Advertising Interviews

Shashi Sinha

CEO, Lodestar UM & President | 16 Sep 2011

Our mindset is to offer quality output in the area of communication, advertising and marketing. Whether that means involving other Ad Clubs, working with agencies in other cities or doing things independently, it does not matter. There is no power play at Ad Club – it is a job that needs to be done.

Shashi Sinha, CEO, Lodestar UM, is no stranger to all stakeholders of the Indian advertising, marketing and media industry, given the vital role that he has played in industry issues and towards the development of this domain in India. As he dons the hat of the Bombay Ad Club President, there are expectations on what Sinha and his team will deliver for the industry this year.

In an exclusive interview with exchange4media’s Noor Fathima Warsia, Sinha speaks on Ad Club’s focus areas for the year ahead, reiterating that his tenure would mean making Ad Club efforts as industry inclusive as possible. He also speaks on some of the other issues facing Indian advertising.

Q. Congratulations on becoming Ad Club’s President. At present, Ad Club holds an event almost every month and some of the events, largely the awards, are very big for this industry. What are some of the things that are top of mind on your agenda?

Even before I give you a sense, I must state that the Ad Club managing committee has to get together and brainstorm, as this cannot be a one-man decision. However, in my personal opinion, Ad Club’s on-ground efforts can be divided in two clear areas. As you rightly pointed out, we have awards that have created industry standards such as the Abby at GoaFest, Emvie Awards and the Effie India Chapter. The big one is the GoaFest and we are in the process of re-establishing the agreement and way forward with the AAAI on how we can make the property bigger and better. Then we have the Effie Awards, which is very established. Just about every agency and advertiser participates in the Effie Awards. In fact, advertisers and media owners love that property. This year, the Effie would see special attention because the Effie Awards global organising committee has asked us to do Effie APAC in India. This is the first time Effie APAC will happen in India. It is still early on taking any final decisions on it, but one of the first thoughts was that since we don’t do anything in Delhi, we should do the Effie APAC chapter in Delhi.

Q. Has the Ad Club ever done anything in Delhi?

We have not done anything in Delhi and there is a great opportunity there – we have many plans, but we need to do something big in Delhi. Effie APAC would be a great property to do in Delhi. The Global Effie team would come and we would figure out how to integrate it and handle it. The event is scheduled for 2012. Effie has become very active. They recognise India as a well-run Effie programme. The final round has seen significant participation from marketing people. In the last two years, there has been a much higher ratio of senior marketing heads – only 30 per cent of the judges are advertising people.

One important thing about the Ad Club is that while it is called the Ad Club Bombay, we don’t see it as the Ad Club Bombay, we see it representing India. It is the most active club with 1,800 members, and we want it to include more cities to become a pan India phenomena.

Q. A few other cities also have their Ad Clubs like Kolkata and Bangalore that have their own events too – can we expect you to have conversations with them?

Our mindset is to offer quality output in the area of communication, advertising and marketing. Whether that means involving other Ad Clubs, working with agencies in other cities or doing things independently, it does not matter. There is no power play at Ad Club – it is a job that needs to be done. It is not about us, but about making it happen. It requires time and effort and there should be people who would do it. We need local champions to make it happen. For example, Raja Ram used to be on our committee and now he has gone to Delhi and we asked him if we can get a few things done and he agreed instantly. I am sure we would get enough traction, but one of the big desires is to do things outside Mumbai. We are not saying we want to stretch Ad Club Bombay, but we want to give the fraternity something good.

Q. Are you planning any more awards – we have been hearing of some ideas?

We have been toying with the idea of digital awards and marketing awards. We also have the Emvie Awards, which is a very vibrant property and people like Sunil Lulla and Apurva Purohit in the past have grown it from strength to strength every year. But to me, the big thing is that Ad Club used to do a lot of educational programmes like workshops with international speakers and all that has become low-key. That is one area we want to grow.

Q. Anything we are likely to hear soon?

Lots I think, but as I said, we have to first meet and decide on how, when and what we would be doing.

Q. The Creative Abby saw some salvation last year, and being a member of both AAAI and Ad Club, you were the complete in charge. But now as the Ad Club President, and Abby being a very important property of the Ad Club, what are some thoughts that you have on the awards this year – what is the role you would play to ensure that all the right work of last year is continued...

I will be honest --- this is a tough question. It has been going through my mind. Last year I could do it while I was the Ad Club nominee, as the AGC Chairman. Because once we had started the process, there was no difference of being Ad Club or AAAI; we just were the AGC. We took many steps and corrective measures and much was done under the aegis of KPMG to avoid controversies that could have erupted at the time. While KPMG is there and I am sure that AAAI may use their services this year as well, as they did a good job last year, there still are a few issues. The fraternity will decide whether the format will change because it is a creative director’s award. Last time we were clear that while they could judge as much as they wanted, the voting would be secret. And the creative fraternity was upset with that. I don’t have a clear answer to your question. Finally, the AGC head has to do it right. Everyone has to first consent to the agreement and that there is a particular protocol. Assuming we go ahead with that, then there is an approach and you have to have the right person to do it. I can tell you from experience, it is not easy. As per protocol, both Presidents would be members of the AGC, but someone else has to run it.

Q. On another note, some industry leaders have spoken about how the first half was good but the second half was going to be tough for the industry.

I also hear that things have not been as rosy from our industry standpoint, but in our case, we have not felt anything. It also depends on the client portfolio and just a couple of clients can change the game. From our point of view, our clients are across automobile and telecom and these have been spending categories. The sentiment seems to be that it would be slow, but even our clients in the FMCG space have so far not given any negative indicators. That said, my personal opinion is that 2012 would be the problem. The first three months of 2012, given the current global state of the industry and the fact that 2011 had seen big extraordinary properties, could be tough. My advice to my team has been to be prepared. The international economy will play the role. The larger concern is how the global groups fare. Because the Indian economy can be doing well, and the advertising scenario here is fine too. However, if WPP, Omnicom, IPG, Publicis are not too positive, then that would affect us.

Q. Is it positive?

It is, so far...

Q. Finally, there have been allegations that media agencies have marred the media business?

That is 100 per cent right --- if it is going to be all about driving down rates the whole time, then what is the point? There is too much power in a few hands, and perhaps that includes people like us also. When you have centralised power, while it is good for your clients, you are getting the cost of contact. Finally, it is supply and demand and when that changes, a premium comes in and consolidation happens. I personally feel that this is a great time for the domain to build brands and establish businesses – we should learn to work together.

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