Demarcations such as mainline & digital will soon begin to erode: Dheeraj Sinha

Sinha, CEO & Chief Strategy Officer, Leo Burnett South Asia, shares that most of the agency’s new acquisitions are integrated mandates

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Published: Jul 5, 2021 8:12 AM  | 6 min read
leo burnett

At a time when the advertising industry is going through sweeping changes fuelled by the pandemic, Publicis-owned agency Leo Burnett (LB) is increasingly using technology and data to solve client problems. From launching a device strapped to a bike that alerts you if there is a submerged pothole ahead for ACKO to building a MobileShaala for Whisper, Leo Burnett Digital has been on the top of interesting tech-and-data enabled solutions offered by the ad agency.

exchange4media caught up with Dheeraj Sinha, CEO & Chief Strategy Officer, Leo Burnett South Asia, who opened up on the agency’s growth trajectory, how it is staying on the top of the game as digital transformation accelerates, if campaign briefs to digitally focused agencies like LB Digital have changed after Covid and more.


Edited excerpts below:


What is the kind of magic you’ve seen happening when digital met advertising with Leo Burnett Digital? Tell us about the agency’s growth journey?

We believe that demarcations such as mainline and digital will soon begin to erode. There will be only two kinds of agencies – those who are ahead of the curve and those who are behind. At Leo Burnett, our ambition has been to be India’s no.1 new-age agency. Most of our thinking in the past few years has been at the cusp of culture, data and technology. Thus, adding digital as a service offering was an easy extension.

Having said that, what we are doing here has never been done before. We are navigating a large mainline agency of 450 people to an agency which breaths digital naturally, not just during breathing exercises! Also, ours is a horizontal model of digital. We don’t want digital to be another department or a silo. Having seen this playout at multiple previous agencies, I was very clear that we didn’t want to build digital as a separate turf. So all our teams are being equipped to provide full funnel solutions.

We have done two specific interventions for this. One, we are deep training all our current colleagues into digital. The first round of this organization-wide training took place early this year. This was an extensive four-week program hosted in partnership with IIDE (Indian Institute of Digital Education). We are now launching the second round of this training. Simultaneously, we have preferential tie-ups with all the key platforms in the country – Facebook, Google, Twitter, IVM Podcasts and so on. These platforms conduct regular programs for our colleagues.

Second, almost all our replacement hirings are from digital backgrounds. This is to make sure that we have digital natives in art, copy, strategy and data, across our teams. We have also hired senior talent across creative, strategy and account management, from pure-play digital background, to provide the deep expertise that digital needs. These experts are horizontally powering the current teams to be able to give full-funnel solutions.

LB Digital has got off to a spectacular start and several of our clients have consolidated their digital and social mandate with us for this seamlessness of narrative. We have also welcomed on board new partners including Whisper, Angel broking, FCA (Jeep) with LB Digital. Most of our new acquisitions are integrated mandates.


How did Covid-19 impact LB Digital? Or did it provide an opportunity?

Ofcourse, Covid has accelerated the shift to digital. Most of our clients have shifted a large part of their media budgets to digital. With the beginning of the pandemic, last year, many clients shifted a significant part of their scope of work to digital. Also, the pandemic gave us an opportunity to think aloud our ambition.

LB Digital was launched amidst the Covid crisis as digital adoption took a quantum leap. It was one of the key specializations that we anticipated brands will need going forward. Within one year of its launch, LB Digital has onboarded not only existing clients from the Leo Burnett roster but several brands who are working with us solely for digital expertise.


How have you seen campaign briefs to digitally focused agencies like LB Digital change after Covid?

Today there are no briefs for mainline or digital. The brief is to solve a problem, and our task is to create a narrative for the brand which goes across the most relevant platforms. In today’s world, a brand gets built across various touchpoints and often its narrative gets lost and fractured across platforms. Our aim is to build a consolidated narrative across all the platforms for the brand to maintain the brand's core messages and identity.

Our model of LB Digital is horizontal and not a vertical one. This means that our clients get the advantage of the best talents in creative, strategy and business looking through the entire narrative for the brand – starting upstream with the strategy, the creative platform and going all the way to platform native execution.


They say with Covid, years of digital transformation has happened in months. How has LB Digital ensured it stays ahead of the curve through this digital revolution?

That’s true, Covid has indeed accelerated the digital transformation of the Indian consumer. As a result, we need to be up to speed to be able to connect with them. The change we are witnessing here is not one time. There is a need for us to be in a continuous learning mode. Honestly, it’s not an easy thing, as human beings are typically averse to change. But making change happen is one of the biggest agenda for today, else we can slip into obsolescence very quickly.

We are embedding this learning mindset at the core of our organization and linking growth and incentives accordingly. Also, there are learning programs being designed for continuous upgrade. Staying close to the platforms such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, IVM and so on, helps as well.


How much growth is the agency anticipating for 2021?

We have had a good run this year so far. We are currently ahead of our commitments, however, a lot depends on how the year goes by. The second wave has been devastating in the way it has affected our people. We are beginning to raise our head above the crises and hope that the rest of the year is not as eventful in terms of the pandemic.

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