'E-commerce, content and performance will be the most critical in 2021'
Ajay Gupte, CEO – South Asia, Wavemaker, talks about the key trends that will define the year, adding that the industry will recover to pre-COVID levels by the second half of 2021
Speaking about the key trends that will define the year 2021, Ajay Gupte, CEO – South Asia, Wavemaker, also tells us about his expectations from this year and the steps Wavemaker is taking to ensure the complete recovery of the business in a covid-impacted world.
Q. You’ve had a good 2020 despite the unprecedented pandemic, picking up business over Rs 700 crore. What are your expectations from this year?
I’m really very optimistic about 2021, and I’ll tell you why. You know – the April, May and June quarter last year was completely robbed from us. And no matter how bad it gets this year, that quarter is not going to go away again the way it went last year. So, a quarter is like 25% of the year. Therefore, even if you say that we lost 15% to 20% of our year, in those three months, we are getting that time back this year. So I believe we are in a good position and we will start this year well. Apart from that, a lot of businesses have come back. While some businesses like travel, cinemas and hospitality are still struggling, other businesses like auto, finance and of course FMCG have definitely come back. And the other thing is the pandemic in a way accelerated a few things in terms of development for us, in terms of e-commerce, performance and in terms of content. So that has helped us increase our portfolio in terms of the areas of growth.
For me, there are three critical things that make me optimistic. The first, like I said, was the April-May-June quarter will be back this year. The second is that businesses in most categories are back on track. The third is that the advanced areas like content, e-commerce and performance that we had begun investing in before the pandemic are beginning to bear fruit. Added to this is a brilliant start that we've already had in terms of new business. We retained the Zydus business and we have a couple more businesses coming in soon, so we are already having a great start to 2021.
Q. Wavemaker did some innovative work the past year like the innovation with food delivery apps and Netflix. What are some of the campaigns that really stood out for you last year?
Yes, that was a great campaign. Looking back at last year, OTT was clearly one of the biggest beneficiaries of the lockdown, and it got accentuated because of the problem with content creation for the GECs. There was news and there were movies, but the GECs were out of action. And suddenly OTTs, which had a wealth of content, became more important. So that innovation with Netflix really worked well. Also speaking about the OTT space, given the amount of choices the consumer has, it is very important to be able to engage with them a lot more. And therefore long form content becomes important. So that is also why we are partnering with some OTTs and creating influencer partnerships to really leverage this position of OTT platforms.
On the campaign front, looking back at 2020, the other piece of work we are very proud of was the Cadbury ad we did with Ogilvy at Diwali. Also the Mother Dairy piece that we did with (stand-up comic) Zakir Khan, which really touched a chord right in the middle of lockdown. It really moved people, especially those who were away from home. We did some fantastic work last year and I am very proud of our team.
Q. Most agency billings, especially in the lockdown quarter, took a massive hit, and also clients cut back on spends. How long do you think it will be before agencies see a complete recovery? Most experts predict it will happen by 2022. Do you agree?
No, I think it might be a little faster. Like I said, not everyone will make a recovery. There are some industries which are still shaky such as malls, travel, aviation and hotels. And the last quarter of 2020 was actually pretty good, with IPL coming in and with the festive season. Our estimates are that it was actually very close to the 2019 numbers, so that’s as close to recovery as you can get. This year, the first quarter again may be a little slow but I think with IPL coming in the second quarter again, we will see more improvement. The summer categories, which were forced to stay away last year during the pandemic, will be back in action – the colas, FMCG, durables, etc. Thereafter, again there is the T20 World Cup coming up in the second half of the year. So, I think Q2 2021 is when we should see at least 2019 level numbers being reached. We definitely lost a couple of years from COVID but I do think we will reach the level we were at in 2019 by the second half of this year.
Q. Another change that came in with COVID has been working from home. Now that your teams have been doing this for nearly a year, how challenging is it to keep people motivated and ensure productivity?
So there are two parts to it. The first is the infrastructure bit – suddenly in March and April, our IT guys did a fantastic job arranging laptops for hundreds of people who were working on desktops. Then we arranged to give people allowances for their internet costs and other things so that they could get whatever they needed to be able to work from home. So, from that point of view, I think we've done really well. Work hasn't suffered at all, from a hard fact point of view. And really hats off to technology and to our IT people across the world who have managed to stand up and pull it off.
The softer aspect or the more human aspect is something which is really difficult. And it is a challenge. We have staff working from home, often in small houses, with joint families and with young children. It’s been a real struggle for our teams. Many of our people have really struggled through this. It’s been especially hard for the women, who in most cases are still expected to manage home chores while taking care of work responsibilities. We’ve seen the strain on our people and we try to support them in as many ways as we can. We have these team bonding initiatives as well on Fridays to help employees connect and de-stress. In addition, GroupM has a helpline for mental health and a doctor on call for employees who need medical advice or consultation. We also have a group of senior women from the agency who are available to offer advice to women in times of any distress. We try to do as much as we can to enable our teams to work smoothly from home, but I don’t think anything we can do is really enough. I am truly grateful for the way our teams have given their best despite the difficulties and challenges they are facing.
Q: Looking ahead, what are some of the key trends that you see emerging this year in 2021 especially on the heels of this pandemic?
It would be something similar to what I mentioned earlier. E-commerce, performance and creative ways to connect – which is content. These are the things that will grow in 2021, which have always been growing actually for the last 5-6 years, but now have accelerated and are a lot more commonplace. Across categories and brands, these three will be more critical in 2021.
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