We all know about tools on the web that can help one tweak a photo and get a new style, a makeover. One can even post that photo and tweet about it. Our industry honchos from India just got one such makeover.
Three weeks ago, a friend who runs a large agency and I were chatting. We were talking about the valuations of digital agencies in India and how holding companies are ready to pay almost anything to acquire them. We agreed that digital is the only way forward. I told him that what agencies are paying for digital start-ups is for the unknown quotient, something mystical. You pay for something you don't know, don't have and don’t understand, and you pay more.
When IAA, International Advertising Association, India chapter announced the Silicon Valley trip to msn, Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Google, I signed up. It promised three things: exposure to digital in ever-changing and expanding digital landscape from the horse’s mouth i.e. senior executives from the above mentioned firms, chance to spend time with friends from the industry, and a visit to sunny California so that you can buy the iPhone 5...just kidding.
To see Sundar Swamy, Pradeep Guha, Ambi M G Parameswaran – who knows a lot about digital, Ramesh Narayan, Kunal Lalani, Jwalant Swaroop, Kaushik Roy, Ishan Raina, I Venkat, all joining in enthusiastically and sitting in learning sessions, carefully soaking in the ‘gyaan’ was an by experience by itself.
I would not say it was like teaching old hawks new tricks; we were all there for a makeover. I and Gyan Gupta of dainikbhaskar.com, who are part of the digital world, also learnt so much.
Vishakha Singh of Aurora contemplated how she should launch and leverage a digital platform. Arunabh Das Sharma of TOI explored how he could leverage digital for his advertisers in India. Avinash Pandey of ABP News wondered how media and news business will be never be the same with YouTube. Lara Balsara of Madison soaked in how digital campaigns are integrated and probably thought of poaching from Google USA as revenge. Lara turned out to be the group’s official photographer – something we relied on I Venkat in the past.
Janak Sarda from Mangalore and RK from RK Ads Hyderabad were the South Indian gentleman in the delegation.
Another highlight was a fake birthday party organised for Jaideep Gandhi, wherein Shefalika Saxena kept the energy high.
More than the learning, we were inspired, shaken, stirred and challenged.
We felt like frogs in a well – a well called Indian advertising.
We were exposed to the world of polymorphic ads, universal screens, grand designs of these well-funded, large tech giants to change and revolutionise our worlds.
We realised it is all about ‘Solomo’. ‘So’ for social, ‘lo’ for local and delivered through ‘mo’ for mobile.
We met Dick Costello of Twitter, who unfortunately did not do a stand-up comic gig for us given his background. He talked about how Twitter would continue to build on its uniqueness and find monetisation along the way.
At Google, it was TGIF, where Larry Page and his senior team talked to Google employees. We even met the Prince of Jhabua in San Francisco.
We were at the Facebook headquarters when they announced the one-billion mark and I told them that in India, a billion is not such a big deal given our population and the quantum of scams. It’s a pity that we could not congratulate Mark Zuckerberg personally.
Microsoft was all excited about the launch of Windows 8 and Surface tablet, which is two weeks away, and how it would create an ecosystem that in some ways rivals Google and Apple.
Does this trip improve our own life in the advertising and media business back in India?
On a serious note, it was too hectic, getting up at 7AM and spending the whole day exposed to advertising tools at these digital companies and interacting with honchos leading these companies, but it was worth it. I am more inspired, confused and determined to make myself relevant in this digital age of domination.
My top learnings from this visit:
1. Dream audaciously
Indian companies aim too low, we need to have audacious goals and dreams. We have to encourage colleagues to aim high and raise the bar. All these companies are aiming to make life better, pretty much General Electric’s old advertising slogan – ‘we bring good things to life’. Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft live by the credo of making a difference, being unique and having a global impact.
It’s time to dream big, dream audaciously.
2. Encourage failures
Most of these big tech companies have hired entrepreneurs who failed at their ventures or whose companies were acquired by larger companies. These entrepreneurs are encouraged to go for big things. This way they are incubating entrepreneurs and bringing skills into their companies that wouldn’t normally be there.
3. Make it convenient for team members to think by taking worries away
Food is free, dogs are allowed… I can go on. These companies make it convenient for employees to focus on innovation and new ideas by letting them have basic amenities at the campus.
4. Content is still king
Each of these companies are basically arranging themselves as content companies where content as part of the ecosystem is a key driver. Branded content is important and mainstay.
5. Be prepared for the next decade
They are listed companies and they need to deliver quarterly performances. While they are short-term focussed, they are preparing for the next ten years.
6. Advertising is becoming rocket science but it's still an art
Whether we like it or not, CTOs and CIOs will work more and more with CMOs, and advertising will be more and more rocket science than ever. Ideas still drive adoption, technology just helps targeting and monitoring.
7. Unique culture
The uniqueness of each company’s culture is so apparent. They are at different stages of market evolution and it shows. Their unique cultures and stated differentiation draw a certain kind of people and produce innovations.
At this stage I am reminded of two sayings...
In the long run, men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high.
Henry David Thoreau
Always plan ahead. It wasn't raining when Noah built the ark.
Richard C Cushing
I hope and sincerely pray my agency owner friends and media owner friends read and share this article and ‘like’ it on Facebook. After all, we live in the digital world.
The author was part of IAA delegation to Silicon Valley