SoCheers is a digital-first full-service Advertising and Marketing Agency operating with the sole vision of expanding the reach of brands by effectively bridging the space between technology and creativity. Today SoCheers has a young and dynamic workforce of 130+ employees, SoCheers is always directed towards creating not only marketing campaigns, but experiences for their clients which includes prominent brands like Amazon Prime Video, Nickelodeon, TCS, Lupin, Star Group, Jubilant Foods, Niantic Labs and more.
Mehul Gupta, Co-Founder & CEO, SoCheers speaks to us on how the agency has performed in these trying times, operating in the new norm and much more.
How has the journey for SoCheers been in the past 2 years?
Going all the way back to the start of 2020, which feels like eons ago, we were on the way to start our biggest year yet, pumped with enthusiasm and lofty goals. However, the pandemic had different plans and we had to pivot not just our plans but also the way we work. The overall industry and the country’s workforce saw a shift. After an initial slowdown where people were waiting to understand what would happen next, we were quick to adapt, relearn and get back to our planning for the year in the face of this adversity. Primary change was in the way we work, and how we continue to deliver to our clients, which wasn’t very difficult since our millennial & digital-friendly workforce was super quick to adapt to WFH. We made a major shift in how we produced films online, instead of on-floor shoots, which helped us keep our business going, all the while not compromising on creativity.
With digital now on a steep upward trajectory, we were able to explore niche divisions like social listening aka Data Intelligence and Analytics. We always focus & take pride in our creative output, and that continued even during the pandemic where we worked on some path-breaking and internet breaking campaigns, like Mirzapur S2 Purvanchal Ke Samachar and The Family Man S2 #JobHunt for Amazon Prime Video, Venom 2 #ChocolatesMissing for Sony Pictures, The Big Move for TCS, to name a few. We also onboarded several new brands like Godrej Interio, PokemonGO, international fast food chain Popeyes and more. We added a lot of awards to our virtual shelf and in terms of growth, we saw a considerable 39% increase in revenue in 2020, and grew our team by 50% to a family of 130 SoCheer-ites.
The year has started with parts of the country going under lockdown, how are you seeing this?
When in 2020 we were pushed into this novel situation, everything was ambiguous, we didn’t have enough information to predict how things would pan out and all the processes needed to be re-evaluated to fit the changes. However, the last 2 years have given us a lot of learning’s and we feel prepared. The safety of our teams is first and foremost and hence even before the spike began, we moved back to working from home. The high vaccination rates have thankfully helped dampen the impacts of the third wave, but it doesn’t hurt to be careful. SoCheers’ culture is a strong part of our identity, and having to go back to working from home doesn’t allow our people to experience it in all its glory. To balance the in-person camaraderie and cultural experience our employees enjoy in the office, we’ve implemented many initiatives to drive motivation, boost morale and enact open conversations virtually. As for the business part of things, our work continues to be unaffected and learnings from the two years of WFH come handy. In terms of new business closure, we are seeing a slowdown, exactly how we did in the first two waves, since a lot of people are affected themselves and have taken some downtime from work. We expect this to pick up sooner this time, since everyone is now seasoned to survive the pandemic.
The digital is continuing to see a surge, are traditional brands now allocating more of their spends on digital?
Digital has been on the rise since the early 2010’s. Different factors over the years have contributed to its slow but steady growth in India and the pandemic was the latest in driving the surge for digital. With 800 million people in India who now have internet access, 60% of the entire population, all locked down at home due to the pandemic with no access to newspapers or hoardings, traditional brands did see the merit in going digital. In the last two years, we have seen brands with existing digital budgets increasing them to match the demands of the situation, but more substantially, we saw traditional brands making more room for digital spends in their budgets, and even adding digital divisions to their rosters. The budget allocation between traditional and digital marketing means has now risen to a 70:30 or 65:35 ratio for these brands. But it won’t be too far-fetched to predict it going to a 50:50 split in the next 2-3 years on a larger scale for brands.
WFH has become the new norm, how have you positioned yourself?
