India’s first ad agency launched in the times of COVID-19

IMPACT's Neeta Nair speaks with Abhik Santara, ex-President, Mumbai and Kolkata at Ogilvy on the launch of his agency ^ Atom

e4m by Neeta Nair
Updated: Apr 8, 2020 8:31 AM


Atom Founders

At a time when the entire industry is panicking about an impending recession, Abhik Santara, ex-President, Mumbai and Kolkata at Ogilvy has gone on to launch his agency— ^ Atom along with Chanchal Sanyal, Yash Kulshresth and Ananda Sen. In conversation with Abhik Santara on how he is planning to set the ball rolling.

It is a rather courageous decision to launch an agency in the times of COVID-19, what’s the story behind it and who are the investors backing you?

Well, we have been planning this launch for five months. Unfortunately, we are ready at a time when the business sentiments are not really high. Having said that, these uncertain times make our reasons even stronger. The market is reset; the dynamics of marketing will change forever. Hopefully, our offering is just coming at the right time- a nimble, digital-first full-service brand agency-marrying all ends of the communication funnel i.e. awareness & performance.

Chanchal Sanyal

We are backed by an established and credible group in the experiential marketing field- QED Communications. Our Group Chairman and Mentor, Chanchal Sanyal is a serial entrepreneur, author and has been a prominent voice within many corporate and business forums. When someone like him showed his belief in the vision- we were reassured to be on the right track.

Most brands today are cutting down on advertising spends owing to the lockdown, what will be your strategy to get clients on board?

The importance of communication to deliver business ROI will be all of paramount importance now. Marketers /businesses will be impatient to deliver immediate results. At the same time creating long-term brand equity cannot be ignored. That’s where ^ a t o m comes in with media-agnostic solutions. And that’s our pitch.

In what areas will your expertise lie, and what are the diverse functions Atom will handle?

We are a full-service agency, and because of the infrastructural support from QED, we are equipped to offer end-to-end solutions to brands, all in-house. Not many agencies have the capability to offer Creative & Brand strategy, Experiential, Technology and Film production teams under one roof- and who are working for a single P&L. There are no egos and no divided motivations for anyone to play the one-upmanship game.

What will be the USP of Atom, how are you different from the other agencies?

We are a digital-first brand agency. Our team is respectful and experienced to deliver solutions which impact long-term brand equity for the modern-day consumer journeys. We are not driven by ambition alone, not learning on the job and not forced/promoted to become digital, mainline or media on one fine day. We have done our rounds to be where we are. We have come together to merge our collective experience for that common goal. Our diversity is our strength and working without silos is our offering. We are not here because of what we ‘think’ we can do, but because of what we have ‘done’ in the past. We have a healthy mix of brand planners who know how to crunch media data, creative leaders who are digital natives, content writers who understand engagement metrics, performance teams who have mastered business ROIs and account managers who have worked across many spectrums. I can assure you that our presentations will not have a digital strategy in the last two slides.

Tell us about your team and the number of cities Atom will operate from?

I have been fortunate to have partners like Yash and Ananda, who are true champions of this vision and providing the creative leadership at Atom. They were delivering path-breaking, effective and award-winning creative solutions even on brands that didn’t have elaborate and lavish budgets. Being agile, digital-first and efficient are their strengths and that is the nucleus of Atom. Frankly, my confidence has grown manifold since we partnered together. The objective was not to pick members who ‘aspire’ to do a certain kind of work- but for people who have ‘done’ this over and over again. It was not easy to find enough people who have the dual experience of classical brand-building while delivering business results in the digital world.

For Chanchal, Yash, Ananda and I, it was love at first sight. Our meeting lasted for five minutes and we knew we had to work together. The subsequent beer meetings were merely to work out the logistics and handpick other members. We have offices in three cities, Mumbai, Gurgaon and Bangalore. The operating teams, across disciplines, are in place. The leadership will be based out of Mumbai.

A wise industry leader once said, you can’t start an agency and then look for clients, you need to have a solid client or two to start an agency… do you agree, which clients do you have onboard?  

We were lucky in this area. We have been partnering with a few businesses, even before we started. Chanchal’s goodwill and extensive network have been opening many doors for us. Yash’s & Ananda’s creative credentials are helping close them faster. We are also seeing enough traction from the existing client base of QED as a natural extension to their current services. Yash and Ananda are creating few brand solutions and they will speak about these campaigns soon. Of course, things could have been better if the situation was different.

As a new agency, when the market normalizes what kind of challenges do you foresee, many stalwarts have branched out to form their own agencies today, would you face bigger competition from them or the network agencies?

We would love to have those competitors, as that will evolve the market faster. We hope to learn from them. It will be an interesting game to play with agencies that will bring expertise and ambition under one roof. Diversity of experience is our strength and having similar entities will be good for the industry.

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