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Mallikarjun Das CR

CEO | 10 Jan 2014

Last year, the contribution of digital to overall SMG revenues in India was in excess of 40 per cent, we have made a huge amount of push on the revenue and capability front. We have invested substantially both on search, both organic and paid. Some of the investments of the network are beginning to pay off.

Mallikarjun Das CR (Malli) joined Starcom MediaVest Group (SMG) as its Chief Executive 14 years after he was hired from campus by Chaitra Leo Burnett media, the earlier avatar of Starcom. In his current role, the branch heads of Starcom Worldwide and MediaVest Worldwide as well as functional heads of SMG’s Insights & Research, Digital and Business Impact functions report to Malli. He is also a member of SMG’s Global Product Committee.

He is extensively experienced in media planning and resourcing from several perspectives – as a media planner optimising the marketing budget, as a client handling marketing resources and agency teams, and as a modeler making sense of the impact of advertising expenditure on brand health and sales.

In conversation with exchange4media's Priyanka Mehra, Mallikarjun Das speaks about SMG’s emphasis on data and analytics, digital push and more...

Q. What is the overall contribution of digital to SMG's revenues?

Last year, the contribution of digital to overall SMG revenues in India was in excess of 40 per cent, we have made a huge amount of push on the revenue and capability front. We have invested substantially both on search, both organic and paid. Some of the investments of the network are beginning to pay off.

Q. So, is there an aggressive digital push?

We focus on everything. We have to invest in media for the right reasons, in some cases TV may be the right medium to invest. We have done some fundamental work on understanding the relative error on television. For instance, a lot of our TV planning is driven by our understanding of the measurement system at a fundamental level; with a deep understanding of strengths and limitations of the measurement system, our TV planning is fairly rigorous. We use data and analytics to drive better TV planning.

Q. The last two years have seen an emphasis on data and analytics...

We have achieved our 2013 targets for analytics in terms of revenues. We have a team of subject matter experts who are now not only doing work for India, but the Asia Pacific region and possibly across the globe this year onward. If I look at the media industry today, there is a certain sheen of analytics today, but if you scratch the surface and see what lies underneath the product, it is very hollow, and that’s a pitfall we are avoiding. A lot of investments in India happen without substantial proof. For instance, a lot of under-investment in digital happens because of inertia of spending beyond television and print for certain categories. We have a web plus TV optimiser, everyone does television planning, but if I can show my client that by investing 5 per cent more in digital, they can get more incremental reach.

We have done a lot of analytics work with our clients such as Axis Bank, Dabur, Aircel, Ranbaxy and SabMiller.

Q. How does the agency leverage data and analytics to solve clients’ problems?

We don’t run away from a problem where there is no data, we explore the non-linear, in fact, we tell the client to give us whatever data that is available, even messy data. An analytics problem is a map to the territory, the level of detailing on the map depends on the nature of the issue you are tackling. There is a myth that a certain amount of data is required, but it actually starts the other way around, you take data – and data is going to be messy – you then sort of carve the tools around it and use the relevant tools. There are ways around it. These are some of the myths that people hide behind; there is never going to be enough and perfect data. If everything is ready and perfect, then what is our job?

We need to find reasons for the variants and instability. It has to founded on the firmament of technical excellence and connecting the dots and then telling the story, and not use jargons, but help the client derive insights that can be used.

Q. What are your focus areas for 2014, especially since 2013 was not a very great year?

Our focus areas involve learning from the challenges of 2013 and harnessing the positives, also driving the product and revenues further in 2014. Main areas include growth, product & people, client delight, and processes. Growth is a by-product of product and client delight.

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