Shamsuddin Jasani on the 3 pillars of creativity and creating gems out of chaos

Shamsuddin (Shams) Jasani is a veteran of the media and advertising industry, with over 2 decades of experience of which 15 years have been in leadership roles. Shams leads the Wunderman Thompson South Asia group as CEO, comprising of Wunderman Thompson, Mirum, Contract and Wunderman Thompson Commerce in India. He is one of the leading voices on digital, commerce and martech, in addition to advertising and marketing in the industry.

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In a freewheeling video conversation with Adgully, Shamsuddin Jasani, CEO, Wunderman Thompson South Asia, speaks at length about the key developments in 2022, the ‘Three pillars of creativity’, Martech and Commerce being the growth drivers for Wunderman Thompson in 2023, building long-term client-agency relationships, and more. 

It’s been over a year since you took charge as CEO of Wunderman Thompson, South Asia. What have been the key developments during this period at the agency?

I think very simply, the lifeblood of our organisation is the people. So, my number one thing was – How do I invigorate people? That was a challenge not just for Wunderman Thompson, but the industry at large, because coming out of the pandemic, I think everyone was very transactional in the way they were working – because everyone was working on their screens, everyone was doing Zoom calls.  

I was in office on the very first day I joined, that is, on 1st November, 2021. I have been very particular on being in office, because I think the atmosphere, the camaraderie, people working together – that just brings across the whole agency culture. Thus, the number one simple thing that I wanted to do was just get people back to office, bring the excitement back and get them working together, because we are a people organisation. So, the more we interact, the more ideas come in and more things happen. And we have been very successful in that. We have a lot of people right now coming to office as well and it’s a hybrid environment.
The one thing that I feel was the most important thing from a business perspective and overall Wunderman Thompson group perspective was identifying the key areas for integration. We have got Wunderman Thompson Commerce, so how can we give an end-to-end product for our client. It’s still a work in progress. I would say that the last one year has been about how do we get digital. By that I mean that we’ve had this amazing 90-year history of being one of the leading advertising agencies India. I want to take that as a cornerstone, as a building block and really try to take it forward in terms of how can we add more tech, more integration, more innovation on top of that as well as commerce. So, the last one year has been about adding those layers and also building and educating the team.

The pandemic also changed a lot of dynamics in the consumption patterns of the clients. We wanted to make it more on today’s world, and I think we have been very successful in that. Clients have seen that approach. Clients want a single agency across everything that they want to do, and increasingly I think that’s what happened during the pandemic. The clients want us to be most strategic partners and more end-to-end in our solutions that we are giving to the clients. I think we’ve been successful at doing that. We want to be better and better at it, but I think that’s what we spent a lot of during 2022.

We are a few weeks away from the New Year, and it’s that time of the year when you take stock of how the year has been and what your future progress is going to be like. What would be your and Wunderman Thompson’s key focus areas specifically for the Indian market in 2023. What can we look forward to from you as well as the agency?

We as an agency have always been rooted in creative. That has been our legacy, that does not change. We are really pushing the envelope as far as creative bravery is concerned. So, you will see a lot of work that is coming out next year, which will really push the envelope as far as creative is concerned. We are working strongly towards it. There is a tech angle to it as well. So, it is about taking our amazing skills as far as storytelling and creating great art work are concerned and marrying that with the technology that each platform brings in to create, what we call, the ‘Three pillars of creativity’, which is creatively using technology as a big focus for our clients in 2023. The first pillar is about how we can weave the story that we are telling into all the new age technologies – that is going to bloom in 2023. The second focus area is commerce, especially D2C, because we have put a very large team which understands commerce and direct to consumers business. We have clients who are looking at taking their business from offline to online – these are very strong large businesses and are already on the path to becoming D2C brands. How can we take our brand experience and our commerce and marry that and take those two to the client – that’s the second big pillar.

The third big pillar is martech. With Mirum and Martech, marketing automation is something that we want to work with clients. I think, with Mirum, we have a very strong product on marketing automation. So, these are the three main pillars for us in 2023.

How do you exactly plan to grow martech and commerce, build them at scale, and how that will fortify your offerings to your clients? How exactly will it help them grow their business as well?

The way we are looking at this is that we are kind of evolving ourselves from a brand experience to a consume experience agency at every touch point of the consumer experience. We are working with the marketing teams to come up with great concepts and ideas, so that we are delivering great messaging to the consumers. We are actually building this whole integrated approach. There are some clients who are buying that integrated approach, while there are many who require only a part of it – the commerce services or the martech services.

Because of the scale that we already have, we have been able to unlock a lot of doors. We have been here for nine decades and some of our clients have been this with us for three-four decades. The strong client relationships that we have are helping us unlock doors for martech and for commerce, because they already trust us. There’s a lot of trust that is there with the agency. So, I don’t think it’s a very difficult sell for us to be able to create that. That’s the first kind of way that we want to work.

Secondly, we now have a very large body of work on both martech and commerce. Now, it’s just about spreading the message that we have done such great work. I think we have slightly been not so good in talking about the work that we’ve done on martech and commerce. So, we will also highlight a lot of that, because I think the great work that is being done right now for clients has helped them achieve a lot of success. Now, it needs to be spoken more about. So, I think a lot of 2023 will be also about spreading the word and talking about the services that we are offering, and how clients have benefited from them.

With such a huge focus on Martech, Commerce, D2C – how do you see that contributing to the overall revenue growth of Wunderman Thompson?

I wouldn’t be able to divulge the percentage. But I can tell you for sure that our brand business and our advertising business is going to grow. I think the adex is between 12% and 15%. Commerce and tech are going to grow 50-60%. So, those are certainly going to be growth drivers at a much larger pace for 2023, and I also feel that increasingly clients are looking at one agency to give them a larger integrated solution and hence, how do we weave in our story, which is on brand along with the story on Commerce and Martech, are really going to help us build those relationship which are much more strategic with the clients and not just tactical.

So, in 2023, we are looking at more and more strategic relationship with clients and building something which is more critical to them. I think those two are going to be big drivers as well as the fourth one which we launched last year – Wunderman Thompson Health. I feel this is also going to be a big driver for us in 2023.

These are edited excerpts. For the complete interview, watch below:


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