2020 was a booster shot for the industry: Parthasarathy Mandayam, Mindshare

Parthasarathy Mandayam, CEO – Mindshare, South Asia, tells us why data has become more important than ever and why changing consumer behaviour enabled the industry’s transformation at a rapid pace

e4m by Christina Moniz
Updated: Mar 9, 2021 8:48 AM
maps

While agency leaders grappled with the dramatic changes that 2020 brought about, Parthasarathy Mandayam, CEO – Mindshare, South Asia was clear that data will continue to remain the agency’s backbone. Maps, as he is known across the agency and industry, also pays tribute to the resolve that his team showed in ensuring over 35 new account wins, which include Zomato, Great Learning and MX Player.

Here are edited excerpts from an interview with him:

Looking back at the rollercoaster that was last year, what were some of the things Mindshare did to adapt to the dramatic changes in consumer behaviour and new client demands?

Not only was 2020 unprecedented, but it was also at a magnitude that none of us has seen before, at least not in our working lives. But one positive take on this is that for many brands, agencies and companies who were already on a transformation journey, 2020 became like a booster shot! It compelled a lot of us to accelerate a number of the plans and priorities, which were already there. Take multi-screen planning for instance. Agencies and brands were already gearing up for it, but now it is an absolute mandate because your consumer is already multi-screening.  So, you have to have a way to very effectively target across screens. Secondly, the role of data-driven marketing became that much more important in the past year. And thirdly, I would say ROI has become more important now than ever – when businesses felt the pressure and came under the pump, the most important thing was the return on investment. Whatever little you invest or you're able to invest also has to really punch above its weight. There’s one more thing I should add – the role of influencers has really become pronounced in the past year. We have moved from celebrities to micro-influencers, who are really making a difference for brands today.

For Mindshare specifically, what were some of the big takeaways and big wins in the past year?

The biggest takeaway last year was the resilience and spirit of the team despite the restrictions and limitations of working from home. There was more innovation, more focus on delivering value to clients than ever before. So I think I would just say hats off to our team! In terms of our successes, we have had quite a few. We've had over 35 successful new business pitches during 2020, a large number of which took place during the lockdown. We saw a lot of new-age businesses also coming in.

What kind of account wins did you see during the lockdown?

We had brands like Zomato, Great Learning, WhiteHat Jr. and MX Player just to name a few. Also to add to what I mentioned earlier, another good thing we did during the lockdown was training our people, and not just product training but also areas like balance, well-being, stress management, etc.

One of the things that affected all agencies especially in the April-June quarter last year was the sudden hit on billings. Has the industry seen enough recovery to move past that setback? 

So yes, those months were perhaps the toughest. In April, most agencies’ billings would have seen a hit as high as 75%! But, I would say that from September onwards, there were distinct signs of recovery especially with events like IPL taking place. Of course, the recovery differs from sector to sector, and industries like tourism and aviation are still affected. But definitely, overall we are now seeing positive momentum. There have been some positive developments by the end of last year – we saw cinemas reopen and Outdoor has seen some revival too. I would say that I am cautiously optimistic at this point, given how things have moved in the past few months. Hopefully, the worst is behind us.

It is a well-known fact that data is the hallmark of everything that Mindshare does. Given everything that has happened during the pandemic, how beneficial was this for Mindshare in the past year?

We are consistently focused on leveraging the power of data. And some of our most recognised and awarded campaigns have also been in that space – like the Lifebuoy infection alert system that was awarded at Cannes. Now looking forward, growth for us as an agency, will come from things that drive brand growth and sales. Data is at the core of that – creating sharper consumer clusters, targeting with the right content, ensuring continuous and granular optimisation. It also ensures rigorous systems of measurement and attribution. We are evolving our tools and have developed some very interesting and advanced analytical solutions, which operate on real-time data. Now we can actually use data as it comes in real-time and see which channel, which dollar is working and what is not. This is something we have focussed a lot on in the past 12 months and yes you’re right – data has always been our backbone. We are going to invest strongly in making that a differentiator.

Aside from data, what are the other focus areas for you this year?

So yes, data is at the core of everything. Content is also a big focus and we have been getting a lot of success with the kind of content work we do at Mindshare. But today that content itself is being defined by data. So, it's no longer just about trying to create integrations in shows and all that, but it's about creating, let's say 10,000 pieces of content, which can be targeted at specific consumers depending on their attributes, time, location and more. The other focus area for us is commerce, with media for e-commerce at the centre. At the end of the day though, everything is centred on data.

On a lighter note, with WFH being the norm now for almost a year, how have you been using the additional time you have at home? Have you picked up an old hobby or pursued some new interests?

I'm an enthusiastic but extremely mediocre tennis player. Before the pandemic, I used to travel about three or four days a week. Now that I am not travelling much, I am able to spend an hour every morning for 2-3 days a week to play. That is a rare luxury, to be honest. It’s also nice to have my daughter here with me at home since her college classes are also from home. It’s good to have more family time and save on the time I would usually spend commuting or waiting for a flight.

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