'Once things go back to normal, clients will spend on new communication’

In today’s edition of Beating All Odds, Srija Chatterjee, MD, Publicis Worldwide India, speaks to Neeta Nair 

e4m by Neeta Nair
Published: Apr 30, 2020 8:34 AM  | 11 min read
Beating All Odds

‘They say nothing is more inspiring than a challenge and our creative agencies today have literally proved that right with the wonderful campaigns that they have dished out.

In today’s edition of Beating All Odds, we have one such creative advertising leader Srija Chatterjee, MD, Publicis Worldwide India.

How has this lockdown affected the creative ideation at Publicis?

It’s actually opened our eyes that we could ideate potentially on a screen like this. Earlier, ideation was all about sitting around a sofa, or going out for a smoke break, and discussing ideas. Now it’s a far more formal process, and initially there was some sort of tension amongst our creative people that whether this will happen or not. But, I must say it’s happening very well, very efficiently, actually.

Are you saying that your team is surprising you, and creative ideas and efficiency haven’t suffered despite the fact that they can’t bounce off ideas sitting in the same room as their team…

Absolutely. And nowadays what has happened is the regular phone call has stopped. It’s all video call. So, anything that you require, you’re just calling the person from Microsoft Teams, which is the platform that we are using quite well. And everything is therefore just immediately discussed and closed, and it’s happening very seamlessly. I must say I’m surprised. I expected some sort of pushback or some sort of, like ‘this is not happening’ and ‘because of this condition, this is the reason, this was not delivered, that was not happening’. They are all delivering it very well.

What kind of problems are you currently troubleshooting?

Actually troubleshooting is about delivering, so we cannot shoot a film. So, it is about looking, trying to find a solution within the allowable options, which is either looking at stock photography, looking at animation, looking at AV kind of films. So, that's the only real constraint that we’re in. And I guess creative works better with constraints, so they’re also finding creative ways of finding a solution.

Other than that I don’t think there is any real issue. The only potential thing is that from an employee perspective, there are some employees who are living alone, and as I know living in this time, in your house can be quite harrowing if you’re living alone. So, that’s the only thing we’re taking care of. We are having regular conversations with those employees. We’re also instituting in our organization a mental health number. So, if anybody has any issue with mental health, because things can affect people in different ways. There is a number that they can call and they can use, sort of ‘get some kind of counselling’.

Unlike the other agencies we are not seeing a lot of these ‘work from home’ video ads coming from Publicis Worldwide yet. Is there a reason?

There is a lot of work that has already come out. We handle a lot of pharma clients and a lot of pharma work has come out. We handle some B2B clients, a lot of work on those has come out.

Which are the video campaigns…

Print, video, yes, it’s a combination. A lot of work has already come out. We are not going out there and doing PR for that. And now the teams are working with the clients regularly to plan when it opens up, what will happen in the short term, what will potentially happen in the long term, and looking at different scenario buildings and plans for that. Nowadays, nobody is keeping track of lunch time and breaks, you know there was a whole conversation we had on that and we said that, let’s just make sure that people get half an hour, 45 minutes to eat at least.

The lockdown has literally thrown up different kinds of challenges for brands. What are the innovative business solutions you have offered to some of your clients over and above an ad?

It depends on what the brand is, what the cycle it is in and its developmental phase. There are different solutions that are happening, for example for a brand like Zee TV, which is a GEC and is connected with the consumer every day, the consumer meets those characters every day. And now suddenly the consumer is not connected with those characters because obviously they’re unable to shoot. How do you keep those characters alive in the minds of the consumers, because consumers love those characters. Viewers of those shows love those characters, so we’re giving them interesting ideas, and mainly digital because that’s the medium where you can best connect at this time, and people are also now a lot more digitally active than they were earlier. So, there are those kind of ideas that we’re looking at. So, how do you keep the brand alive in the minds of the consumers without super hard selling because this is not the time for super hard selling, but yet in a softer way, yet in a kind of brand loved ways stay alive with the minds.

During the lockdown are you seeing a different side to the clients, are they less of dictators now?

We did not have too many dictator clients but whatever little we had, they are not there, everybody understands that everyone has pressures at home. They do understand it’s ‘work from home’ and ‘work for home’. And therefore there needs to be that balance. There are SMSs coming or rather WhatsApps coming saying ‘can we connect at so and so time’, versus picking up the phone. So yes, clients also need to do their share at home, so they also want that so-called ‘me time’ to complete that.

