By Yohan P Chawla
Now celebrating its 12th year of being one of the most respected digital media agencies in the country, WATConsult was founded by Rajiv Dingra in early 2007. The agency today is a name to reckon with when one speaks of digital media agencies in India. WATConsult was one of the earliest social media agencies in India, and Rajiv spearheaded it to the great achievements it has accomplished today.
Rajiv is an active jury member across prestigious awards shows like Effies, DMA Echo, Smarties, Abbys, IDMA and many others. He loves sharing his knowledge and wisdom with students of IIM Calcuta and MICA Ahmedabad. He has been one of the speakers at the TEDx MICA edition of 2018.
With numerous awards and recognitions Rajiv Dingra is truly a young veteran and aims to take WATConsult to newer heights. In this conversation he spoke about WATConsult’s beginning, their awards, his favorite campaigns and a lot more. Excerpts:
1. How did you start WATConsult in 2007? Please take us down memory lane.
Those were very different times. In early 2007, Orkut was more popular than Facebook. Those were very early days to start a social media specialist agency and that is exactly what we did. WATConsult was started because there was a need in the market.
Prior to WATConsult in 2006 I used to run a blog called WATBlog, which led to clients and brand asking me for help with a social media strategy. One thing led to another and finally to the founding of WATConsult as a social media agency in early 2007.
We had our first client, Rediff, before we hired our first employee. We grew rapidly in our early days as there were few or no agencies offering social media services.
2. What were the initial challenges you had to face to bring up the agency in its initial years?
We had more business challenges like managing the cash flow and finding long term retainer clients in the first two years of our existence which was from 2007-2009.
From 2009 onwards both social media and our business was headed for an upswing and since then we have only seen double digit year on year growth.
3. How has your personal journey been so far?
It’s been a fulfilling journey. Though my role has changed multiple times, my designation has remained the same – Founder and CEO. In the early days, I was mainly responsible for new business development and was also the people’s manager for the team. But over the years, my focus has shifted to guiding the agency into the future by helping develop new services and setting new goals for ourselves to achieve.
4. Which have been the best initiatives that WATConsult has rolled out… ones that you are proud of?
I believe on the work side #PowerlessQueen has been a campaign that has made us very proud. It has won a Grand Prix at Prague International Advertising Festival, Chairman’s award at DADI Awards and 2 Bronze in London International Awards. It was also shortlisted at Cannes Lion 2018.
Besides this, WATsYourBigIdea, which is our college contact programme created to help students connect with marketers and work on live briefs, is one initiative that we are very proud of.
5. What were the key challenges or any obstacles you faced while merging with Denstu Aegis Network in 2015?
While we did get acquired by Dentsu Aegis Network in 2015, we retained our identity and separate offices which helped us grow organically. The best part of being part of DAN is that they are very liberal in allowing the acquired agencies to function as independent outfits. There haven’t been any challenges in being part of DAN, and the credit goes to Ashish Bhasin, who has been a fantastic leader who is extremely positive.
6 .Your key learnings from your long career?
My key learnings are the following:
Both good times and bad, don’t last, so don’t get over excited with success and never let failure bog you down.
Keep focus on the vision and keep working. Things may move slowly some days and some days they may speed up. As long as your vision is clear, and you are gunning for the same you will reach there.
Back people as that’s the only way to grow and scale a team. People need confidence to say and do extra ordinary things. The most important role for a leader is to instil that confidence in them and back them even when they might not get it right each time.
7. WATConsult has won a lot of awards last year. Which of those awards are extra special to you, and why?
It is very difficult to decide which award is more special as all these awards are global awards and very difficult to win. But the following were special for different reasons.
Grand Prix in Prague International Advertising Festival – this was special because it was a Grand Prix and we beat many European entries to win the only Grand Prix given out at the show.
Bronze awards at London International Awards – this was special because we won the two bronze in the digital category and were the only Indian agency to have even been nominated in that category.
2 Golds and 1 Silver at Epica Awards – We were the highest awarded Indian agency in Epica awards 2018. It was special because this award is that it is judged by journalists from top ad magazines and ad portals across the world.
Though we did not win this but being nominated at Cannes Lions 2018 was a huge achievement for us.
8. What are the biggest challenges in the space of marketing, advertising and media today? What is your view on what the industry needs to do? How does WATConsult overcome them?
I believe that from a digital standpoint the biggest challenge is measurement. Television by virtue of having video as a single format of advertising can simplify its metrics and therefore it is easier for marketers to gauge effectiveness. Effectiveness is something that digital has been bad at measuring. While it can track hard metrics like sales, but for effectiveness it has too many surrogate metrics, be it views, clicks and time spent etc. Clearly a simpler metric system is needed that all marketers can agree to.
At WATConsult, we follow an objectives-based effectiveness rule. Instead of running after followers, clicks, visitors or views we believe in meeting client objectives for that particular campaign and outlining metrics that can clearly articulate whether or not if that objectives were met. But as an industry more is needed in this area for things to become standardized across the industry.
9. How has WATConsult kept itself continuously updated and upgraded on people, technology, infrastructure etc? Please comment on the sort of technology being encouraged and used to provide solutions to clients. (AI, VR etc).
In 2015 we created a space for tech innovations in our Mumbai office known as InnoWAT. InnoWAT is a physical innovations lab that works on all the latest in tech.
As early as 2016 we were VR ready across all the latest VR gear like HTC Vive, Oculus and Google Cardboards and we were experimenting with both VR and AR.
We have a large tech team of 26 people and technology is a mindset. Everyone is encouraged to look for solutions for client briefs using technology.
10. On the personal front, what are the most important things you look for in the people who come to join you? What are the three most important values and skills respectively you look for?
For me right attitude eats aptitude for lunch. I am a big believer that great attitude goes a long way in an organization which is about building great teams and succeeding as a team.
The other thing is look for is passion. You can teach a person everything, but you cannot teach him how to be passionate. Also, a passionate person will not crib or cry but instead is more likely to fix things he sees wrong.
The third would be humility. Very difficult to find this especially in high performers but it’s a key differentiator. Those who are humble always have an attitude of learning and therefore end up scaling faster than anyone else.
11. What is that one factor that drives you every day?
Mortality – We are alive for a brief period in the context of humanity and its existence. What we do in our 50-70 years of existence defines what we leave behind as our legacy. Knowing that we have limited time is a great driver for achieving something that leaves behind a legacy. To me that is the biggest driver of what I do and live or work for.
12. Who was your most important mentor or senior you looked up to in the professional space?
I have never had anyone who has been a mentor. I have always learnt from various people and imbibed what I thought were good things and ignored what I thought was not good. Infact, rather than seniors I have learnt so much from younger people who bring in fresher energy and enthusiasm.
13. What’s the way forward for WATConsult? Where do you see the agency in the next 3 or 5 years from now?
There is a saying: ‘To drive across a 50 mile-long road you only need to be able to see 50 feet ahead of you even in the dark’. I have always believed that for us the next year is the most important, and if we get that right, we can then focus on the one after.
2019 is a very important year for WATConsult as we look to establish ourselves as a creative force to reckon with at all the global stages and award shows. 2018 was a brilliant leap in the direction, and we have now set benchmarks that we need to up the bar on.
WATConsult will continue scaling its creative prowess while continuing to lead innovations in the digital space in India and that would be goal of 2019.
As a wish, I hope that in 3 years WATConsult should be the most recognized Indian digital agency globally.