Our positioning remains the same – delivering creative & quality work – from wherever we are. Since we are in the digital space and with a millennial workforce, WFH has been a breeze in terms of people adapting to it and being able to deliver at the same scale that we did from offices, if not more. However, the work from home setup, like everything else, does have its pros and cons. The biggest challenge remains to translate the fun and energetic work culture at SoCheers into a remote work setup, especially when it comes to communicating our values and vision to the people who joined us in the midst of it. With several non-work related events like ‘Cheer Camp’ (a virtual summer camp), ‘Cheerland’ (a virtual jam session), ‘Inktober’ (an art-filled October), we tried to combat this challenge and successfully so, as we recognised a definite uptick in team bonding and overall productivity. I can’t stress enough on the importance of maintaining strong mental health and sanity when everything around seems to be going wrong, and our aim is to provide a safe space for our teams – even if it’s virtual.
Some pros that we’ve seen are a better work life balance, giving people time to explore & indulge in their hobbies, especially in cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, etc. where a large part of the day is normally used up in travelling. The future at SoCheers, as I see it, is hybrid.
Has SoCheers developed new communication tools and strategies for clients?
Off late, huge spikes in the usage of social media platforms, OTT service providers, gaming software and apps, etc. have understandably been witnessed. Basically, the overall activity on all digital platforms increased significantly. This provided us with a significant sample group to collect data from, which we were able to utilise rather smartly to develop new communication tools and strategies for our clients. We have an in-house team dedicated to analysing and researching this data to understand the consumers’ online behaviour. The playbooks we created based on these results have helped our client’s increase their outputs by at least 4X. And it’s not limited to just one segment but spans across social strategy, video strategy, performance marketing, media strategy, content strategy, overall digital strategy and more.
Is it time for brands now to start their own e portals, especially retail brands?
Well, yes and no.
E-commerce as a concept is not new. Indian consumers nowadays are heavily dependent on the e-commerce giants, like Amazon and Flipkart, for their various requirements, more so during the pandemic lockdown. We did see an increased traffic on these portals and not just from the consumers but also from the retailers, who have the ease to simply list their product, set a price and the logistics are all taken care of. You reach a large and ever-growing user base but there is also a loss of margin. So, if the brand is still growing and if opening and managing an e-portal takes away from the core offerings of the brand and impacts the returns, then this instead would be the suggested option.
Having said that, several retail brands have garnered successful numbers through their separate e-commerce portals. But having a brand you can trust is important, so having your own e-commerce portal also means spending a lot on building brand awareness. It’s a business call eventually, to decide if it’s a good time to start their e-portal.
What will be your area of Focus for 2022?
Our focus for 2022 is on three things – (a) Deepening SoCheers’ services as a brand with Digital Intelligence and Analytics at the helm; (b) Building and up scaling content creation and production into newer hemispheres like the metaverse; and (c) Ingraining our culture in the growing team at SoCheers to continue to deliver quality and creative campaigns.
Talking about our work and services; during the last couple of years, we’ve introduced separate divisions and set up new processes in order to expand our capabilities and provide a more cohesive service to our clients and partners. We’re planning to build on that further by strengthening our content production team. The content studio, in addition to current responsibilities, will work towards gaining a deep understanding of what works with the digital audience, delving into the emotional parameters and the strategic understanding of a particular content. Moreover, the recently established Data Intelligence and Analytics (DIA) division would move beyond just social media to dive deeper into the larger digital landscape to figure out the glaring gaps and our role in helping bridge them.
SoCheers has always taken great pride in its culture and we intend to strengthen it even further this year. The world learnt the importance of mental wellbeing and work-life balance the hard way in the last 2 years; we intend to make it an everyday priority. Be it an online work setup or offline, or a hybrid one, we are clearly focused on creating a team that works together to achieve the missions and vision. I can’t say it enough but ‘people’ have been the strongest driving force at SoCheers, and only by putting them first can we expect to achieve any of the goals we have set out for.All the new introductions, our consistently good performance over time and our amazing team has led us to set a rather aggressive goal for ourselves this year to target a growth of 70-75% in 2022.