It has been 50+ days since the country went into lockdown mode due to the pandemic. The lockdown is in the 4.0 phase now. The recent outbreak of the COVID –19 is also seeing a tectonic shift in most people’s lives. There are so much stress and anxiety about job losses, loneliness, and other factors. But this lockdown has also changed the way organizations are thinking, the way they work, etc.
The outbreak of covid-19 is bound to make some significant and everlasting change in the way brands communicate with their consumers and their stakeholders.
Medianews4u spoke to Kishan Kumar Shyamalan, Vice-President, Wavemaker India on what is their plan to strategize on the communication for their brands.
We are in the 4.0 phase of the lockdown, certain industries have opened up, how has Wavemaker been boosting the team, and what are the challenges that you have faced?
GroupM and Wavemaker, went into a work from home situation, a week before the national wide lockdown was announced and in some sense, it was not that difficult, though there were challenges in terms of IT & Logistics. We could move people and make them ready to work from home, but how much ever you say, we were not very well versed in the way of working. I remember our tech lead at Wavemaker, has been telling us to use teams for the last one year and in a matter of days not only GroupM and Wavemaker but also most of the other companies got into the team and started working seamlessly. From that point of view, working as a process was not so challenging, what happened is that it sort of affected people in different ways, people who are working alone and some who are supporting large families with no help, kids and many other situations, and it varied from location to location. Each city had its own set of challenges.
Also from a mental health point of view, there were challenges, there were a few things that we did right, which helped us in a very good way, I am very happy that people are motivated and people are happy and considering the changes, there is no Playbook, right? A lot of it evolved over a period of time, but we have been extremely sensitive to the fact that we need to have constant and positive engagement with teams and with each other.
We have a weekly global update from our CEO, Toby Jenner, he connects with us over video calls, we also do a weekly Wavemaker session for our clients and our teams. In the first week of the lockdown the China Head of GroupM talked about the China business and this was open to all our clients and team members, though it created a huge bandwidth issue due to a global call. From India point of view, the Leadership teams are constantly engaging, I engage on a daily basis with my Key membership teams and with the larger teams as much as possible. There is constant engagement and that is great and it percolates down both from a professional engagement and other simple things, but a huge credit goes to our admin, our IT and logistic teams who ensure that everything is sorted. For example, one of our colleagues who is staying with his old parents had a problem in procuring medicines and it got resolved quickly. There is a huge camaraderie where people are helping each other, bringing issues to the forefront. The spirit of it being ‘human’ whether it is about telling people that you please ensure that you do something to get distracted from work or respect your lunchtime or having that conversation outside of work.
Leading by example is very important and that is something that is shown from our global team downwards, Mark Reed, CEO WPP, is not just connected by e-mails but he also did India Townhall session. Ajay Gupte is also in touch on a regular basis with his teams and similarly, I also make it a point to lead by example whether telling them to take a break or doing something which will refresh them or just telling them how I am doing and feeling and this is something which I am seeing across global agencies and teams where they are leading by example which gives a lot of assurance to the teams.
The last is about having fun and finding the quirky thing in all these, we constantly keep engaging in team bonding activities. We have had quiz contests and a live concert in the first week of the lockdown, it was supposed to be only Bangalore participating and then it became a national thing and we had all of them cheering on Microsoft Teams. The Bombay team fantastically did an Antakshari which was very nicely conducted (I was very unhappy that we could not make it to the finals). It is for us to look at things differently and it could be anything. For example, there is a brainless task game, it was all about brainless talk to people, really silly and funny. We are reviving the Board games and trying to figure out how to play virtually. Constant engagement, being human, leading by example and I cannot thank them enough, they have all been managing everything so well. Compassionate and the revelations have been so beautiful and that we all are in it together and it is a great feeling.
Do you feel that this lockdown has opened up conversations, you’re just not texting but you are talking to people?
Yes and no, it is a very personal point of view I am somebody who finds great joy in every team member of mine and that is not happening, as it is very difficult to reach out to every single person, in an office premise it is pretty much easy to have a chat with one person or a combination of people. However a lot of Zoom conversations are happening, people are checking on each other, group chat is happening, the right intent conversations are going up to the next level.
How are your clients dealing with this lockdown and what are the strategies you are offering them?
Every business is taking the challenge, this is the reality and all are undergoing a lot of pressure. Due to the lockdown, a lot of the ground level realities are changing and that is the first challenge that everyone is grappling with.
