You have to be a partner to your client in good times & bad: Anand Chakravarthy, Essence

In today's edition of 'Beating All Odds', Anand Chakravarthy, Managing Director, India, Essence (GroupM), speaks with Naziya Alvi Rahman, Editor of exchange4media

e4m by Naziya Alvi Rahman
Updated: May 4, 2020 4:51 PM
Beating All Odds

In our ‘Beating All Odds’ series, we speak to industry heads who are leading by example in these trying times. As the paradigm shifts, businesses wane and client-agency relationships change, these leaders leave no stone unturned to make the most of the challenging situations.

 In today’s edition, we speak to Anand Chakravarthy, the MD of Essence (GroupM), India. He opens up to exchange4media editor Naziya Alvi Rahman about client relationships and personal growth during the lockdown.

Do you think the crisis will have an impact on the client-agency relationship?

Relationships of any kind, whether personal or professional, depend on how you behave during a crisis. Everybody has recognized that this is a crisis that has affected everybody.

At this time we are actually supporting each other a lot. I think that truly brings about true partnership. There are clients whose businesses have been impacted, their supply chain is not in place, or demand has gone down and it is unlikely that demand will come up immediately.

There are certain clients where the nature of the situation actually hasn’t affected demand as much. Therefore, for them, they are actually continuing to run campaigns albeit at a slower intensity because there is an opportunity in the market.

Then there are clients for whom the impact has been minimal but they still can’t spend as much, because due to the supply chain, and they can’t deliver a product.

For each of these clients, we are obviously working very closely with them. I think more than ever now, our focus is on understanding what the challenges in their business, and not just marketing, are. The conversation has to move beyond brand and marketing to really understand what is happening at their business level.

Let’s say from the client’s side, the supply chain has got affected, or let’s say they are not able to deliver a product. While we may not have the capabilities to help with that, what we can do is bring other potential clients, who have that capability currently for these clients, into our kitty. We are trying to foster a sense of collaboration across clients who may have not considered it before. That is something we can facilitate as a team.

The second barrier is, obviously, given the current situation where there are brands who can advertise. For example, an online educational brand Vedantu, that has a big opportunity during this time. The kind of things we are doing for them is not just looking at advertising from a traditional perspective. We are also looking at using innovative solutions that are more likely to connect with consumers.

 We have seen the news genre grow significantly. News channels also need positive content because they also realize that just talking about the crisis and the number of cases is not helping. People after some point of time will switch off. You have seen that in markets like China and Korea where the news viewership went up then it came down and only towards the end of it when cases were more positive did news viewership came back up.

 News channels are also running a lot of relevant contextual content about not only the number of cases but also how brands and categories are behaving. What we have partnered with a series of news channels to create very interesting content with the editorial team around online education, and how students can continue their learning online. We had the founder of Vedantu on a number of channels talking about the product and how they are helping.

 The relationship with the client depends on what you are doing now. So if you are able to be a great partner and look at innovative solutions, your relationship will be stronger. If you look at the client as only a client, at the end of this, clients will evaluate if you are a true partner. All clients are looking for partners and all partners have to recognize that there are good times and bad times but you have to be a partner during all of them.

 Flipkart has taken a complete hit. What kind of solutions are you offering them right now?

 Each of these businesses are also looking for solutions internally. The nature of the current crisis is that everything won’t go from not being okay to being okay on day one. It will be a gradual process. The first thing we are doing is bringing to the table a lot of learnings from across the world. So, we are working very closely with our teams in China, Korea and other markets from Europe that are now opening up who are continuously feeding us with data on how consumers are reacting to different categories in the post lockdown scenario. It gives them a sense of the potential consumer behaviours that are likely to be seen in the coming months.

 We are also trying to look at different data points and track them to estimate the return of demand. What we have seen in multiple countries is that just because the lockdown gets lifted, doesn’t mean that consumers will go back to their original behaviour.

 We are trying to help the clients information from markets that are already in the next stage, which is post lockdown. Insights from there can build into their product and marketing plans. Secondly, we are working towards creating a Recovery Index which will help predict, to a large extent, when a certain degree of demand will start coming back for categories other than the essentials. Therefore, we will understand the right time to start advertising again.

 Digital consumption has increased due to the lockdown. What kind of impact has Google had on their business?

