Keep talking to clients & make plans for after the lockdown: Shekhar Banerjee, Wavemaker

In today's 'Beating All Odd' series, Shekhar Banerjee, Chief Client Officer - West, Wavemaker India, talks to e4m Editor, Naziya Alvi Rahman, about being prepared for post-COVID-19

e4m by Naziya Alvi Rahman
Updated: Apr 11, 2020 2:54 PM
'Beating All Odds'- Shekhar Banerjee, Wavemaker India

In our series 'Beating All Odds', we recognise the leaders working around the clock, making new plans and ensuring that despite all the challenges COVID-19 has thrown at us, our economy and business remain as little affected as possible. On our 'Beating All Odds' series today, we speak to Shekhar Banerjee, Chief Client Officer - West, Wavemaker India.

What are the big challenges work from home has thrown at you during this lockdown and how do you ensure that your team remains motivated and enthusiastic about the work at this time?

There are 2 questions in that, one part is how do we keep our teams going and the second is the challenges we are facing. Let us first talk about the challenges. Honestly, it's not. When I see across my team, what we did at WPP and GroupM before we went into the lockdown- which we were learning from the other markets – we picked up on how we can manage better and plan for this period, we had an entire business continuity plan and we had all the test checks. Phase-wise and office-wise we were doing testings, for example, there were mandatory managed remote working days for departments and for the entire office. On a Tuesday we went for a managed remote working from home in Mumbai and the entire Wavemaker office was at home and the next day the news of the lockdown came. We roughly got a week to prepare and to do all test checks, and a big shout out to our IT and talent teams to get everything ready before that, so when we moved into our homes and it was business as usual. The best things thought were our clients; the way they responded and adapted to it. We say face to face meetings are better, yes face to face on our applications like Zoom are also very effective. We are closing big decisions meetings, I even had a full-day workshop with a client. So, if workshops can happen on a conference call, it's just a new way of working.

The second part of the question about how we keep the teams going. The most important thing to have at this time is empathy. We understand working from home is difficult, we understand we have our daily chores also to do, we have children at home who want attention, even our pets who want our attention. So managing all of those things, how we work together will make us successful in this period. We also make sure we are all coming on video since we are very used to seeing each other in the office. So the moment we shifted from audio calls to video calls, the engagement completely changed, we are laughing, we are sharing more, we are talking more and everything is taken in a very different spirit.

The second thing is we've set a routine because it's a big challenge because working hours have become diluted and our schedules were going haywire. So we set a clock for our check time during the day and we will start the day with a call and again we do a check out with a call. Because we have to remember that it is no more the same situation where we're sitting at a desk and working; we have to manage things at home also. Also when we make a call, I don't think the first question is, what is today on the business or what's the agenda of the meeting, the first 5-10 minutes go in genuinely asking if everybody is fine, especially people who are staying alone.

Is it business as usual for you despite the lockdown?

Business as usual has 2 parts to it, for example, are we doing media activities altogether? No. In that aspect, it is not business as usual. But light discussions, strategic discussions, plans for the future and how do we reboot after the lockdown, that is business as usual with the team and with our clients. Which is very encouraging.

What are some of the concerns clients have right now?

We have learnt that in this period that it is best to be transparent with each other. Clients understand the challenges we will face in our business and we understand the challenges they are facing in theirs. It's a fact, with the lockdown and the supply chain broken across the clients' businesses, the first things to do is make a decision on if your distribution and your retail supply chain are in place, Right now it is not worth spending, because this money can be utilised later also. We have learnings from earlier pandemics, even from WW2 and also from what we have seen now in China, and what we are realising is that there is something I'm calling 'renewed consumerism'. The moment people step out of the lockdown, there will be a spurt in spending. Consumers will be stepping out, refuelling or spending on luxury. It's like hope-triggered purchase, consumers will be stepping out and doing more shopping. So it is an opportunity on the other side of the lockdown. There will be momentum when we step out of the lockdown and we are putting plans into place. What we are doing to help our clients ready there not just locally, but in our entire network, is we have put together an entire plan. We have weekly webcasts, where all our clients across the globe join in and we share what we're learning from markets affected by COVID-19, such as China, Italy and now from London or Germany. This gives us a headstart on what to do. We are also putting together papers on India and globally, how each category movement is right now, and after lockdown what are the predictions. We are also trying to put together plans for when we come back.

With BARC India showing a massive growth consumption, does this give hope to advertisers to try advertising despite the lockdown?

