. This new-age planning will require a shifting of the mind to shift focus. It demands a dramatic shift in the role and purpose of planning from what currently exists. From being a servant of the creative product to being the leader of the new agenda, from analyst to innovator; from being curators of the brief to being the defenders of the brave new idea. Also, from defining the next step to creating new space for brands to play in; from insight to foresight; and finally, from being a planning manager to being a planning entrepreneur!

AG: What trends do you foresee in the industry?
SS: Going forward, to me, the thing with the most impact is that there are no set platforms anymore. Nothing is hardened in cement like TV or print was; figuring out how to create and deliver messages now is liquid, constantly evolving as new technologies are introduced. It’s incredibly exciting. Interestingly, in this new world, powerful storytelling--a form as old as humanity itself--is more important than ever. When reality is too complex; stories give it form. Storytelling is timeless and, as we’re seeing, how to deliver a story is very much of its time. The second thing I believe will have an impact on the kind of work we will do is globalization. The fastest growing brands are the brands tapping into the rapidly growing foreign market demand. How do you make money in this economy? Advertise to the world. Globalization means that once again we will rely on great storytelling. There will be less advertising about features and downloads. The winners of the future will be the brands who can tell the best brand story to the greatest number of people across the most media. Designers and design directors will be hot commodities. They will be needed more than ever as brands try and differentiate themselves from the competition, visually, and across the globe. The past decade plus was about learning new technologies, new platforms, new threads of connectivity about brands. This next decade will be a return to storytelling and craft. It’s also important to be aware of all the data that will be available at our fingertips; to embrace data, using it to spark new ideas and to drive creativity. No longer will data and creativity be so far removed from one another. By analyzing data to better understand the - who, what, where, when, and why--all in real time--our ideas will be that much more creative and relevant to our intended audiences. And as the lines between online and offline brand experiences become increasingly blurred, we will see brands focusing on creating content in a more strategic and agile way. Cultural relevance is the key. We can create consumer experiences for our clients that weren’t possible before. Consumers live in an "always on" culture, and we need to be facilitators and curators of those ideas and experiences. Those experiences may not even look and feel like advertising--its evolving right in front of us.

Finally, we will drop social from social media as all media is social; we will drop digital and mobile from digital & mobile marketing as all marketing is digital and mobile; we will drop advertising from advertising agency as their future is in helping clients creatively realize opportunities; We are entering an era of integration and simplification as people/consumers want coherence, impact, joy, and help from people running brands. [By Aanchal Kohli | Twitter: @aanchalkohli]


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