On the sidelines of the Goafest 2023, Medianews4u caught up with Amin Lakhani, CEO, Mindshare South Asia over a coffee to discuss the client-agency relationship in present day, Mindshare winning the Tech and Mobile Specialist Agency of the Year titles, effectiveness and efficiency and ROI.
Can you take us through the changing phase of client and agency relationship during the two decades of your association with GroupM?
The principle of media agency to partner with the client has not changed. It has only evolved into a far more complex one, primarily because of the evolution of media in the country. When I joined GroupM, it was just a few years from the establishment of the AoR practice. It was the time when a concept like GroupM was formed unifying media parts of mainline agencies. We were dealing with the years of media where it used to be the last slide in the advertising presentation. Before pivoting into agency, I have seen the limited role play of media from the client side, in which one planner will be reading out the spot schedule at the end.
From the point when I joined GroupM, I have seen the ecosystem proliferating from Doordarshan (terrestrial) to cable & satellite, expansion of television genres from Hindi entertainment to regional languages, English news to Hindi News etc. The market has expanded from two to three players to a multitude of over 1000 channels today. Then, the digital medium started entering in 2007 where it used to be a medium to try innovations. From that it is a massive transformation with digital spends overtaking TV with the onslaughts of platforms like Google and Meta.
Therefore, the relevance of the media planner’s post became significant in terms of the AoR perspective. We are a serious partner with the clients today because, in the business world, all of them want to win in the marketplace. They want to increase penetration, relevance, shift the needle on spontaneous or top-of-mind awareness, want more sales and media has a role to play in each one of the funnel conversations that any marketer wants to do. That’s an important conversation that a media agency has with the client.
On the other hand, with the spends in media becoming a significant portion of the marketing investments, the media agency has a seat on the table with the CEOs, CFOs and procurement heads. CEOs now want to get involved to see the massive amount of investments, which is almost a second and third line item, to make sure it is in safe hands. Then procurement and CFOs got involved. You see a lot of jugalbandi happening between marketing, procurement and CFO.
In addition to that, a lot of consumer insights comes from the digital ecosystem that has become far more relevant. The migration from plain linear TV to connected TV to mobile to multiple other platforms like social media has resulted in media agencies driving the in-sighting part of the conversation.
Therefore, rather than coming late in the conversation after the creative was born, we are having a seat at the table when the big thinking is happening. We are part of the strategic decision making with the clients. So, the pivot that I have seen over these years is that media agencies from being the last guy, transformed into the first guy shouldering the responsibility with the client.
I remember a great line said by one of our erstwhile CEOs, ‘All of marketing, starts and ends in media.”
What does transformation mean to you at Mindshare?
Transformation is to be ready with an effective and relevant solution for the brand and the consumer. Earlier you put five spots on TV, you would have 70 pc reach and one ad in national newsprint and you are home. But today to get that reach is far more complex. There is television that you can’t write off in India. If we look at the IPL numbers, TV is still a highly relevant, deepest penetrated and effective medium with highest reach from the upper funnel perspective. On the other hand, digital has achieved significant threshold and beyond. Similarly, the consumer is spread across every available medium, seeking answers, solutions to understand various products and services.
The pivoting needs to move towards where the consumers are located. If they are buying more on e-commerce, then I need to have an e-commerce play. Post the UPI penetration the growth is visible with the number of people having a wallet becoming robust. A similar trend could be seen in the number of ecommerce transactions. In line with the varying needs, we have been building robust capabilities on ecommerce and performance which makes us the end-to-end funnel agency in the country.
And we are dialling up on Mindshare: Content Plus practice through which we are now working with over 250 partners. There are dedicated teams and clients across markets who take charge of building relevance and mid-funnel capabilities through branded content, sports, influencers, activation and more.
On the other hand, we are making sure all our planners are integrated planners. Gone are the days when we had separate planning resources for digital and linear. There is no planner in Mindshare today who doesn’t speak an integrated language. A simplified integrated solution is what we bring to the table for our clients today with one brief, one team, one solution. We want to be wherever the consumer is seeing the ad whether it is OOH, digital OOH, Instagram, print or TV through our media-agnostic plan.
