Inside Indian adland’s game plan for Lockdown 2.0

From preparing comeback plans for clients to dialing up engagement levels, ad agencies have been trying varied strategies to keep their flock together

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Updated: Apr 20, 2020 2:23 PM
Indian adland

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday announced that the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown has been extended till May 3. While the decision has been welcomed by most, it has dampened the business sentiment further as industries continue to grapple with the economic downturn.

The advertising industry has also now been at a loss with production continuing to be a standstill and campaign shoots getting postponed further. The pall of uncertainty has engulfed the ad land further.   

We spoke to advertising industry leaders to get a sense of how they are bracing for the days ahead. Read on to find out what they have to say:

Agnello Dias, Co-founder, Taproot Dentsu & Creative Chairman, Dentsu Aegis Network

Firstly, I think the industry should dig their heels in for the long haul. Even when the lockdown lifts, it does not mean mass movement that shoots require will begin immediately. Secondly, I think it is unlikely that there will be too many agency re-evaluation pitches but there may be a lot of cost negotiations. I don't think agencies who specialise in recessionary business environments for marketeers need to needlessly call for pitches. In fact, marketeers should not look at shifting too many variables for the next 3 months at least.

Lifting of the lockdown doesn't mean stability of the business environment or the economy. That is still a long way off. Our agencies like any other company look at cost tightening wherever possible. Priority lists are being redrawn and costs that are not urgent or critical right now are being postponed for later. This is a natural way forward and I think the immediate task for our agencies like any other is to focus on the business growth of our current clients in the immediate short term rather than going around for other agencies' accounts.

Rohit Ohri, Group Chairman and CEO, FCB India

We had anticipated that the lockdown will be extended. Many other countries have also gone ahead with extensions and preventions. So we had a plan in place. While we are hopeful for a revival to come by Q3-Q4, work and pitches are still on. It’s not as much as it was before the COVID-19 situation but a couple of them are still on. We are participating in these online pitches and have been working with many of our clients intensively while pondering over capabilities they need to upskill and are also preparing a comeback plan to be implemented once the dust around it settles down. Health and safety will be areas to watch out for. So we are developing ideas and working towards what will be the new normal as the world comes out of this pandemic. We are working on how brands should connect with it.

Anand Bhadkamkar, CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network India

The lockdown extension was anticipated owing to the way the number of COVID-19 cases have been increasing. From a business perspective, it does surge anxiety and thus we are ensuring that we keep up the engagement levels high within teams, clients and business partners.

To up the fun quotient, our HR team has kickstarted initiatives like DAN’s Got Talent, which showcases interesting things created by employees' and work-from-home diaries. Teams are engaging quite regularly and despite working from home, people are taking complete ownership and contributing more ideas. These initiatives have given us a chance to see a lot of innovativeness and talent in our teams.

Tarun Rai, Chairman and Group CEO, Wunderman Thompson, South Asia

The extension was expected and so we were prepared. The work continues. Our people seem to be busier than normal. But yes, fatigue will set in soon and we are doing our best to keep our people motivated, cheerful and positive. The issue is not just ‘office’ work but the lockdown means that for many of our staff there is additional ‘home’ work to do – cooking, cleaning and managing kids who are now at home all day. So WFH is in addition to Work of Home. Some pitches are, surprisingly, still going on and so is some limited production. I continue to be amazed at how quickly, and with enthusiasm, our people have taken to working from their home. But yes, it will be good to get back to a degree of normalcy.

Ajay Gahlaut, MD & CCO, Publicis India

Everyone was fairly clear that while the initial lockdown was only till 15th, it could get extended as the number of cases were only rising. So the extension has not come as such a big surprise. Work is proceeding as smoothly as it can in such circumstances. We’ve got used to this new normal now. Whether it is using technology to make calls or to do the work itself. In fact pitches haven’t really stopped for us. We are doing a couple of pitches on video conferencing. Film video production has halted but should be resolved once the lockdown comes to an end. If the lockdown extension goes even beyond May 4, then that will be something to watch out for.

Hari Krishnan, CEO, Mullen Lintas

The extension was not unexpected so we were all mentally quite prepared for it. After the first few days of mild disorientation, our team embraced WFH wholeheartedly and work has been quite manic. Once everyone accepted the reality and embraced the new normal, the functioning became a lot more easier. We’ve rolled out quite a few social media campaigns and digital video assets, and some are currently under production. We’ve also had our share of fun with kids chipping in during serious discussions and virtual drinks on Fridays with people actually dressing up for it.

Now that the tough part of the lockdown is over, we expect the next two weeks to be much smoother. We’ve had our share of lockdown pitches so even that does not pose a challenge as our teams have become comfortable with the process of it. Production continues to be a challenge and it dictates the creative product to a large extent.

However, brands are gearing up for life post lockdown so there’s a lot of development work going on which will be ready for execution when life goes back to normal, whenever that happens. The key to surviving a lockdown lies in not doing a countdown.

Sumanto Chattopadhyay, Chairman and CCO, 82.5 Communications

The extension was inevitable since COVID-19 is not yet under control. Our industry, like the others, must soldier on. Obviously, large-scale production work is not possible at the moment. But we are doing whatever is possible to do remotely for our clients. This state of affairs will come to an end. Brands must respond appropriately to the current situation while also preparing for that future.

Raghu Bhat, Founder & Copywriter, Scarecrow M&C Saatchi

Since it's an uncertain period, agencies need to be conservative and also upskill. This means working harder and getting out of comfort zones. People will need to learn to ideate in new milieus, like phone calls and zoom calls, instead of sitting together in a room. Unnecessary pitches will reduce, which is a good thing. Also, there is an increasing reliance on stock footage and ideas without fancy production. Remote working is not a challenge if the teams are motivated.

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