Advertising Interviews

CVL Srinivas

MD, LiquidThread (APAC) &
Chairman | 25 Mar 2011

New business wins will happen as and when they should happen. I don’t see any point in running around and trying to get accounts from day one just because one is new to the agency or has contacts in the market. The system needs to be able to deliver that automatically... I have no hesitation in saying that Starcom is definitely going to do well in the future as long as we are able to leverage our skill-set, our knowledge base, and the strength we have both globally and locally.

As Chairman of the India operations of Starcom MediaVest Group (SMG), a global leader in marketing communications, and Managing Director of LiquidThread, the all-screen content practice of SMG, CVL Srinivas (Srini) works with a strong team of hundreds of young professionals, spread across over 30 cities in 15 countries of the region.

He has a rich experience of over two decades dominantly in media planning and media related companies. He is a member of the Global Management Group – Starcom MediaVest Group’s global executive leadership team tasked to develop the Agency of the Future vision and accelerate the expansion opportunities in the areas of financial growth, emerging markets, talent management and digital capabilities.

Srini has a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from BITS Pilani and a Masters in Business Administration from XLRI Jamshedpur. He has previously worked at Maxus and Madison in leadership positions and was part of the start-up team at Fulcrum (now Mindshare-Fulcrum) on the Unilever business. His latest assignment was at The Times Group as Director – Private Treaties.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Noor Fathima Warsia, Srinivas talks about juggling dual roles and the future plans.

Q. With your appointment, SMG has created a new role, of Chairman, SMG India. And now, the company is looking for a CEO. And you have a dual hat of LiquidThread MD-APAC as well. Would you like to elaborate further on the organisation’s thought process behind the role?

India is one of the focus markets of SMG. The new position of Chairman is to ensure we build on our strong foundation in this market and get better integrated with our global system. The CEO will focus on running the business day to day.

LiquidThread was created in the US by merging three content divisions - Connective Tissue, which was MediaVest’s entertainment division, Starcom Entertainment, and Pixel, which was acquired by the group. You will hear more about our plans in the days to come. While there are two hats, there is also a lot of synergy between the roles.

Q. The reason for the question is that, do you think SMG India ops are large enough to have a Chairman and a CEO?

In the short-term, my focus would be overseeing India operations of SMG and helping chart out a direction keeping our long term goals in mind. As we consolidate our position in the market, I would balance my time between the SMG and LiquidThread roles. It’s not like I am going to be in a fulltime, day-to-day SMG role. So yes, there is place for a Chairman and CEO.

Q. Tell us more about the last two months - anything about the company that may have surprised you?

The few surprises that I came across were all positive. I have not seen a media agency so future focussed. The quality of leadership at the global level is highly inspirational. SMG is also an extremely well networked agency group with a fascinating knowledge pool available to all. It’s a great place to be if one wants to be at the cutting edge of media.

Q. What are some of the specific areas that have needed your focus since your joining?

Talent management has been the key priority. We are trying to see if we can realign our forces better. Sometimes you have good people, but they may not be aligned to the right kind of job and responsibilities. Managing people’s aspirations, helping them get a sense of direction and involving them in setting milestones and supporting them to achieve has been the focus.

Q. Would you like to elaborate on that?

It’s about involving people at every stage of planning, every stage of goal setting and every stage of delivering. That’s the way to go and that’s something where I have spent more time than on anything else in first couple of months.

The second focus area is to ensure that existing clients get the best of services and a good quality product. Because, before you go and start pitching for other businesses, it’s important to have your existing clients satisfied and happy. Again, working together with the team, we are trying to see how we improve our service delivery across clients. The third focus area is to drive greater efficiencies across our operation. We are planning a few structural changes that will be announced shortly.

Q. And what do we see you doing next?

Improving the quality of our media product by focusing a lot more on Research & Insights, Digital and Content.

Q. On the point of inorganic growth, there have been conversations of SMG not having won any business last year despite all the high-profile pitches. Does it put pressure on new business wins for this year?

SMG had a fantastic record of winning new businesses not very long ago. There is always scope for improvement. Like I said earlier, we’d rather focus on our media product, processes and build a system that can take over when it comes to generating new business.

Q. But new business wins would be where the mandate of CEO comes in?

Even for the CEO, to start with it first would be about running a tighter operation. The three aspects I mentioned would be areas of focus for the both of us. New business wins will happen as and when they should happen. I don’t see any point in running around and trying to get accounts from day one just because one is new to the agency or has contacts in the market. The system needs to be able to deliver that automatically. I have seen it in the past. I have no hesitation in saying that Starcom is definitely going to do well in the future as long as we are able to leverage our skill-set, our knowledge base, and the strength we have both globally and locally.

Q. What was the morale of the people when you had taken over, especially given Ravi Kiran’s exit after a stint of 11 years?

Ravi Kiran had a terrific stint at SMG and his moving out was obviously a sad moment. It happens with any organisation, when the top man leaves, especially when he has been so instrumental in setting up the place. I still remember the day my boss Suresh Shankar quit Fulcrum many years ago. It was perhaps the saddest day of my life, like it must have been for Lakshminarasimhan, Sundar Raman, Sandip Tarkas and the rest of us who worked so closely together to set up Fulcrum under Suresh’s leadership. Inevitably, there sets in a spirit of wanting to carry on and reach new milestones as a team as an organisation.

Q. In the last couple of months, we have seen some very senior level exits – Sanjay Shah, Mahesh Ranka, Pushkar Sane, and in Delhi some other exits like Terry Ahuja and Akshay Sharma… Can you elaborate on the reasons perhaps?

Some of the exits that you have mentioned were relieved this year, but had resigned or realigned last year itself. Sanjay Shah, for example, is working with one of our partners companies. In terms of rest of the people leaving, it’s a combination of regular churn one sees in media and some amount of restructuring that we have started. Some of the exits that you have mentioned were relieved this year, but had resigned or realigned last year itself. Sanjay Shah, for example, is working with one of our partners companies. In terms of rest of the people leaving, it’s a combination of regular churn one sees in media and some amount of restructuring that we have started.

Q. And this brings us to the big question that when you were leaving this industry, you had made it clear this was not where you wanted to be, and now when things are possibly worst than what they were then, you are back.

I thought the industry was getting very commoditised and was keen to explore the world beyond media agencies. I learnt a lot by consulting for a couple of start-ups in digital media and then continued to work with start-ups in my Times Treaties assignment. I can confidently say that I know a bit about how company valuations are done and how entrepreneurs build their businesses bottoms up… something my media agency career wouldn’t have taught me!

I was attracted to SMG’s vision and the role that was offered to me. It was refreshing to see a media agency network not go down the commoditisation route.

Q. Media service brands area has changed significantly since the last time you were active in this side of the industry…

When I joined the industry, for example, the amount of time and energy we would spend on researching the brand, researching the consumer, looking at the insight, working with a creative agency, understanding the message, understanding the market, understanding what works and what doesn’t works, was far higher than what it is today. Today, it’s about trying to get the right deal, to get the lowest rate and outsmarting competition by giving a better deal to the client, whether it’s in a pitch or otherwise. But this is where I see a huge opportunity for us. Whether we like it or not, Digital and Content will take centre-stage in the communication plan and agencies will have to fall in line.

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