Advertising Interviews

Alok Lall

Managing Director | 11 Sep 2009

In India, today there are huge opportunities in the areas of retail, experiential and digital, and clients are looking for agencies that can offer multiple specialisations and the ability to blend it all effectively around a client need. At iris, we have remained committed to our creative vision of integrated marketing – ‘Media anything, Idea everything’ – combining integrated thinking with some of the best in class retail, digital and promotional activation.

Alok Lall joined independent global marketing agency iris in February 2007 as Managing Director. He joined iris after spending 18 years with global ATL agency networks. He was responsible for launching iris in India with their first office in Delhi, and plans for expanding the iris footprint across various markets in India like Mumbai and Bangalore in the immediate future so as to give iris a pan-Indian presence.

Prior to joining iris, Lall was MD of Saatchi & Saatchi in Delhi. He spent a year with Saatchi & Saatchi during which he took the agency from just having a presence to occupying a slot among the top 10 agencies in the market. Before joining Saatchi & Saatchi, Lall was Client Servicing Head of the PepsiCo business at JWT, where he spent over 15 years, leading and servicing global clients like Reckitt Benckiser, Yum! Restaurants (Pizza Hut/ KFC), Nestle Chocolates (Kit Kat), Parker Pens, MasterCard, Nike, Bausch & Lomb, and Citibank, among others.

Lall is an active member of the Advertising Agencies Association of India, Delhi Ad Club and other marketing and advertising bodies in the region. He actively propagates and speaks in seminars, where he advocates the need to find and nurture young talent.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Pallavi Goorha Kashyup, Lall speaks at length about iris’ growth plans in India and growing importance of digital activities for clients and agencies alike.

Q. How has the journey been since iris commenced its India operations?

The first two years of iris in India has seen us establish really firm foundations to build on. Since our launch in 2007, we’ve been growing at a very rapid pace and, in fact, we are now considered the fastest growing agency network across the region. In India specifically, we have grown at a significant rate and indeed this year has seen a 77 per cent growth vis-à-vis 2008, with our headcount since launch growing from a team of eight people to 45.

We have attracted some of the industry’s top talent, with the recent hiring of Publicis Dialogue’s Param Saikia as CEO of iris India, as well as other senior hires like Partho Sengupta, the former BBDO India creative, and Ranjeev Vij, also of BBDO. We are continuing our hiring spree to attract some of the very best Indian talent in the industry, especially in the areas of digital and experiential, and we’ll be announcing these appointments in the coming weeks.

This has largely been as a result of new business wins from the likes of Microsoft and adidas, and an increase in work from our global clients like Shell and Sony Ericsson. In addition to this, iris India has also picked up business from Nine dot Nine Media, Taylormade, MTS and a number of projects for clients, including Yum Restaurants and Maruti Suzuki.

Q. What are the opportunities that you see in India compared to the global network?

In India, today there are huge opportunities in the areas of retail, experiential and digital, and clients are looking for agencies that can offer multiple specialisations and the ability to blend it all effectively around a client need. At iris, we have remained committed to our creative vision of integrated marketing – ‘Media anything, Idea everything’ – combining integrated thinking with some of the best in class retail, digital and promotional activation.

Q. We heard that iris India is revamping its operations. What is the reason behind it and what all will they be doing?

The scale of opportunity in India is huge and our continued growth should see us expand pan-India with plans to open offices in Mumbai and Bangalore in the coming months. To help us drive our ambitious expansion plans, we have brought in some of India’s top talent. The experience and breadth of skills of these individuals is impressive and there is a great fit between their visions and ambitions and those of iris. People like Param, Ranjeev, Partho and those heavyweights soon to join, will be instrumental to accelerating iris’ journey in India.

In addition to Param leading the growth of iris across the region, he will be working closely with me to strengthen our digital and experiential capabilities as well as grow our client base in India, which currently boasts Sony Ericsson, Microsoft, Shell and adidas. This investment is all part of our strategy to establish iris as the agency network model for the future and we see our independence and flexibility being key to this.

Q. What was the reason for you to hire senior hands like Param Saikia?

We’ve always invested in depth of talent and in Param we have someone who will lead the growth of our independent network across the region. He has unrivalled experience in delivering integration, with over 20 years in the industry gained from well-known advertising agencies across India. His career has seen him work on big-ticket multinational clients like Coca-Cola, Motorola, Nestle, HP, Intel, Perfetti, Beam brands, Bacardi Martini, Reckitt Benkeiser and General Motors.

