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'Only empathy, positive intent and genuine action matter at a time like this'

Today, we feature Parthasarathy Mandayam, CEO – Mindshare, South Asia, in our 'The Resilience Story' series where senior industry leaders share their learnings from the pandemic

by Naziya Alvi Rahman
Published - Jun 21, 2021 8:25 AM Updated- Jun 21, 2021 8:46 AM

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In today's edition of 'The Resilience Story' series, e4m editor Naziya Alvi Rahman speaks to Parthasarathy Mandayam (Maps), CEO – Mindshare, South Asia, as he lets us in on his expectations from 2021, the agency's Cannes plans, IPL impact on the industry, and staying positive in the time of crisis.  

Q: Your agency has been winning accolades at international media events. What are your expectations from Cannes 2021? How actively is Mindshare participating in the upcoming event?

We are thrilled by the success we have had at acclaimed international forums recently. Winning the global “Media Agency of the Year” at the Festival of Media global awards was a big achievement, after which we have been shortlisted at the WARC Awards for effectiveness - the only Indian media agency on this global list.

We are participating in Cannes 2021. So much has changed since the last Cannes festival – the issues that matter, the role of brands, and the behaviour of consumers. We believe that some of our best work is based on these changes.

Q: After hitting an all-time low in 2020, expectations from 2021 were big. Your own internal report predicted adex to grow at 23% in 2021. However, the second Covid wave proved to be more damaging in terms of personal loss and overall sentiment. How much did it impact the ad industry, considering there was a general sense of despair for over two months? 

The second COVID wave has certainly had a major impact on people at an unprecedented scale. The first quarter of the year was extremely positive, with an elevated level of activity by brands across categories. While the AMJ quarter has certainly seen a decline, brands and businesses have been better prepared this time. The channels of distribution have not shut down completely for consumer goods. New categories have emerged. So, the impact on advertising has been a little less than in 2020.

Q: Has this sense of despair and uncertainty prompted many brands to suspend pitches and simply extend contracts with the incumbent agencies? How has it affected the prospects of adding new businesses to your kitty? 

We do not see this as a trend. Most businesses are transforming themselves during this period, and they are looking for guidance and support in the transformation. There are also many new categories and business models entering the market and they are also looking for marketing support. Opportunities exist, but it requires a shift in thinking and enhancement of skill sets.

Q: IPL, which is one of the big-ticket events for most brands, had to be called off midway. How much and in what ways did it affect overall industry business?

Being the biggest event in the calendar, the shift certainly had an impact, but it was different across categories. Many brands, for whom the timing is important, have chosen to redeploy their budgets. Others who are seeking more of a contextual connect will wait for similar impact events. Overall advertising spends at an annual level may not be impacted too much by this alone.

Q: This is an extension of the previous question. Now that the IPL will again coincide with the festive season consecutively for the second year in a row. How will it impact advertising on GEC and other genres?

Too soon to comment as there are multiple factors to consider.

Q: Which sectors suffered the most during this second wave? What would be the path to recovery for them?

As could be expected, sectors like automobiles, consumer durables, fashion, and hospitality were the worst affected. In some of these sectors, the pent-up demand is bound to come out as it did after the previous lockdown. Brands in these sectors who have stayed salient and relevant during this period are better placed to capitalize on this demand when it occurs.

Q: Besides gaming and edu-tech which are some of the new categories that have emerged as prominent advertisers in the last year?

There has been an increase in a few categories which are driven by technology & content. One such area is Fintech, with a number of new players making an entry. OTT players have been very active, and there is a rise in short format content platforms, who could also play a part in driving social commerce in the future.

Q: As the leading agency, what kind of changes have you seen in consumer behaviour in the last year of the pandemic?

There are of course the obvious megatrends towards e-commerce, digital payment, fitness and skills enhancement. Beyond this, we are also seeing a return to the roots and provenance becoming important when it comes to brands. Purpose is certainly coming to the fore, but consumers are becoming extremely sensitive to genuine purpose versus opportunism.

Q: What initiatives did your agency take to keep the trust and hope of your co-workers alive in the time of crisis?

The only things that matter during a time like this are empathy, positive intent and genuine action. At Mindshare & GroupM, we have tried to follow these to the best of our abilities. Task forces were formed in every city to provide all forms of support to people who were infected, counsellors were available to help address mental health issues, “Power off” days were created. Our global network chipped in with unique initiatives like an “Online Summer Camp” where they spent time with the kids of our employees, telling stories, teaching crafts, etc. Most significantly, on the work front, our teams were truly remarkable, filling in for those indisposed most generously.

Q: Now that we are anticipating the third wave, how are you preparing your agency and your clients for the remaining year?

Our emphasis on reskilling continues with more vigor than ever before. From technical skills in areas like Data Management, AI, e-commerce, and performance marketing to broader skills in Client leadership and finding Balance, we are offering a variety of learning opportunities for our teams that are opt-in. On the client side, we are building a lot of flexibility and adaptability into our planning to be prepared for multiple scenarios. We are co-creating industry-leading playbooks in emerging areas like eCommerce Search to leverage these for our clients. We are also partnering with them in accelerating their Data & Digital transformation.

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