Dialogue Munawar Syed
Munawar Syed
Director, Triton Communications
'We are aware that the clients’ expectations are changing. Keeping this in mind, we need to diversify into new media offerings and allied services… The future does belong to the digital world and the pioneers in this field today will be the rulers of tomorrow. Triton has set in motion a quiet internal revolution and will soon be ready to make our presence felt either with home grown talent or through an M&A.'
With over 30 years in the business of advertising, marketing and communications, Munawar Syed specialises in Account Planning and has rich experience in working on a wide spectrum of Indian and international brands. Along with Ali Merchant, Syed is the founding partner of Triton Communications, the largest non-aligned advertising agency in India.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Shree Lahiri, Syed traces the journey of Triton over two decades, the importance of digital and where the advertising industry is headed today

Q. Triton was started back in 1991. How has your partnership stood the test of time and how has the journey been through the two decades?

Partnerships succeed when each leverages the strength of the other and more important, steps in whenever assistance is required. Each partner has to provide the other with their own space in all aspects of work. Be it in allocating responsibility and accountability with regards to clients, branch offices or associate companies. This is possible only if the communication channels are open at all times and the partners team up as one on all key policy issues. Above all, we attribute our successful partnership to our common goal of ‘Growth for our clients’.

The journey has indeed been an interesting one. We have grown to become the largest privately held Indian communications agency. Over the two decades, Triton has enjoyed a successful run in partnering its clients in launching, building and nurturing some of the leading brands in the country across diverse categories.

Q. Having survived two decades, what are the challenges that Triton faces today?

We are aware that the clients’ expectations are changing. Keeping this in mind, we need to diversify into new media offerings and allied services.

Q. In an industry that has witnessed many mergers and acquisitions, did you get any feelers for acquisition? If so, how and why did you resist?

We have been receiving offers for alignments and equity participation at frequent intervals since our second year of our incorporation. We were too emotionally involved with the brand to allow any dilution of ownership and more important, our vision. This enabled us to grow Triton and make it the largest privately held Indian communications agency.

Q. The advertising industry has seen the dynamics change over the years. Where do you think the industry is poised today?

To stay ahead, every communications unit needs to plan and embrace new revenue streams to bolster and insure against sudden upheavals. These multi-dimensional inputs would need to be made available to clients at a competitive price and yet be of such superior quality that it would add value to clients operations, justifying the remuneration being paid to us.

This is Triton’s Operating System, making every change our opportunity for growth.

Q. You have been closely involved in building brands like Moov, Wagh Bakri, Fortune, etc. What is the plan for building brand Triton as ‘the agency of the future’?

I do not wish to lose too much sleep over the future, as a song from the 70’s reminds me to ‘Forget about Domani, for Domani never comes’. However, with our ear constantly on the ground and an eye on the horizon, we are able to enjoy today’s exciting times yet evolve to meet changes expected in the future. We are a pragmatic team and you will know how we stay relevant as our plans unfold.

Q. Triton has kept a low-profile all along. Can we expect any change in strategy in the future?

We have always let our work do the talking for us. We have done path breaking work on a continuous basis, but never gone to town talking about it. In the current scenario, it has become a norm to get written about, irrespective of the quality of the end product. We will not be as silent as before. Having said that, we will talk about our work only if it has added value to our clients.

Q. The buzzword now is the digital medium. How important do you think this is in advertising today?

Today, it is fashionable to use the word ‘Digital Media’. Few clients and even fewer agency leaders understand the scope and potential of this new medium. But let us not kid ourselves. The future does belong to the digital world and the pioneers in this field today will be the rulers of tomorrow.

Triton has set in motion a quiet internal revolution and will soon be ready to make our presence felt either with home grown talent or through an M&A.

Q. Are you contemplating on starting a digital wing or any other new divisions for that matter?

Ideation is our core competence. It is this core competence that has enabled us to develop ground breaking work over the past two decades. We firmly believe in the power of an idea and that it should be at the very core of every activity. Be it brand activation or a digital campaign. We would now like to leverage our core competence to establish our own activation and digital cell in the near future. The same goes for our plans on the production house. The sole objective is to benefit our clients and their brand with the power of an idea.

Q. What was the rationale behind the change of guard carried out at Triton recently, and what are your focus areas now?

Each span of a business is akin to a relay race. Ali Merchant and I started out carrying the baton for the early part of the race. Now is the moment to pass it on to Renton D’Sousa , who is an experienced advertising professional and a Tritonite for over 10 years. He is full of energy and has the ability to win Gold for Triton.

The equity of the company continues to be held equally by AY Merchant and myself. Our focus will be on designing company policy, implementing and monitoring long term growth, ensuring financial health, and being available to all our clients at all times to ensure they are getting the best from Triton.

Yes, we have been steering for so long that it will take some doing to reinvent ourselves.

Q. With the slowdown in Indian economy, what has been the impact on the advertising business?

Every few years there is a slowdown in the economy, which forces the advertising industry to conduct a reality check on itself. At most ad meetings we hear gripes and moans about the difficult times, what with static budgets and delayed payments from clients. Yes, the sentiments are low, but the reality is different. We Indians love griping, but we are a resilient lot and know how to survive even in bad times.

Today, most businesses are operating on a Hi Volume - Lo Price - Hi Value equation and the advertising industry, as their communications partner, must reflect the changed dynamics.

Archives: Interviews
Jye Smith
Regional Head APAC, Mediaco
 Jye Smith
The fundamental belief is that in today’s digital age, the media, consumers and brands have been transformed. For consumers, this shift has been most prevalent through social and mobile technologies. For brands, these external forces have meant that all organisations are now media companies in their own right.
Anurradha Prasad
Chairperson & Managing Director, B.A.G. Films & Media
 Anurradha Prasad
There will be a lot of focus on digital endeavours, which will continue post the elections. Going forward, there are plans to push the News 24 channel internationally. We have already started beaming the channel in the Middle East region... Our focus is going to be the US and Canada, wherever there are Indian viewers.
Kenichiro Yomura
President, Nissan India Operations, MD & CEO
 Kenichiro Yomura
We are committed to India and are putting in money not only to create products, but also for marketing activities. There will be changes you will see in the coming months. We will be very consistent with our communications and you will also see us increase the frequency of communication about the products.
Vincent Digonnet
Chairman APAC Region, Razorfish
 Vincent Digonnet
Advertising as we know it, which is placement of content in a location you have bought, is to a certain extent dead. This is so because what platforms like mobile, Internet and social have done is made media infinite… The advertising sector is still moving forward on its own inertia. There is still a lot of money being spent on traditional advertising, which is going to carry on, but if they don’t start transforming themselves drastically, they will come to a stop once the inertia runs out.
Tham Khai Meng
Worldwide Chief Creative Officer & Chairman, Worldwide Creative Council, Ogilvy & Mather
 Tham Khai Meng
The 'Create or Else' philosophy comes from David Ogilvy's 'Sell or Else'. The creative process is messy, frightening and filled with insecurity. And that's the fun part. We are in the business of creativity that is changing in many ways, and this is the age of the story-teller so 'Create or Else' would tell stories everywhere. It is interesting to note that the business has changed, but the only thing that hasn't changed is story-telling. I strongly believe that the cardinal sin is to be boring.