The ‘Indian’ qualification is perhaps not required any more. World over, the builders of business – that is, both clients and their agencies – have tough challenges, mandates and some compulsions. Ideally, both groups need to keep their eye on the ball (read brand) at all times. Engaging and enduring brands get built when both these groups excel at their respective jobs
A graduate in Sociology and Economics from the Elphinstone College Bombay, and an MBA from the Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies, Umesh Shrikhande has worked at Contract for more than 12 years now. Over these years, he has worked on the planning and implementation of brand strategies for a wide variety of companies and brands like Bajaj Auto, Cadbury, Asian Paints, Onida, Castrol, Heinz, Warner-Lambert, Kotak Mahindra, BBC World, Walt Disney, Aegon-Religare, DNA, HSBC, Shoppers Stop, Dabur and Tata Indicom, among others.
At Contract, Shrikhande’s areas of focus have been the development of sound client relationships, growing the non-traditional areas of communication, developing people, the initiation of HR best practices and helping nurture a creative, humane and value-based organisational culture whilst ensuring overall business growth.
He has been a guest speaker and a visiting faculty at the Jamnalal Bajaj Insitute of Management Studies, the Sydneham Institute of Management and at the Management Development Centre of the AV Birla Group.
In the last five years, Shrikhande has been a Mancom member of the Ad Club of Bombay, and also a member of the juries of Abby and Effie Awards. At present, he is a member of the Executive Committee of AAAI and the Consumer Complaints Council of the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI).
In conversation with exchange4media’s Tasneem Limbdiwala, Shrikhande speaks at length about his long tenure at Contract, the state of Indian advertising today, scam ads and more...
Q. In one of your interviews, you had explained that the paramount importance for you as CEO ‘is the ongoing process of building and growing the brands entrusted to us by our clients’. Adding to that, there have been three priorities set up – a) strengthening relationships with clients; b) providing opportunities to talent at Contract; and c) leverage more capabilities in the area of new-age media. How are these priorities being achieved?
Notwithstanding a challenging 2009, we have been fortunate in having clients who’ve had the resilience and the vision to keep investing in meaningful brand initiatives. As a result, in all our offices we have done a lot of brand building work, not just across TV, print, and outdoor, but also across consulting, design, digital and activation.
For us, the best way to strengthen client relationships is sustained engagement and multi-pronged work that helps build the brand with purpose and energy. Playing to the strengths of our talented people and giving them roles and assignments that are aligned to their skills sets and interests is our constant endeavour. This continued unabated in 2009. And will only get stronger in 2010.
The new media agenda has been driven by appointing new leaders from within, forging preferred partnerships with interesting experts and exploring possibilities across brands. The most recent example has been that of the Great Driving Challenge done for Mitsubishi Cedia. This campaign leveraged the power of online, print and some solid and wonderful activation work.
Q. What are the two things that you would like to change about Indian clients? What are the weak points of the Indian advertising industry today that you feel need to be addressed?
The 'Indian' qualification is perhaps not required any more. World over, the builders of business – that is, both clients and their agencies – have tough challenges, mandates and some compulsions. Ideally, both groups need to keep their eye on the ball (read brand) at all times. Engaging and enduring brands get built when both these groups excel at their respective jobs.
For clients, this must mean: clear briefs, an open mind, adequate time given for work, clear expectations and a non-intimidating and energising relationship with the agency. And for agencies, this must mean: a deep and nuanced understanding of the consumer, educating the client on what persuades best, creating ideas that help in de-risking the brand situation, raising the bar at all times and staying true to the agreed course.
Q. Please share your views on the new media and digital landscape and what role advertising agencies can play to harness the potential of these mediums.
While the footprint of new/digital media is on an ascendant, they do not necessarily offer a market making potential for all categories and customer segments. Not surprising then, the import and impact of traditional broadcast media continues to be significant for some more time to come.
However, as harbingers of a new era, the importance of new media is beyond doubt. They represent a new world and also a whole new attitude. They have a life of their own with their unique idioms and symbolism. And finally, Gen Y – our future – is inextricably linked with the heart of the new media territory, which is social networking.
And yet, none of this reduces the primacy of the brand idea as the driving force, something that agencies understand very well. So, without getting unduly overwhelmed and blown by the winds of new media, agencies must continue to nourish and nurture brand truths and brand ideas. Additionally, and with equal energy, they must invest in the process of learning the new idiom, innovate to stay ahead of the curve and get comfortable with the art of story-telling in a world that is getting increasingly shaped by the Web, the mobile and a host of other digital platforms and technologies.
Q. Do you see an increase in mergers and acquisitions by international networks of Indian advertising agencies? Does this mean that the stranglehold of foreign agencies will increase further?
Most Indian agencies are either partially or substantially owned by international networks and holding companies. Almost all agencies, big and small, seem to have a foreign association of some kind. Selling stakes to global networks has been a conscious choice made by Indian agencies, as an exit clause or as a way of participating effectively in a networked world with global brands. To that extent, calling it a stranglehold is inappropriate.
Moreover, it is not a peculiarity that is restricted to the advertising business alone. In a globalised economy, it has been so for many other industries too. It may be interesting to note that even in companies that are considered to be strongly ‘Indian’, the foreign holding is now significant. For example, for HDFC, it is more than 75 per cent and for Infosys, it is more than 55 per cent.
In the coming years, however, as India becomes a stronger economy, the global power equations in the advertising and media business may shift too, the way it has begun happening with many Indian companies in other industries.