Is Coronavirus holding up Indian adland's behind-the-scene actions?

Industry heads say the outbreak has delayed campaign launches and enforced cutbacks in spending but brands & agencies are keeping the discussions going on via digital platforms

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Updated: Mar 24, 2020 9:14 AM

A dizzying number of suspended events and major disruptions in travel plans over the last few weeks due to the coronavirus outbreak have left the advertising industry high and dry.

COVID-19 has hit all the action happening behind the scenes from pitches to meetings. Looking at the intensity of the situation, industry experts say clients are scaling back advertising efforts due to travel hindrances and marketplace uncertainties. This evidently has led to delayed campaign launches and enforced cutbacks in spending.

Pitches going virtual

While some pitches have been postponed or cancelled, a few others may be forced to take the virtual path, something that agencies need to get adjusted to.

Hari Krishnan, CEO, Mullen Lintas, reveals that some pitches have been postponed as marketing plans are undergoing changes due to the unprecedented situation. “However, this being the first week of working from home there are some pitches which have gone as per schedule on platforms like Zoom. The industry will have to get used to newer or remote ways of working because nobody knows how the situation will unfold. Therefore, the approach will be to keep calm. It is challenging but all that we can do at the moment is to ensure smooth back-end infrastructure to enable conversations. To that effect, we have enabled a 24/7 remote IT support and provided computers to all employees along with connectivity platforms.”

While a weak economy was already a concern for the industry, coronavirus has now thrown another wrench in the mix, leading marketers to pause major investments in response to the cloud of uncertainty due to the current global scenario.

According to Anand Bhadkamkar, CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network, clients are holding back when it comes to pitches and are reviewing and revisiting their spends and marketing plans in the light of the developing situation. “Pitches are getting pushed back as it is difficult for people to come together during such times. But there are instances wherein brands and agencies are continuing discussions online on Google Hangouts and various other digital platforms. The situation is very fluid at present. A few days back we were still mobile in the market but now with most businesses opting to work from home, personal interactions and new discussions are slowing down further,” he explained.

Subsequently, agencies are likely to win fewer media dollars due to this unprecedented uncertainty. Krishnan further said that with IPL also being delayed a lot of marketing plans are suddenly up in the air.

Subhash Kamath, CEO & Managing Partner, BBH, indicates that there will be an obvious impact and slowdown with launches getting postponed. "The current situation calls for measures that we're all not used to - working from home being one. It just means we have to learn to coordinate, brainstorm, review and 'meet' online or over the phone. It's not easy but we're getting there. Clients are obviously going through similar issues, so everyone is very understanding and sensitive of the situation. At BBH, we've been doing this for the past week or so and are getting more efficient at it. It's no different when it comes to pitches as well. Some pitches are getting postponed, while some are happening on schedule. Hopefully, we'll get to know more in a few weeks’ time,” he said.

Weathering the storm

A source, on the condition of anonymity, shared that until two days back some agencies were still compelled to go for pitches. “After all, the business depends on it. In some cases, delay in pitches is good for incumbents who get to make a few more weeks of revenue from the client but it is not so great for the challengers,” he added.

Meanwhile, Raghu Bhat, Founder & Copywriter, Scarecrow M&C Saatchi, suggested that considering the ongoing situation agencies need to be smarter in choosing businesses that they want to pitch for. “It has been a mixed bag. A couple of pitches have got postponed as the category itself is facing a huge challenge and there is no visibility on what is the right time for a launch. But in some cases pitches are happening as per schedule. Just like our clients, agencies too need to gear up mentally for uncertainties,” he added.

Industry observers are now hoping that while a significant number of pitch plans are being put on hold, the next half of the year is expected to see an avalanche of reviews and opportunities.

According to Bhadkamkar, the industry could witness a revival in the coming quarter but depending upon the COVID-19 situation. “However, we must be cautious and wait and watch to see how things finally evolve,” the CEO of Dentsu Aegis Network summed up.

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