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We have had over 20 new business wins this year: Mausumi Kar, Managing Director, Motivator

Kar tells us that the agency’s focus on emerging brands has resulted in what could possibly be its best year yet

e4m by Christina Moniz
Published: Nov 11, 2021 8:08 AM  | 15 min read
Mausumi Kar

We are challenging the norm of what a media agency is supposed to do, says Mausumi Kar, Managing Director, Motivator as she explains the organisation’s evolution into a go-to-market agency. She walks us through the agency’s journey since the pandemic struck, adding that its focus on emerging brands has helped Motivator possibly clock its highest revenues ever.

1. Take us through the past year for Motivator – what are some of the big highlights and learnings for you?

From largely being in a mode of reacting to external stimuli, which defined the first few months of the pandemic, we were able to align into a cycle of Response-Reflection-Reorientation for the better part of the past year.

Moving into managed remote working almost overnight meant we were learning and adopting to the lay of the land as we went along.

The realisation early on that despite the adversity around, we had an opportunity on our hands to shape Motivator’s future purposefully, evolving from being a media agency to a go-to-market agency, was key to orchestrating our subsequent efforts. The Motivator leadership set about laying the foundation and building brick by brick on our vision to be “the growth motivator for emerging brands, awakening potential, building connections and changing trajectories”. We used the past year to develop and deliver our full-funnel e-commerce offering, launched After Elvtr our specialised full-service go-to-market consultancy for empowering early-stage start-ups and informing our content practice through what we call “thoda data, thoda dil”-self-explanatory! The lesson is one of learning to focus on fewer, but relevant diversified services for emerging brands, irrespective of size.

2020 was tough from a business standpoint. Hence, de-risking our portfolio and making ourselves anti-fragile has been a focus for us. Balancing our existing clientele with the choice for new business has been deliberate.

On the back of our existing and new capabilities, cross-functional pollination, and application, we have won more than 20 clients, the bulk of which are emerging brands with a few well-known established ones too.

I can’t stress enough that without our people we wouldn’t have been up to the pressures and challenges of the past year. It is a testament to passion, commitment, and grit, that each individual showed up for Motivator every day. Without meaning to, work-life balance got severely affected and we have invaded personal spaces. We are five offices, but we became one big family that has gone beyond the call of duty to stand by each other during the pandemic. We are thankful that we could lean on GroupM’s initiatives around wellness and mental well-being, medical programs and assistance for ourselves and our families - a reassurance that we belong to a larger family that stands by us during these troubled times.

I am mindful that fostering a culture, during managed remote working and in the future in hybrid arrangements is a challenge most leaders would face. With our shared vision at the centre and the value system that goes around it, we are creating a distinct culture agnostic of working arrangements.

Lastly, I wish to talk a little bit about agility which is not only a key aspect of one of our values but a cornerstone for an agency like ours which embarked on a change journey. We see it as being nimble, intent to action. This is not just about reacting to changes but anticipating the future. With that in mind, we have been invested for a while now in re-skilling, upskilling and cross-functional learning for our people as we move into a very different future. This ensures that we will have the right people in the right place doing the right things.

2. Looking back, the agency seems to have picked up quite a few new businesses like Acer, RummyCulture, Radico Khaitan, MilkLane, Bumble, World Gold Council, Slice etc. over the past 12 months or so. Give us a sense of how the past year has been in terms of new business and revenue growth.

All these and more! Though business recovery pre-festive has been uneven across categories, we have been tracking well on our existing portfolio with healthy augmentation to our previous mandates.

In keeping with our vision of focusing on emerging brands, we started working on a pipeline way back in 2020. We refresh and prioritize periodically basis certain principles, but one piece of equipment we let go was the lens of the media mandate while assessing business opportunities. Our success trajectory with emerging brands makes us bullish about betting big on specialized mandates. It is by design that we pace businesses, and client media spends size has not been a deciding factor. It might have been, had we been solely after media mandates, but we are not! There have also been certain opportunities that came our way to explore, both from internal stakeholders within WPP, GroupM and from external partners.

New business in 2021 has been at an all-time high for us with 20 plus wins this far and counting. We have added global brands, established names and a plethora of start-ups to our kitty with full-media service platters. Interestingly, the specializations that we have been developing also helped us sign on new kinds of mandates, beyond media. Mandates in diverse and symbiotic areas-content and influencer marketing, performance marketing, end-to-end e-commerce, projects in analytics and consultancy, to name a few.

3. Things have definitely gotten a bit competitive in the media and advertising space since the pandemic broke out. What is the kind of targets you’ve set for Motivator and what kind of growth do you expect to see by the end of this year?