GroupM has recently introduced many new practices like INCA, Finecast, Nexus, MCG etc. How are you integrating all these practices?
We are in the business of observing the consumer and his journey. The consumer is moving the needle constantly and how we effectively solve for brands in the best manner keeps us awake. The fight is not about what the media can do; it is all about how we leverage that for a particular brand. The fight is to win the consumer in the market where he belongs, in the language he understands, in the platform where he is very comfortable. The more consumer shifts are happening, the more insights we are getting on where we need a solution. For example, almost 80 to 90 pc new television sets sold are smart TVs. The cost of data continues to be cheaper, therefore, streaming as a platform has really taken over significantly. Today they are talking about 25 million connected TV homes going up to 40 million homes and that will only turbo charge further. The entire push by Reliance and Jio towards fiber optics across households and Airtel joining the move resulted in the entire ecosystem getting pushed towards a major shift and we needed to have a play over that ecosystem. GroupM’s Finecast was part of our efforts to be the first mover in that space.
Our exercise towards understanding where the consumer is helps us to productise the offering to clients. This is the simple reason why products like Finecast and INCA are being launched. As a leader in the market, we want to be the first who brings such offerings to brands.
Influencer marketing is a huge space which was completely unorganised. We wanted to bring some science, accountability, transparency, authenticity and measurement to the table. We have all of that in INCA. For a few of our clients, we are building a centre of excellence for influencer marketing. These practices were nonexistent a year before. We need to get into a startup mentality to build such solutions and learn from it while building such practices. We need to take these risks to move the needle and stay ahead of the curve.
Mindshare is the Tech and Mobile Specialist AoY in ABBY 2023. How are you faring in these spaces?
We have been heavily investing towards upskilling talent. Today one in two people in Mindshare are digital, data and content specialists. There is an effort to upskill our client leadership teams to be effectively able to engage with the client on an integrated marketing conversations and agenda they are driving.
In addition, we are building capabilities within Content Plus with resources from diverse backgrounds. We are hiring people from tech, influencer marketing, gaming backgrounds and even people from creative agencies want to join us.
Over the past one and half years, we have been specifically amplifying our abilities on e-commerce and performance marketing practice through which we are truly integrating our funnels.
Given the model of the agency, we had our own challenges due to attrition levels in this space. However, we have been putting the right efforts to overcome them.
A lot of media audit startups are popping up. How are you able to justify the ROI expectations from the clients?
ROI is not new; it has been there for almost over 20 years of my service. It is something that will not die. It just pushes us to be far more effective, efficient and agile. We want our clients to continuously push us. I just want to caution the ecosystem that people should not become ‘penny wise and pound foolish’ and trade efficiency for effectiveness even though both are extremely important.
We have seen a lot of clients in the new age economy who had only done performance marketing. They said that they will buy the consumer at whatever the cost, thanks to last click attribution available in the market. We also saw another client who has done a full funnel effort. Over the longest period of time, we have seen the second client who has done full funnel efforts continue to win in the market. Whereas the first client struggled and went downhill, given the funding winter scenario due to lack of brand equity and recall.
Both the clients saw merits in what they were doing. But only during the difficult times did one realise the importance of through-the-funnel action.
Efficiency is important but don’t kill it with over ambition because there is a media ecosystem involving talent cost and cost of running business. Follow the right KPIs without compromising effectiveness for the sake of efficiency.
Many new-age advertisers who were buzzing until the previous IPL went into hibernation due to the funding winter. How do you manage to achieve growth plans in such a volatile atmosphere?
Our experience from the last two years taught us the need to be agile in our approach to building our business scenario. Yes, we have to be future facing, that is a reality. We also have to be built in agility such that we can counter ourselves to the changing needs of the clients and consumers. I think agility is the only way to win in a chaotic world.
(The author is Managing Editor, Medianews4u.com. Feedback: [email protected])