The second is an availability challenge even though there is a need for a brand it does not matter whether it is the most remembered brand or respected brand but it is not available, then there is no point in that equity. Availability is far bigger than equity at least during the lockdown and hopes that it changes. A very interesting observation I had on one visit to the grocery store and most of the known brands were missing or not available. Though options were available the question is are they better than the brand one normally buys? The third is whether a brand should advertise or not and what should be the brand communication at this time.
These are some of the challenges the clients have, of course, they also have internal challenges and the challenge of managing cost. Some of our clients are being sensible about using the lockdown as an opportunity, on changes they can bring about, what are some of the calculated risks they can take are some of the things that they can introspect at this point in time or can their teams be upscaled.
What are we as an agency doing right in terms of strategizing for our clients? We are working with most of our clients on a daily basis to understand what they need to do. I think fundamentally our role has gone beyond just media, digital text content, and in some cases even distribution. As TVC’s cannot be shot at this point in time; you need to find alternate ways of communication and find ways of taking the product to the consumers.
At a very basic level, we are helping them and educating them on how to talk to consumers, through whichever medium and also what to talk. We have seen a lot of brands who are doing influencer led activity which is a good way of communicating. Our overall approach to clients has been to ask them, is it the relevant time to communicate and this the client needs to answer as they have the business and brand implications, when the client says that it is the relevant time to communicate, then we go about finding out the right way to communicate and give insights on the consumer’s behavior.
Tata Tea a client of ours and is part of essential goods. Tea is being consumed more across the country, as people are locked down. But is it the right time to communicate the brand messaging or is it the right time to give the Jaago Re example. It is a tricky situation, has probably never happened before where consumers have all the time in the world which in turn is translating into viewership on TV and OTT. But they are not in the right frame of mind, they are anxious, afraid, they do not know whether what will happen in the next two to three months whether their jobs are secured or not. Tata Tea decided to do Jaago Re, a campaign that is meaningful and stays true to their purpose. We created it with our creative partners and the client. The campaign, “Iss Baar Badho ke liye”, Jaago re”, the elderly are one segment where there are a lot of challenges at this point of time and the campaign urged everyone to take care of our elderly citizens when we were young, they were the ones who were taking care of us and now it is our time. It is very rooted in a real-life situation, nothing to do with drinking tea but making people do the right thing, and awakening people the Jaago Re way.
On the other extreme, Mondelez, brand 5 Star, did a campaign, ‘Do Nothing’ – a lockdown version of their earlier campaign, where we asked influencers and a lot of partners to create a very unique ‘‘Do nothing outside’’ versions of their favorite activities. Both campaigns are different in nature and were very well received. These are two extremes but both rooted in reality and it worked for the brands.
We have a client called ‘Cure Fit’, but due to the lockdown their centers are all closed and we are seeing fitness activities happening in a big way at home and the brand found that as a great opportunity and started something called “Cult Live”, fitness classes which are available free on the app, they roped in fitness influencers, sports personalities, Celebrities and fitness experts coming in and telling you how to be physically fit during the lockdown. For them, this communication made sense as it was all about ‘Work out from home’.
The other aspect is that a lot of clients want to look at it from a slightly long term point of view, they wanted to do a little bit of intersectionality on what can we do on our site whether it is automation or upscaling, how do we make our work better. We are engaging with them also, bringing in partners wherever required to help them meet that objective. There are times where we have told clients, why don’t you do this, because this is the right time and you can do it.
There was an interview of Sanjiv Mehta, where he said that this is the right time for companies to use tech as a differentiator and start building on it because now you can tell which assets of your business can be driven around tech. We looked around manufacturing, marketing, supply chain, and anything where you can use tech, this is the right time to think through it and apply.
Wherever we have a role to play we are doing it, at Wavemaker we positively provoke our clients and that provocation is equally true whether it is in good times or bad, we totally believe that and we will do it to the best of our amenities.
OTT has seen a huge spike, how are you positioning Netflix on what kind of conversation they should do with their customers?
Rightfully so; because for two reasons, one of there is a lot of time available at hand and secondly, it is a continuing momentum and a need for original content meeting a certain standard, which has now become no choice. A lot of GEC’s at this time have no original content and their viewership has gone to OTT where they are rediscovering different genres of content and it is meeting their unmet need of differentiated content at this time. Time and Desire is working very beautifully as a combination and it is the same with Netflix and now how do you use this equation, where if you have a lot of demand, the right way is to showcase the length and breadth of the product you have to offer. Netflix probably has one of the best possible content available across format and this is the right time to showcase it.