The competition for the big clients that comprise a large chunk of the advertising spends is tough, but it is usually limited to few global agency brands. A handful of these large brands go on a pitch any given year. That makes the competition in the balance of the market extremely aggressive. It is this one pool in which the large agencies as well as mid-sized agencies such as Motivator are fishing in for the past few years. Since, the pandemic there has been a dialling up of the intensity, prodded on perhaps by the fact that many clients in existing agency portfolios went silent.

2020 was tough for all agencies. Come 2021, at Motivator we had the choice of continuing to fish in the same pool or put our vision on acceleration mode to carve a viable niche for ourselves. We chose to do the latter strategy of increasing focus on the needs of emerging brands and thus building relevant specialisations. Now, we are fishing not just in the ‘media mandate’ pool but a bunch of specialised go-to-market pools. What gives us a certain edge is that we are not like any of the regular players in these other cohorts. Our appeal to a client comes from either providing media with one or multiple specialised go-to-market services or a variety of specialised go-to-market mandates to choose from and media, if required. Let me give some real-life examples from Motivator - for a personal health and hygiene brand we started by providing media services and then on-boarded them as our first full funnel e-commerce client. Then there is a grocery brand client for whom we are answering the question in terms of where their warehouse locations should be.  We are doing market entry consulting for certain brands which are looking at entering the market. These are interesting problems to solve and bolster our credentials in newer areas

We took upon ourselves the qualitative target of delivering to a new vision, as well as a target in terms of hard numbers. If externalities don’t come in to spoil the party, we will end 2021 with our highest revenue numbers yet in the history of Motivator and by quite a fair margin.

4. The industry has spent close to two years now in a pandemic scenario. Going by last year’s learnings, what are your expectations from this festive quarter? Are you seeing things back on track in terms of business and billings?

It is a window of opportunity for clients and consumers alike. The scepticism of the past year has made way for more buoyant sentiments. As per a recent industry estimate, 3 in 5 Indian consumers are positive about the festive season and 9 in 10 are planning to make a purchase.

From a media advertising spends standpoint it is a triple bonanza with IPL and T20 World Cup also falling in the festive period, making Q4 2021 significantly higher than Q4 2020. TV channels are running on full inventory with demand outpacing supply. Relatively newer categories like Edtech, Fintech are gaining popularity, and in turn investing significantly on media. In the CPG space as well, the spends are almost similar to 2019 levels if not more. 

Consumer spending, in specific categories, has already increased and will continue to grow. A few categories will however mitigate that effect. Hence, Q4 2021 in consumer spending terms can be expected to be closer to Q4 2019.

For Motivator, businesses that are cyclical in nature have been doing extremely well, which wasn’t the case immediately after the pandemic. The rebound has been heartening. In revenue terms it has been more than a three-fold increase when I compare the festive quarters of 2019 and 2021.

5. How have client requirements evolved in the light of the pandemic? What are some of the top client priorities that you’re addressing as a media partner?

A significant shift is that clients are regarding us as more than their media agency. We demonstrably partnered with our clients during the pandemic beyond media. The movement into a more consultative and advisory role is the result. Birthing Aftr Elvtr at Motivator is to continue the momentum of end-to-end consulting, albeit for one cohort currently, which is early-stage start-ups.

From a media perspective some changes are quite stark. The media mix for most clients have changed in the course of the last 18 months, mirroring the change in consumer media consumption habits. As a media partner, we are expected to drive consumer activation in the same manner. Digital as a medium, we know has catapulted into the number two spot. Even TV heavy clients no longer look at digital as an add-on medium. Inclusion of video platforms and OTT has become a given. Brands are more than willing to experiment and take a digital first and even a digital only approach. The media offering basket is evolving fast as clients expect content solutioning, influencer marketing and ecommerce options from their media agency. We are using our proprietary tools to cater to this burgeoning needs. Media efficiency conversations have also changed a lot in the past 18 months. It is no longer about the lowest possible rate or CPX.

Clients’ agnostic of categories is trying to be more agile - some as a response to market dynamics and others in anticipation of future changes. They are becoming more outcome focussed while also looking at a full funnel approach. There are more and more conversations around how outcomes can be more quantifiable and how we can measure the impact on business metrics.

A key priority for most of our clients has been to maintain a physical presence, which has not always been a possibility. Optimising digital presence has become crucial and hence the importance of ecommerce. For some clients, it is entry into e-commerce distribution, and for some it is bolstering their existing suite.

