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You can't be a default choice, you have to be an active choice: Rohit Ohri

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You can't be a default choice, you have to be an active choice: Rohit Ohri

Rohit Ohri, Chairman, Dentsu India & CEO, Dentsu Asia Pacific South, has just completed three years with the agency. In a freewheeling chat with exchange4media, Ohri rubbishes rumours about his exit from Dentsu, talks about the growth of the agency that has exceeded his expectations, aggressive growth targets for 2014, triggers of growth and more...

There have been numerous rumours in the past one month about your exit from Dentsu…
There is absolutely no truth to this and I want to make it 100 per cent clear. I don’t know where it started from and I don’t particularly care. We have been really successful in the market place, there is no reason for my exit. There is no motive for this ‘murder’, as they say. Hopefully, people will soon see good sense; there is a lot of mis-information in the industry and I am too small an individual in a large industry. It is just a passing phase, I am sure.

When you look back at your tenure of three years, what has been the biggest unlearning from being a JWT lifer to moving into Dentsu?
When you are in a large agency, you take a lot of things for granted. You assume you would be called for every big pitch; at Dentsu, initially pitches didn’t come to us on their own. Today, however things have changed and we get invited to all the pitches. When we were starting out, we had asked to be called. Moving to Dentsu taught me that ‘Food is not served to you every night automatically, you have to fight for it’.

How has the growth been for Dentsu India last year?
The year 2013 has been a hallmark year for the agency, we grew topline at 60 per cent (compared to 2012); there was a very strong push in terms of new business  wins as well as new business from existing clients. For example, we got the Akzo Nobel business, which consisted of 15 brands; the MRF business in Chennai; and the TVS business in Bangalore. Last year, our growth hasn’t been about small incremental wins, in fact, there have been players who have been with other agencies for a while, but now chose to work with Dentsu.

What triggered this?
It was really about finding the best combination of things; in terms of creativity, we had best in class with Taproot; in terms of digital creativity, we had Webchutney. We have created a whole collaborated framework within the Dentsu branded agencies, where all the agencies can work together, depending on what the client actually needs, by creating a new model within the agency network. For all other advertising agencies, they have been used to working in silos with an already existing structure and format. It was unheard of that you actually collaborate with two or three agencies at the same time. In essence, what worked for us was deep specialisation on a platform of integration, wherein the clients have an option – for them, here is an agency you can take to them for a specialist skill or an integrated skill or a wholisitic complete solution as well, according to what you need.

Many of the mid-sized agencies have collapsed; to my mind, a mid-sized agency has the biggest risk of being a mediocre agency as well. Because in many ways, you get positioned as a poor man’s Ogilvy, as a client I may not have the budget for an Ogilvy, so maybe I go to a mid-sized agency. You can’t be a default choice, you have to be an active choice. Size has nothing to do with it. You have to be able to deliver a particular quality. Taproot is a classic case of that, where a small agency can work with the largest clients. This differentiated proposition adds value and gives us the edge.

What are the targets for 2014?
Very aggressive, we don’t want to slow down the pace of growth.

The late mover advantage has worked out well for Dentsu?
Tim Andree (Executive Vice President of Dentsu Inc, Executive Chairman of Dentsu Aegis Network, and President & CEO of Dentsu Network) put this beautifully when he said, ‘We have the last mover advantage’. Our network is an evolving network, we can learn from the mistakes of other networks.

Has the growth exceeded your expectations?
It has quite honestly. When I joined Dentsu, I didn’t think we would reach this place in such a short time.

What have been the game changers for Dentsu in these three years?
The Taproot acquisition and the partnership with Aggie and Paddy has really been a trigger and changed the game as far as Dentsu is concerned. It has also changed the way the agency is perceived to a large extent.

It was the most strategic and best possible acquisition that we could have done – the reputation of the agency, morale of the agency and growth of the agency was taken to a whole new level.

The Webchutney acquisition was the second big thing that we did. Webchutney is so creative in the digital world and our collaboration takes the work to whole different level.

How does the Taproot and Dentsu partnership work out? What are the projects that the agencies are collaborating on?
NourishCo and Akzo Nobel are two big examples of the work that we do together.

Some clients may want Taproot, but they also want an integrated communication agency; Taproot does the core idea and Dentsu takes it across every single communication touchpoint. This keeps Taproot’s attention and focus on creative excellence, while Dentsu believes great ideas are the glue for integrated communication, which is our strength.

Dentsu has had the perception of being a Japanese advertising agency in India. Do you think that has changed?
When I started off, 70 per cent of the business comprised of Japanese clients. Now in 2014, 70 per cent are Indian clients; the client profile changes the perception of the agency. At the same time, we are not in anyway shying away from the fact that we are a Japanese advertising agency; clients don’t care whether you are American or Japanese as long as you work in the best possible manner.

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