This experience will help us drive our ambitions across India, especially in the fastest growing segments like digital and experiential where we are seeing huge demand. Param’s appointment is a key step in the next stage of iris’ evolution, and as most agencies struggle to keep up with the changing face of the communications industry, we have the advantage of independence and agility to lead that change. The time is undoubtedly right for iris to begin establishing a leadership position in India.

Q. Where does iris India office stand in the global iris, both in terms of revenue and geographic expansion?

iris Delhi was the third international office to be launched (our headquarters are in London), after New York and Singapore. In the APAC region, this has been quickly followed by Sydney, Melbourne, and most recently Beijing. Globally, we now have 15 offices in 10 countries, so truly a global footprint across all key regions.

In 2010, our key focus for growth will be in Asia, which will see us optimising our network geography and multi-discipline capability to deliver integrated solutions and drive competitive advantage for our clients. With India being one of the biggest opportunities among the emerging markets and a core part of this growth, we are looking at long term investment in the region. We’ll be looking to attract the best of India’s talent to help us build a multinational, multicultural and multilingual agency group.

We have already posted fairly rapid and very encouraging growth rates since inception in 2007. And you will witness us expanding both in geography and discipline in the coming months. The turnover forecast for iris Worldwide for 2009 is at over £80 million, and er are on track to exceed this. By 2010, the APAC region is expected to count for over 20 per cent of iris’ business, which is significant for a UK-based agency that has grown organically since launch.

Q. What are the major areas of focus for iris in 2010 – in India and globally?

Continuing the rapid expansion in 2009, the focus in 2010 is to strengthen iris as an integrated multi-discipline agency with offices throughout India that delivers great product and competitive advantage to our clients. Globally, we’ll focus on high growth markets, including China, and also on our discipline capabilities in areas like digital. As an agency, we continue to evolve our strategic client partnerships, driving our relationships further upsteam with a focus on addressing client’s broader business issues. This can be seen in our investment into specialist market research and management consulting through our strategy and insight operation.

Q. Which have been your best creative works in India?

Since our Asha Bhosle and Hrithik Roshan campaigns for Sony Ericsson put us on the map in India, we have continued to produce strong integrated work across retail, experiential and digital in particular. Our recent work for Microsoft saw us launch, a social networking portal, which has been designed and built by iris. It is the first of its kind, helping users to find new friends based on similarities in interests and attitudes via its unique Match Meter tool, rather than suggesting ‘friends’ of friends. The site, which targets 18-25 year olds, has also launched a promotion called ‘Born to Shine’, which will see the first 100 members who add and create their network of 500 people offered the chance to have a real star named after them.

We have been developing and delivering global communication solutions for Shell Lubricants across their portfolio of brands. These solutions span an integrated multi-discipline approach across digital and experiential. We are also on the brink of launching an extremely fresh and exciting campaign for Sony Ericsson in the coming weeks, so watch this space.

Q. Has the recession affected iris and in what way? What steps has iris India taken?

I think the effects of the recession have been felt by all businesses worldwide, however, there have been some positive outcomes. There has been a trend towards consolidation, and with that an opportunity to demonstrate to clients an integrated and more efficient approach to solving their business issues. The reduction in budgets has also seen less of a focus on TV and the delivery of true 360 creative ideas coming to the fore.

I believe with iris being independent, we have been better poised to handle the slowdown due to the fact that we are more nimble, more client-focused and more accessible. Also, not having the agency ‘fat’ that networks do and be managing cost much better, we are able to reorganise faster and better to meet demands both across discipline and geography.

We’ve also been quick to innovate to drive benefits to clients through performance-based pricing, disruptive commercial models and delivering production savings to clients through buying into the economies of scale and expertise that iris can bring.

The recession has actually led more companies to look at a procurement lead agency management process, as well as those based on pure relationships. This is actually benefiting iris as we have always embraced this transparent and value added approach, and as a result this is actually creating opportunity rather than risk in the market place.

Q. In your experience in this space, can you point out some clutter breaking communication that has stood out among the lot?

Apart from the Vodafone Zoo-Zoo campaign, I really haven’t seen anything truly clutter breaking. But, like I said earlier, watch this space and you will see one that is being developed for Sony Ericsson in a couple of weeks.

Q. What are iris India plans in 2009?

For the remainder of the year, the plan is to further build the team and capabilities in order to create a platform for growth in 2010 through a multi-discipline and multi-geography offering in India. We expect to make another 16 hirings in the next few months. With integration and innovation at the heart of our output, our strategy is to establish iris as the agency network model for the future – one that is smarter, faster, cost efficient, more flexible, and better to work with than the traditional agency networks. Our scale of offering, in terms of discipline and geography, coupled with our independence, means we can offer the kind of nimbleness that clients are looking for right now.

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