6. As the leader of Motivator, what are the core focus areas for you as you move forward?

We are trying our hands at reinvention, challenging the norm with respect to what a media agency is supposed to do and who they work for. We are doing both. Addressing what through our bouquet of differentiated offerings that address gaps in the market and who by talking to underserviced brands.

It’s about clients, competency, and culture.

Client delight, the reason we are in the business for. We have our skin in the game and our clients know that. Many have trusted us to be their partner for a long time. It’s a privilege that we want to keep earning every day. Addressing the gaps in the market has helped us increase our clientele, and innovative interventions have allowed us to add to existing mandates. We are experimenting with partnership models to reach out to new age, digital-first brands that are underserviced by agencies

Rather than spreading ourselves thin, we decided to focus our energies in building our competency in three areas- end-to-end e-commerce, content creation, and delivery backed by a measurement and effectiveness suite, pivoted to addressing the needs of emerging brands. Reading the market for change allows us to fine-tune and carve out specialized hubs focused on high potential areas like D2C brands and through our After Elvtr end-to-end consultancy for early-stage start-ups. For all other services, we keep sharpening existing proficiency through regular re-skilling and upskilling so that we deliver client delight. Being an integral part of the WPP and GroupM family also means that somewhere in this well-knit eco-system we have the wherewithal to cater to specific needs of clients that we ourselves may not have. We leverage the basis the need of the client.

We are building a culture that is distinct and inclusive. It reflects our shared vision and resonates with our people. Attached to this vision is our value system that makes Motivator a great place for people to thrive and where people win as one. We hope the potent mix of our culture, competency, clientele, and vision will help to attract the right kind of talent in general, and diverse skill sets in specific key focus areas

If 2021 is anything to go by, we are on to a purposeful journey that will set Motivator apart, as well as set it up as one of a kind go-to-market agency. We will reap the benefits of this changed trajectory as will our clients, people, and partners.

7. Going by the learnings of the past couple of years, what are some of the broad trends in the media and advertising space that you believe are here to stay? How do you see the industry evolving on the back of these years?

The buzzword of the pandemic has been ‘digital transformation’. It is here to stay but the pace will vary depending on the context of organisations and individual experiences.  Consumer media consumption and behaviours have been evolving very rapidly ever since digital became the mainstay. The pandemic has only accelerated this evolution. To be very honest, media and advertising agencies have just been playing the catch-up game so far. Few trends from digital would be:

  • Convergence of media and creative to cater to brands with a heavy digital footprint. Those days of one creative running across media are long gone. On digital, nature of platform, audience behaviour and consumption moment define what creative will work where. Media and creative partners need to sit together to ensure right message at the right time and right place. Related to that, most agencies have been working to develop full-scale digital media and creative capabilities and this trend is here to stay.
  • The growth of the creator economy will continue to rise with platforms enabling the democratisation.
  • Consolidation of eCommerce on the agency and partner side. The e-commerce agency side ecosystem is highly fragmented at the moment. Gradually larger agencies have realised the potential and are building e-com capabilities. This trend will only strengthen going forward. 
  • Data tech investment by homegrown brands will increase. With privacy considerations and cookie collapse becoming a reality, data tech powering compliant use of data and building first-party data are imperatives for brands. Till now global brands were investing in this space, but now home-grown brands are also waking up to the challenge. Agencies will have to power this digital transformation for brands at a faster speed than ever before. 

Technology and automation in the overall scheme of marketing is here to stay. There is an increased blurring of the physical and virtual worlds. Morphing and symbiotic relationships will emerge in the media space, for instance, news media in digital formats; OOH backed by digital addressability and so on.

The choice-making process itself will make media more interconnected leading to the breaking of silos, intermedia and within digital itself. The lines between branding and performance and the pre-assigned media roles of the top-mid-bottom funnel will blur, blend and balance. The role of measurement, especially real-time measurement will gain ground. Outcome focussed interventions will continue to gain ground. The need for accountability would mean even in relatively unorganized sectors like OOH, the print will get sold on the basis of certain measurable metrics.

Advertising and media agencies are likely to have a severe talent crunch owing to the factors such as the fast pace of digital evolution and difficulty of talent to keep up, agencies competing with brands and platforms for the same skill sets, and the diversity of skill requirements. This will intensify with media getting fuelled more and more with technology.

There will be innovations and compliant means of addressing consumers which can’t be predicted sitting here in 2021. The pandemic is a watershed moment in the history of this planet. If we take forward the lessons of embracing change, we are more likely to be successful. There is no going back to the ways of the past. For our industry, it means ways of working will evolve, business models will change, consumers will be more difficult to reach, technology will run rings around us, and much else.

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