Across agencies, we have cumulatively added over Rs 400 crore to business: Kartik Sharma

Sharma, Group CEO, Omnicom Media Group reflects on his challenging first year in the role

e4m by Christina Moniz
Published: Jul 20, 2021 8:50 AM  | 8 min read
karthik sharma

It was just about a year ago when Kartik Sharma took on the Group CEO mandate at Omnicom Media Group (OMG), at a time when the economy and the industry was reeling from the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the timing was challenging and the experience extraordinary, Sharma tells us that the time he had between his previous role at Wavemaker and the new one allowed him to observe changes in the industry before being thrown right into the action. “I realised then, that we are amidst a sea of both challenges and opportunities,” he says, adding that it wasn’t easy to adapt to a remote working arrangement immediately. Sharma takes us through the events of the past year at OMG, which also saw the agency bag business worth Rs 400 crore. 

You took on the CEO mandate during a year that turned out to be truly extraordinary and challenging. Tell us a bit about the transition into the CEO role at such a tumultuous time.

It has been an extraordinary year indeed. While I did have some time between my previous role and the new one, most of it was spent observing the changes in the industry and thinking about how agencies need to evolve.  I realised then, that we are amidst a sea of both challenges and opportunities.

I’ll admit that it’s not easy to sink into the remote working scenario immediately. We’ve all inevitably become used to working in a certain way over time - meeting people and clients, being in an office space, making decisions together. Everyone has had to evolve rapidly, adapt to the newness, and actively learn new ways of working remotely. Most important, it was a lesson in managing teams remotely. One of the best things, however, has been the team, that welcomed me and been extremely supportive and energised about the vision for the future across OMG. 

It’s true that now, meetings are shorter but it’s also true that we continue to collaborate and get things going. The pandemic has surely turned us into more nimble and agile beings - continuously learning to be more innovative, curiosity-driven and solution-oriented. I do miss the quick, spontaneous brainstorming sessions and, am sure all of us do. But greater good precedes and our teams, their well-being and the health of the organisation are paramount right now. With that in context, we are all learning to communicate differently, with a lot more transparency in the way we operate. 

Almost a year into this role, what have some of the big moments been for you at OMG? What were some of the big takeaways and learnings for you in this first year?

Even through the pandemic, we have been actively pitching to clients to enable business growth, and have started seeing efforts bear fruit in the last quarter of the year, and that was definitely a big moment. Multitasking was a big challenge through it all, but the team did a fabulous job! We also launched Transact, our e-commerce unit, seizing a new opportunity to innovate rather than waiting for COVID-19 to be completely at bay. Additionally, we brought on board a set of diverse and versatile talent. Some top-notch new leaders have joined the group - something that has truly worked in favour of team morale and strength, alongside business output. 

We have also stepped up our efforts to be innovative in learning and development initiatives through regular podcasts. We’ve ensured that data and insights have led to better decisions whether it’s for our people or our clients. Regular and consistent communication was important and so we made sure we organised regular town halls within OMG, OMD and PHD. We’ve been actively emphasising the need for resilience, offering support through mini-sessions, regular check-ins, offering breaks and other measures. One learning that has stuck to me personally, is one that I took from the team. It was the sheer ability to view circumstances through a positive lens. We saw getting things done collaboratively, leading to building both stellar teams and organisational resilience. 

How challenging has it been to pitch and win new businesses in this past year? What are some of the key account wins you’ve had so far?

The major challenge has definitely been to communicate everything through the screen. Considering that attention spans continue to diminish, it’s important to practice and embrace the art of crisp storytelling. As for new wins, across agencies, we have brought home some amazing brands like Philips, AU Bank, Cuemath, Tread One, Country Delight, The Pink Foundry (ConfiraLab), Parrys, Bel Group and Lead School, cumulatively adding to over Rs 400 crore to business. This to me is an indication of the trust our clients have placed in OMG and we are confident about building for the future. 

After the initial setback from the pandemic last year, how tough was it to get billings and business back to normal? How would you evaluate the Group’s performance from last year in terms of growth and revenue?

Last year, after the pandemic began, AdEx declined for the industry in general, and so a dip in billings was understandable. However, we saw an exceptional surge in digital, e-commerce, and trading. So, I’d say specific verticals have definitely seen growth and continue to do so.   

OMG has consistently seen a good representation of women at the leadership level. What is your vision for the organisation when it comes to ensuring inclusivity and equal opportunities for all?

OMG India is probably the only agency in the country where women make up 80% of the C-suite / leadership team. We're merit-driven and so it’s possible that what the world considers a bias, we think of as a competency. If you are competent, you make the cut. Having been in the industry for 25 years I have witnessed some great strides when it comes to inclusion, across the board. The media industry has definitely been quite progressive in this realm. I am proud of the leadership team across OMG.

What are the differentiators for both PHD and OMD as well as Omnicom Media Group in a very competitive industry? What are the capabilities you are building in this volatile pandemic scenario?

OMG embodies the principle of being limitless to strive for bigger, better and bolder accomplishments every day. The cohesiveness of the group lies in creating a resilient workforce across agencies. All our agencies are defined by the same ethos in their niche. OMD and PHD, as world-class agencies, are unified under our commitment to remain agile and futuristic. OMD India is the leader in benchmarking deep data-driven solutions, resulting in better and faster decisions for clients. This is essentially achieved because OMD focuses on being adaptable, collaborative and open to learning every step of the way. PHD Media is a challenger brand / a disruptor, an idea hub that is constantly going above and beyond today to focus on constant creative disruptions for tomorrow. All of this, by challenging the status quo and making the leap, with smart, strategic, innovative business outcomes.

Being limitless in our efforts to deal with any challenges has been the key to creating a resilient, empathetic and collaborative workforce. We have adjusted ourselves to new ways of working and new methods of interacting with our clients. And through it all, we have been ensuring that our people have the time and opportunity to keep their physical and mental energies up. We are largely focussing on enabling seamless systems, processes and practices by leveraging digital transitions for agile decision making. Improving trading, financial policies and practices, HR processes, as well as opening and exploring new lines of business are at the crux of our long-term strategy. OMG India aims to become not just a market leader in precision marketing with its tool Omni, but also the frontrunner in being a responsible corporate citizen.

Going forward, what will your key focus areas be? What is the organisation’s new vision given the current landscape?

The key focus is definitely to enhance offerings through our people-based precision marketing tool and insights platform – Omni. It is a forward-looking platform that can manoeuvre in a cookie-less environment, having ingested over 500 million device IDs, all from India. It is divided into five utilities – insight, planning, activation, optimisation and workflow. Providing data clean rooms with strict privacy controls in alignment with Ad Data Hub, the platform has evolved a great deal since inception. At the core of Omni is our robust people-based identity graph, which monitors consumer behaviours in real-time to reveal how people connect, engage and transact with brands. It connects people, data assets, and analytics into a common framework, providing our teams with deep insights for making better decisions, faster, and outcomes that drive business results. We want to interlink everything to optimised business metrics. Our vision is to scale more capabilities in content and e-commerce, in a holistic manner for sure, but also in order to meet the needs of the data-rich digitally-powered world we live in, today.

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