You’re a real partner if you have empathy towards your brand's business: Priti Murthy

In the third part of our series — Beating All Odds — Priti Murthy, CEO of OMD India, spoke to Naziya Alvi Rahman, Editor, exchange4media

e4m by Naziya Alvi Rahman
Updated: Apr 6, 2020 8:59 AM
Beating All Odds

Our series Beating All Odds aims to recognise leaders who, despite the challenges thrown by COVID-19 and the lockdown, are ensuring that the economy and business keeps going.
Today we speak to one such leader, Priti Murthy, CEO of OMD India.

What big challenges are you facing as a leader at the time of this lockdown?

It is actually a personal challenge which all of us as a team are going through together and that is — just staying at home. In advertising we never stay at home. So staying at home and not being able to venture out, even downstairs, is itself a big challenge and to just do calls via video and not having that interpersonal camaraderie is challenging.

Work is happening, the rest of the world will move and eventually we will overcome this, but the fact that you have to be in the house and people like me who like to meet others and talk, discuss and see faces, it's a big challenge. We are doing a lot of video chats and in the first 5 minutes we talk about everything other than work, and then get into work. So that's the new thing we are following and that’s helping everyone a lot.

How are you keeping the morale of your team high?

We do a ‘Friday chai pe charcha’ and in that one hour we talk about nothing related to work. We just catch up on how everybody is doing, how are the kids. We allow the kids to come onto the calls, we allow family to interact during the calls.

We are also doing a lot of 'deep dives' into the individual teams to understand where the challenges are. So it's not just me, the whole management comes together to have regular conversations. A lot of people are struggling to manage work at home because there is no support staff and some people have aged parents or babies and the spouse is also equally working, so how do you manage everything? So through HR we have done a lot of sessions on how to work from home and what are the working hours, because you tend to work longer because there is no end time. So there are a few initiatives we have taken to ensure people feel motivated and connected, and the most important thing is for people to feel connected. And as we speak there is a survey being rolled out that talks about the challenges and all that we have been doing in this period. So even those who may be 'shy' to speak will get a chance to express themselves.

We also have an excellent IT team to support all the software being used in our business; everything is running up to speed and they are just a call away. So I think as they say ‘It takes a village to raise a child’, in the same way it takes a village to deal with such a situation and that is exactly what is happening at our end.

So have things started to settle down?

Yes, because we were prepared after our colleagues in Singapore and China went through this. We carried out a testing much before the government declared a lockdown. We had a trial phase of 2 days of work-from-home so that we could first see the hiccups and challenges. A lot of work has gone into that. So the system was crisis prepared and hence when we actually started doing it, we were ready. It was not the case that we started it and then learnt it, we learnt it before we started. We also had a 48-hour window to inform clients, although at that time clients were still working from their offices. So we had to convince them that we had to be prepared for them as everything had to happen now remotely. That actually went off very well for us. We got good learnings for our HR, IT and Admin support teams.

What are some of the unthinkable lessons you have learnt from this period?

Respect for the team has grown in leaps and bounds. I admire the commitment with which work is happening. I don't think a single person has thought – “We'll do this later”. Everybody is at it because we are in touch with them and the commitment with which we are here to pass this phase is amazing. So my respect has grown and I think the fact that we are also coming up with new ideas in a time of crisis to counter and recommend to clients is also interesting.

Also from a team perspective, I think for a majority of the people, this is their first time working from home.

Since we are now all at home, watching TV or are on digital, consumption on both media is significantly high, according to BARC. However, advertisers are still shying away, we not seeing many new campaigns or much of advertising spends. What are you advising your clients and what is your take as an expert in this situation?

It's a mixed bag because we have broadcasters as clients, and digital broadcasters and FMGCs as clients as well. Each of them has a different take on what the scenario is, but for example, auto companies will have to advertise more through a social message which is what they are doing because at this time nobody is going to test drive a car, so the purchase intent might exist but the action cannot be taken and this is true for most of the categories.

I think FMCGs should advertise but keeping it to relevant categories and not luxury items since as of now, people are looking at essentials. This is also why we are seeing the drop in advertising. For example, BYJU'S had a front page ad in Times of India and Amul had a front page ad in Mumbai. So I think everyone is going for relevancy in targeting, and messaging which is customised to the current times is becoming more important because the consumers need to know that you are with them and as a brand I am not thrusting myself on you, I am walking the journey with you. And that is what most of the brands have picked up on.

I think once the lockdown eases out things will slowly get back to normal, productions will happen, new content will come in, advertising will also pick up. But until then it will be category to category, advertiser to advertiser, because there are a lot of supply chain challenges and all that logistics has to be kept in mind. For example, e-commerce sites are not delivering in many markets, so how do you even push an e-commerce story if you are not ready to deliver the product? So there are a lot of challenges that one needs to keep in mind, and if that is the case, it is what it is. We just need to get over this phase and look forward to another sunshine in the next few months.
Are you already making recovery plans for your clients?

There are a lot of discussions going back and forth, but it is a bit too early to comment.

The current scenario is expected to slow down our economy and the industry’s growth. So where do you see us heading this year?

I think the government is throwing out enough numbers, but I think if your GDP goes down the natural fallout will happen across industries and so will it be in media and entertainment.

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

Smile, because that helps a lot. Don't take it too seriously, it's just a phase. Our grandparents have seen war, partition, death by human calamities, so it'll be ok. At least, we have enough entertainment to consume and enjoy ourselves at home. It is a matter of a few weeks and I think patience is important. Keep yourself social with clients, keep talking to them. Be on top of their business, understand and have empathy towards their business.

I think that is the key in such times - you are a real partner if you have empathy towards your brand's business.

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