At the end of the day, this is an opportunity. We are seeing a lot of interesting data and more consumers coming online. More consumers are searching in multiple languages.

Google has shared a report on how the volume of language searches has gone up significantly. People who were averse to searching on the Google browsers are now using it and they are using the language options to actually search. That is an interesting trend. It is certainly something that is going to continue.

There is no question about the utility of products like Google Pay now. Everybody wants contactless payment. Google Pay will obviously see great growth. A lot of people were not using these products for quite some time. Now the situation has pushed them to do so.

It is an opportunity for categories where consumers are seen adapting their products in larger numbers.

 What about clients like Zee5 and Britannia?

 This is a fantastic time for Zee5 because we managed the subscription service for Zee5 and they had built a large number of shows, which were already ready in their pipeline. The opportunity is great for them because consumers are at home, TV currently has old content.

 Zee5 has a library of original content that many consumers haven’t seen before and many existing consumers are getting to see new seasons being launched. We have been running campaigns for them for their different shows just like in the months before the lockdown. Their business has definitely seen a good upside in terms of the number of subscribers who are willing to pay for content on Zee5.

 Across the world, it is a similar insight that subscription platforms and OTT platforms, in general, have gained during the lockdown. That impact is likely to last even post the lockdown because certain avenues of entertainment are going to be locked for consumers for some time.

 Demand does go up for certain categories like essentials. The fact is even without a certain amount of advertising, people are still picking up biscuit packets whenever they go to the grocery stores once a week. A challenge that essential services have is that production is shut down because of the lockdown. You have to balance it out because you have to have enough stocks in the market to advertise otherwise it is not going to work. That is the reason why all brands in the CPG space are not advertising. When the lockdown opens up, Britannia factories will open up and as they build more stocks in the market, they’ll start advertising.

 How are you keeping the morale of your employees high?

 We are going into week 7 of Work From Home. We started a week earlier than the national lockdown. What surprised me is how well young people adapted to working online.

 One of the good parts of Essence is that we have always been working using Google hangouts and G Suite both with our local teams in India as well as with our regional and global teams. Over a period of time naturally, as people spend so much time at home, one does see a drop in engagement.

 People get tired and are not as focused sitting at home. We created an engagement calendar. So, every week we have a team of what we call the ‘Pirates’ in Essence and their job is to actually focus on keeping the morale of the teams high.

 This is even during normal times. The Pirates’ job is to come up with ideas of how we can keep our teams engaged every week. So, everything from a music concert, quiz contest to speakers coming in and talking to our teams on different topics. So every week there is something new happening. This week, we have a talent show happening online.

 Everybody needs a break we have seen that teams love it. We have asked them to share photographs of them working at home and photographs of their pet. It is really important to keep the lines of communication open and be transparent about what is happening.

 It is great learning that if you put people in a situation that is challenging people will find a way to get out of it. They will be innovative, disruptive and you will be surprised about the talent that has been latent in your teams.  

How has this lockdown changed you individually?

One is having a greater belief. A lot of the things that people thought could not happen have actually happened during this period of time. I think sometimes you just have to keep an open mind to the possibilities. It has definitely opened my mind to what is possible to do in situations like this. Both from seeing how our teams work to seeing how we have done work for clients despite not being in office.

I think sometimes the barriers to doing things are in your mind and I think a lot of that has opened up for me. The second thing is being a lot more empathetic and learning to keep that at the back of your mind constantly. Sometimes one gets too caught up in work and you forget that this is not just a financial crisis, it is actually a health and humanitarian crisis.

 I think the last thing is resilience. After the 7th week of working from home, I’ve realized that I’m an optimist. Despite what I see on television or webinars and all the meetings online. I think I’ve become a lot more optimistic in general, which I think I wasn’t. I used to be more pessimistic before. But seeing how people are managing people and are able to do things one could never imagine in such circumstances has been fantastic.

 Lastly, I have become very thankful for what I have. What I tell my team always is that, ‘For us it is an adjustment of lifestyle only. For most people it is an adjustment of life.’ We are truly the fortunate ones and we should recognize and cherish that. I think in a world that is driven in so much of consumerism and especially in India where we have seen an acceleration of consumerism, I think these 7 weeks possibly for many people, not just me has certainly made us realize that we are truly fortunate. I think possibly a lot of us will reprioritize things for ourselves.

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