Not only Netflix, but we are also doing a lot of things, which is in line with how you can give every consumer differentiated pieces of content, which can make their life better. We are telling the same thing, whether it is a broadcast client or an OTT client we are helping them to find the right narrative to communicate, which is rooted in life insights. It is the same philosophy across the board.
There is a lot of anxiety issues, a lot of millennials have never seen anything like this, what is your one positive advice and mantra to them?
I am again quoting Sanjiv here from an interview he gave, ‘with every crisis comes with an opportunity and we should not let this virus go away’, and I found that really interesting because we cannot let this virus go way as the virus has sort of re-invented our business and the way we work with clients, our colleagues and how we are seeing our near and dear ones. I am not giving advice, but do not let the virus go way but find the opportunity in the crisis, and that opportunity could be anything it could be finding your right calling.
For example, one of the things that we are doing is this home hackathon in Wavemaker, where we are encouraging the entire office to come up with ideas for any client of the agency. We have had some unprecedented participation across teams from all offices, some of them have even told me that probably at this point in time, realized that I have a natural flair and you have given me a new sort of perspective as to how one should look at my client and the way I work.
This lockdown is helping us to rediscover a lot of things. Personally, for me, it is the way I deal with things, understands others with empathy, and understanding my client. I think this lockdown has made the client-agency relationship far stronger in most cases, we are understanding client realities far better than probably a year back. The virus is actually helping us to rediscover ourselves and I would urge everybody to get onto this journey.
The second thing I read in one article, imagine 20-25 years down the line a kid today writes or shoots a Covid19 diary on what happened in the 45/60 days, what he went through and that would be a precious piece of work. Finding positivity is something which I would urge and the second is a philosophy that whatever happens tomorrow, might as well be in the present and enjoy it rather than making too much of it.
Media buying is done by GroupM, but many of your clients have invested in big events, including IPL, way forward on this spend?
There is a lot of speculation around IPL, the World T20 has already been pushed to next year but a shortened version of IPL in November may happen, the IPL window is not yet closed. BCCI has not come out in open and said, it is not happening.
The question is, yes there is a lot of money on IPL and it would generate huge revenue numbers for a lot of our agencies and a big vehicle for a lot of our brands to either launch or to reposition, IPL has multiple marketing objectives for brands. Now to the question of where will that money go is linked to what situation the business is in today to give you an example, let us say a Digital-first business, which was flourishing in pre – covid19, now for the past four months has met with business difficulties, now it needs to build and consolidate for the next few months. The money which was supposed to go to IPL will now go to protect the business.
There are a lot of alternatives for IPL from a Media planning point of view that in some way or the other when brands decide if it is the right time. I am certain that some part of it will go into rebuilding the business. Some of the businesses, with very strong consumers connect, that money will come back to the market, in different forms or others and I strongly believe in it.
Your personal positive outlook and communication strategy post Covid?
It is a very exciting time because we are getting tested and at times testing is very important and necessary, it is also a big challenge as a leader with the responsibility of so many people is an interesting thought in my mind. Businesses are going through a tough time and they’re a lot of thoughts that revolve around it and it is a big challenge to have as a leader and if I can come out of it successfully, there is no bigger test than that. Personally I am looking at that very positively.
Re-calibration of fundamentals will happen for us and for our clients, recalibration from a marketing point of view of segments, markets, etc. will also happen. During this lockdown many men have started cooking a lot, why should brands like oil, food, etc target only women and I believe that men should also be targeted.
Market prioritization will also change, for example, we are seeing that Kerala has done a fantastic job of containing the spread of Covid, but Kerala is also staring at another economic crisis because remittance from overseas is going to see a drop. Kerala will be a healthy State but will not have the money to spend. So brands in this market will have to re-calibrate on their communication.
Recalibration will be as to what does a brand stand for, if the brand has a purpose that is true and is rooted in human life, it will stand. If you have a purpose that is flaky and superficial it will not and this is the time to re-calibrate that fundamental of marketing. It will happen in our own business too, some of the agency business models will become more relevant and some less relevant.
We at Wavemaker provoke our client’s growth through Media, Content, and Technology. The re-calibration of Media, Content, and technology is something I am excited about. I am also excited as a human being, thank god that I have all this and I am in a better position and need to do more to help other people. In this way, the recalibration of our life is also happening.