Our recommendation to the clients are in this order: Yes, there is a massive audience which is there to be tapped, it is not just in TV you are seeing this trend, we are also seeing this trend in OTT and also on online news apps and other platforms. We anticipated this. But there is something we have to understand: Is my business as usual on-ground? Is my distribution, retail or supply chain in place? Am I there in the market or not? If I'm not, then the money spent may not result in any business.

Unless you are a brand or category who is trying to create a disproportionate share of mind at this time. That is how we are trying to bucket it out. Brands with very strong equity already but a broken supply, we are asking them to preserve and wait for the other side of the lockdown, but the clients who are looking for a disproportionate share of mind at this time, because it's a low clutter period also, and especially if you are native online or tech companies, then you have an opportunity.

Do you have clients who are using this technology?

Yes, there are. A lot of Consumer Packaged Goods (CPGs) and TV advertisers have come down and there are others who have stepped in. The bulk of it would be tech companies. There is also a great opportunity for brands who may not be there in the market to actually tell very genuine stories, and that is something which we are engaging very actively with our brands. We are looking at how we are producing content while working from home which is of value to consumers. It is not brand speak, it is purely about how we can improve consumers' lives at this time. Our Wavemaker content team in India and globally have made an insight piece on the genuine fears and triggers consumers have and can a brand genuine improve the lives of consumers in the time of such constraints. The third part is on eCommerce. Ecommerce has been interrupted in the past one week's time, because of the supply of only essentials, etc. So we are tracking eCommerce deliveries on an everyday basis and sharing that with our clients, as their supply and distribution of eCommerce come back on track. And they keep opening zones and we are tracking that every day and we're stepping up eCommerce as an advertising option, so it would be brands advertising on eCommerce thereby gaining from that.

What are the kind of learnings you've gotten from the markets such as China that have already been through this crisis and are now coming out of it? And where do you see India in comparison these markets?

We definitely see China as a great example. We are on the other side of it. What happened with China is they skyrocketed with the entire epidemic, then with the complete lockdown. So the numbers also came down. I am very happy with the efforts the governments have taken because we went into a lockdown much earlier than many European countries, so hopefully, we may not be that badly impacted. So what we are seeing in China is what we have been talking about earlier. There are a lot of categories, including luxury categories that have started up again. Most of the sectors are recovering at an unbelievable speed. Some of the categories are back to almost 70% of their original numbers, so that is the kind of speed at which recovery is happening in China. So we have a lot to learn from this. We have to be prepared. We cannot suspend work, we have to make plans and keep them ready for the day when we get out of the lockdown. I don't know when we will actually get out of the lockdown in India. I don't think by the 15th April we will get over with it especially with the way numbers are moving right now. We might be in a lockdown longer than that. But we should not stop communicating with our consumers, simply because they are also looking to come out on the other side. So keep talking and be prepared for when you come out on the other side.

So do you think some advertisers will resume advertising if the lockdown is extended?

Yes, absolutely. It is impossible for us to stay off for that long. A lot of categories and brands work top-down on a marketing funnel. We are actively talking to our clients how we plan the consumer journey which is having a strong priming bias leads to great active conversion. If we are not going to advertise to the priming bias for you brand, then the category will come down. And typically a brand with a higher priming bias has 9x better conversion than a brand that doesn't have priming bias. So it's very important that we don't lose that. Also, there are a lot of brands and categories which have a season coming up. But the season has no relevance in this kind of a situation. June and July going up have a lot of seasons for brands leading into the festive seasons, and a lot of brands start building momentum much earlier. Work on that is already on, and we see that brands may not be able to evade it because irrespective we are not staying in lockdown that long. We'll have to start building upfront.

What advice would you give to young people in the industry at this time?

These are tough and unprecedented times. Think of it as a lifetime experience. But my first request would be don't fall off the grid. Stand at your window, look outside and see that the sun rises every day. There are a lot of positive things around, so don't get bogged down by this situation. Secondly, don't participate in WhatsApp groups that are talking about negativity. It's perfectly fine if you switch off. Look at the positive side and engage with the positive news. Third thing is set up a routine. Start on a particular time and finish on time. And for the routine, make sure you get and get ready. So it's very important to get ready for the day. Have fun with your team and also exercise. It's very important to exercise because it triggers a lot of positive energy. Another thing we are trying to do is include families too and take care of the people who are alone. This is also the perfect time to lose bad habits. From my own experience; I have never felt so connected with my team or with my clients and it is an amazing experience. We are talking more, we have become much closer than we were before. And lastly, now is also the perfect time to go for training and upskill yourself.

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