What are the unique problems you’re hearing from clients?

Each category is going through its own share of problems. In fact, we had a very interesting roundtable. So, our B2B business has a lot of not just B2B but a lot of talent communication too - for organizations to connect with their consumers, with their employees, to communicate to them. We do comms on that. We had a round where we called in the HR heads of few of our clients. And it was a very interesting conversation on how the HR people are coping with the employee issue, also with how they are personally developing themselves, because different people are going through different learning curves. We are doing more of these roundtables now across categories. These are ways we’re being connected with the consumer, our consumer being the clients, understanding what they’re going through, and then they’re workshopping with each and every client to figure out what should we be doing right now, in the mid-term, and then also laying some stones for the long term, though how long is the long term we don’t know. It really depends on how this all pans out.

Are pitches on in full swing right now?

Very much. We had a 4-hour pitch on Friday, which was 20 people on Zoom. And we had a fantastic pitch. Now what’s happened is because we are all working from home, Saturdays are also okay to have meetings, because it doesn’t matter. So, pitches are very much on.

Would you say clients, apart from slashing ad spends are also looking at cutting agency costs right now?

Yes, some clients are. Some clients are asking us for help for partnership during these tough times. Some clients aren’t. And wherever we can help we are helping. And they also understand that we have a business to run. So, they’re not being unfair. We also understand that they have a business to run. So, each client is a different conversation. But, there are some clients where we’ve offered to help out where we know that those categories are going to be far more badly affected than some others.

In such testing times does an agency become that much more important for the client?

It definitely becomes far more important because what’s going to happen is you need to do communication now which is more as I said to get the pitch right… hard sell, but then when things come back, everybody is going to be shouting. So, how do you shout best because once the market opens up, everybody is going to say, ‘me, me’. And that’s when they need the partnership of the agency, they need the partnership of the agency to develop different scenarios and create plans for each scenario, and depending on which one pans out, because as I said it’s uncertain, we deploy one of them. So, they definitely need the partnership but the reality is some of the businesses are under pressure, and whenever possible we help.

Once the lockdown is lifted, will the client become more cautious about spending on advertising or will he go all out?

My view, in the short term - the clients are going to take existing assets and redeploy them. They will spend, not that much, till the time they get their supply chain and distribution in place. And then we will start preparing. And I think the big spends will happen around August, September and Ganapati time, hopefully things will then be back to normal to some extent. And the clients will spend on new communication.

After an early release of your first quarter earnings, your Group Chairman and CEO, Arthur Sadoun, spoke about a cost-cutting plan that will ‘vary country by country’. In India would that include salary cuts?

No. As of now, we are not looking at a mass layoff or any salary cut. Currently, we are relooking at increment cycles, so we will put a hold on that for some time, till we get an idea on how it’s all going to pan out. We are also making sure that we don’t take any third-party help and do a lot of in-housing because we have a lot of things in our Power of One solution. We have content, we have digital, we have PR, we’ve got everything. So, mandate is you cannot go out to any other third party because the more you go out to a third party, you are eating into somebody else’s job… Everything needs to be in house. And a few replacements that we have, we are not replacing them for now. It’s all on hold. Once we get our act together, have a better visibility as to how things are happening, then things will get okay. So, that’s our kind of cost-cutting.

What are your learnings from the lockdown?

Learning number one, I actually haven’t stepped out of the house from 19th of March. I haven’t even gone down for a walk. I’m exercising indoors. I didn’t know I was capable of that. Being indoor for some 33 odd days is one personal learning. I think from a professional perspective it’s amazing how humans can take over any challenge and fight that, and that’s something I’ve been demonstrated. I mean, we know we keep saying Mumbai is resilient, Mumbai is this and Mumbai is that, but that’s really the human side to everything. All human beings are resilient. They’ll find a way to break out of any issues and find a solution. The fact that the teams are working so well in such a planned manner, there are jobless meetings every morning, there is a review of the jobs every evening. Creative people are doing this so well. Of course, planning and account management really do that already. Hats off to everybody. They are doing way more than what they should. And they also know the situation that everybody is in now, and they’re delivering lot more than they should. And that’s something that is absolutely fantastic.

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