I want to build the best think tank team at Initiative: Vaishali Verma, CEO

Vaishali Verma of Initiative, part of the Interpublic Group’s media management network IPG Mediabrands, spoke about her transition to CEO, and her vision for the agency

e4m by Neethu Mohan
Updated: Sep 11, 2018 8:59 AM

Vaishali Verma has taken charge as the Chief Executive Officer of Initiative, part of the Interpublic Group’s media management network IPG Mediabrands in the month of April. Verma who has over 22 years of experience in the area of marketing, media, and advertising has added three new businesses to Initiative’s account within months of her joining.

In an interaction with exchange4media, Verma spoke about her transition from COO of Lodestar UM and Initiative to CEO of Initiative, and her vision for the media agency and more.


Initiative has won a barrage of accounts already. If that’s anything to go by, what is in store for Initiative in 2018?

2018 is a year of both consolidation and new business acquisitions. I'm very proud that we have added three businesses in the last couple of months, which is Dish TV, Indigo Paints, and Anchor Electricals. We are a people driven industry and it is very important for us to strengthen the leadership at Initiative. Arun Sharma has been elevated as Chief Operating Officer for the Delhi region and Laya Menon has been appointed as Executive Vice President and she will take the mandate of Initiative South and we are also looking to take somebody on board for the west. So, 2018 is a year in which I want to have my leadership team completely in place, and expanding our clientele will be the focus for 2019.

From COO of Lodestar UM and Initiative to CEO of Initiative, tell us about the changes and challenges you faced during this transition?

There are lot of changes that I have had to face during this transition. From being a regional head to a national head and becoming responsible for a lot of people is a big change. There is a vast variety of clients and you have to hold on to the relationships. I am trying to get onto the role as I'm still transitioning out of my current role of South Head. It is a slow process and being based in Bangalore is helping me do that.

Coming the to challenges, there is none, I see those as opportunities for my growth of taking Initiative as the go-to agency.

You have recently stated that the advertising business is going through the most interesting times. Could you elaborate on this with some examples?

We are in the business of media planning and so we need to understand how consumers are consuming media. The entertainment and media industries have grown many folds in the recent years. People are now shifting from watching media to watching content. So, they have become platform agnostic. The content can be viewed on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar or could be on Star Sports, the content is watched irrespective of which media it could be on.

The way that consumers are consuming content is changing dramatically, a lot of content gets consumed on your hand-held phones and other parallel platforms. So, when you do planning, it would be a media agnostic planning. I would try to reach that consumer, irrespective of whichever media he or she consumes, so it could be a little bit of OTT platforms, TV or print media. That is what I meant by saying that it's an interesting time where you no longer can do a TV plan and can just sit with it, the planning should be layered with digital. It needs to have a video platform, there is proliferation of media which is happening.

Similarly, why has it become more difficult now to get the consumer's attention? Is it because they are too many players in the field or the consumer’s demands are becoming more varied and too difficult to meet?

There is only 24 hours in a day and today we want to do much more than we ever did earlier. We get these interesting insights while talking to today’s youth; they have their hobbies, they need to pursue their social life and then the time which is left to consume media is very limited. The media consumption is at the consumer’s discretion. It could be a metro phenomenon.

According to me, lot of data and research will have to come into play to really understand when a consumer is receptive to advertisements. The biggest challenge is not reaching the customers, but about engaging them. To tackle this, we have lot of tools at Initiative. Our data science team work day and night to solve this issue, we have a Consumer Panel Study which is our proprietary tool that gives us a lot of insight and maps 77 touch points. It is a very large study as big as TGI. So that layered with lot of Analytics tools help us get inputs to plan to the changing consumer behaviour.

The Industry witnessed a sluggish start to the festive season because of the Kerala floods, what are your expectations on advertisement spends by brands for this year’s festive season? How are the brands preparing for the season?

We saw Onam being washed away by the floods. Normally a lot of festive investments happens in the Kerala market across all media by FMCGs and lot of retail brands during Onam, but this year there has been a drop in that because of the floods. Apart from that, the tempo is as high as last year. Yes, the start to the festive season is a little late as the festive season will begin in mid-September. This time we have a shorter festive window.

The brands are gearing up for the festive season and we are in the planning stage right now. The investments are not increasing over last year's hence, the challenge is far higher. There are a lot of learnings which we have acquired over the years about festive reactions. We map the festival calendar of the media landscape and then align our campaigns to it. Not much changes have happened in the media landscape during the festive seasons for past couple of years.

One thing that evokes my interest is the entire growth of OTT platforms. OTT platforms are coming up with Indian originals and it is interesting to know whether they have any new line-ups during the festive season or do the OTT platform change their calendar during the festive seasons.

What are the biggest challenges that the media industry is facing now? Recently there were discussions around clients calling pitches more frequently. Do you think it is affecting the client-agency relationship?

Yes, it is affecting the client-agency relationship.

The bigger clients review business every 3 to 5 years. I am also a firm believer that for you to understand the client business and build relationships it takes time. Sometimes you develop the rapport and build that relationship, and there is a pitch. It has always been the trade of the business. Contracts are signed that way. But, the change does not always mean you get better, clients change because the promises during the pitch seems attractive and later they realise they are not getting it. I am happy with the clients I have been working with, there have been pitches and we have retained pitches as well.

The mantra for me is product, people, and process. You need to get all three to work together and I think we have delivered that and that's the reason why I am happy with what is there.

As a woman leader, what is the legacy you want to leave behind?

I want to bring in a lot of inclusion and diversity to the organisation. When I say diversity it is not only based on gender but across all forms, and it could even be people from various backgrounds and different industry verticals. I want Initiative to be differentiated from any other typical media agency. The second is, I want Initiative to be a sought-after agency.

As the CEO what is your vision for Initiative?

I want to build the best think tank team at Initiative, the vision is to build that kind of an organisation which has diverse skill sets so that you are really differentiated and become the go-to agency for any client.

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