Advertising Interviews

Akshar Peerbhoy

Director – Operations | 10 Jan 2013

“The opportunity of digital media is vast – from basic sales, marketing, branding to HR, relationship management, repeat cycles management, free brand endorsing and building a brand experience. With the onset of mobile/digital media, the possibility for a brand to engage with a consumer and lead them to a sale is immense, but completely untapped.”

Advertising is Akshar Peerbhoy’s middle name. He is third in a generation of versatile admen beginning with his grandfather, Ayaz Peerbhoy – considered one of the founding fathers of Indian advertising. His father Bunty Peerbhoy has successfully been at the helm of the MAA Group for 40 years, inking strategic partnerships and successfully turning MAA Communications into one of the leading advertising agencies.

Peerbhoy has been instrumental in building MAA’s new initiatives that will add to the tradition of innovation. He was instrumental in starting the digital vertical three years ago, steering the agency into the future with this step. Amongst others, he was also at the forefront of forming an alliance with Havas Media, building MAA’s promotions and event vertical, formerly ‘Turn On’, as well as realigning MAA Communications as an integrated marketing solutions agency. Today, the MAA Group has a turnover of over Rs 250 crore with over 1,000 employees across marketing and communication disciplines.

He rose up the ranks at MAA Communications to become the Director – Operations in March 2010. In conversation with Sai Prasanna, he talks about idea shopping by brands, opportunities offered by the digital medium, providing integrated solutions to clients, and paving the way for MAA 2.0.

Q. Most brands these days either idea shop or change agencies frequently. How does this impact the perception of a brand’s image and message, and an agency’s ability to deliver on par?

Today, sadly, idea shopping has become part of a brand’s brainstorming process. Most brands call a multi-agency pitch, waste resources of the agency with a promise of appointment, but simply hear different strategies, research, and creative approaches. Using all this, they choose what they like or don’t like and either execute the same internally or with a freelancer/small agency. While in the short-term this may have a positive implication on the brand’s P&L by way of savings, in the long-term, the brand essence/position, dialogue with consumer will dilute. There are enough examples of this all around us. Brands that have stuck with their debut agency vs. brands that have adapted the ‘jumping bean’ strategy i.e. never stay with one agency for more than a quarter.

It’s simple business sense, if a brand has been built by an agency then why rock the boat? What happens to the initial hard work put in to establish the premise of the brand, the tone and appeal of the brand? What happens when facts are lost in translation? No two minds can think alike; no two agencies can be the same.

The new agency or freelancer is suddenly thrown into the battle field and is expected to deliver; failing which it faces the axe as swiftly as the account was handed over.

Much like a marriage, you don’t just choose one day to be married and in the next month decide to marry someone else. Today, you don’t like the way the account executive is dressed or just the way he looks? So sack the agency! New marketing manager wants to prove his worth, so sack the agency! New finance head wants to show he can create savings, sack the agency!

And why not? When all a brand really needs to do is call for a multi-agency pitch and voila! Suddenly like magic, a wave of agencies start knocking on his door eager to eat the leftovers of another agency.

Q. Many clients these days are looking at the digital medium to engage with the younger crowd. However, do brands really understand how to leverage social media?

No! But this is pro and a con.

A pro because for once a brand is willing listen to someone else as its own information and knowledge is limited. To brands a social network is about being social. But they fail to understand the trend of social commerce.

A con because they have heard /read through sources that the digital medium is cheap. It’s not, it’s simply more cost effective, no wastage, and completely measurable; more importantly it’s direct!

The opportunity of digital media is vast – from basic sales, marketing, branding to HR, relationship management, repeat cycles management, free brand endorsing and building a brand experience. With the onset of mobile/digital media, the possibility for a brand to engage with a consumer and lead them to a sale is immense, but completely untapped. All across the globe, we see brands being built on digital media, as well as brands being destroyed on social networks. The power of the medium has become too strong to ignore.

Q. What, in your opinion, are independent agencies doing right that is helping them bag big clients?

Independent agencies are thinking differently and are bold enough to be different. They are focusing on RoI and looking at sales-oriented planning.

Q. What do you feel are the main issues that are plaguing advertising agencies these days?

The largest issue is the talent pool. There is a lack of talent in the field.

Q. How is South India faring in terms of creative talent, work produced and client base? Is work from this region coming into focus? If not, where is it lagging behind?

Unfortunately, no. While we are capable of some extremely innovative work in the South, we are given little opportunity to really be creative in our approach.

Q. MAA and advertising were spoken in the same breath during your father’s time. How do you plan to revive the agency’s aura and take it to the next level?

The marketing battlefield has changed. No longer does any single marketing tool play a crucial role as compared to an arsenal of integrated marketing tools. This is the future of MAA – truly integrated marketing solutions that simply means not group companies but special focus cells; powerful artillery that will complement the client in ways beyond simply being an agency. As the world changes, consumer needs change, brand needs change. Our focus on RoI is a discipline we have evolved over the years that aligns every effort to a brand’s key economic drivers and by doing so almost ensuring RoI.

Q. How has the partnership with Havas Media strengthened MAA Communications’ offering and benefitted your clientele?

Havas Media or MPG has amongst the strongest media planning strategy tools and capabilities. This has helped MAA go beyond simply media releases. With MPG, we have added an entirely new dimension to planning solutions with our clients.

Q. What are your focus areas this year? Where do you see MAA in five years from now?

In the years to come, MAA will evolve and transform into a new being. One that has rooted itself in the industry for 40 years now and soaked all the knowledge and experience it needs to now morph into what we see as an RoI agent; a catalyst that drives growth on all levels. ROI can be defined in several ways – accountability, ownership, sharing the upside as well as the downside. But to the brand, this simply means that we, at MAA, believe in partnering for growth and our ability to align ourselves with this single goal will pave the future for MAA, a MAA 2.0 of sorts.

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