Won close to Rs. 1000 crore in new business in 2018: Kartik Sharma

Wavemaker South Asia CEO talks about the strategy that led to bagging big accounts including Bisleri, Mondelez, Mother Dairy to name a few as the agency completes one year.

kartik sharma

With big wins like Mondelez, Mother Dairy, Eureka Forbes and Bisleri to name a few, Wavemaker that completed one year of its inception on November 9, has every reason to celebrate. The agency claims to have won businesses of over Rs 1000 crore in its maiden year and is aiming to exceed all predicted growth numbers. As the agency marks its first anniversary we speak to Kartik Sharma, CEO, Wavemaker South Asia, about factors that are driving its growth. Excerpts:

 

With consultants and AI driving media business, pitches are becoming increasingly competitive. Many experts say pitches have now reduced to pricing. Despite all these constraints, Wavemaker in its inception year has done extremely well. What are the three key things that have worked for you?

Firstly, despite the challenges in the market, we have indeed done very well. We have won almost close to Rs. 1000 crore in new business in 2018 and most of our businesses are coming on the back of our rapid growth planning thinking.  It is the planning framework which we use across clients. Rapid growth planning is rooted in the consumer purchase journey. Inside that sits a large scale study called Momentum. It is the largest study in the world covering 7,00,000 consumer journeys, across 35 categories in 70 countries, including India. It helps us decode the challenges for many categories and gives us benchmarks on what kind of solution we need to craft for a particular context.

On top of rapid growth planning, we also do customised analytics. Analytics enables to unlock a lot of growth for clients, which were not known to them earlier. It is a very intense data driven approach to solve marketing problems. In 2018 we have deployed artificial intelligence based analytics frameworks to solve clients' problems.

Last but not the least is the quality of the team and the creativity which they bring to the table. If you don't have a good team, it doesn't matter what frameworks you have. I am blessed to have a fantastic team and I am really proud of them, and their achievements be it the 40 under 40 recognition in Impact or the young Emvies.

 

The pitch for Mondelez went on for over five months. It has been one of your biggest wins this year. What in your opinion gave Wavemaker an edge over other agencies in this particular pitch? Going forward, what is it that you are doing differently for this client?

First of all, the above three points which I just spoke about, are the key ingredients for the Mondelez success. The quality of RGP thinking, the analytics and the team. We will consistently apply these on all the Mondelez brands, and come up with relevant solutions. Our singular focus is how we can help Mondelez achieve growth. Additionally you will also see more and more creative media solutions to solve marketing problems.

In an interview early this year, your Global CEO Tim Castree said he was eyeing a growth of more than 13% in India. Have you been able to reach the number or have you exceeded it?

We have seen healthy growth this year. Our new business wins should give you a sense of growth that we are witnessing and are hopeful of achieving our targets.

How according to you has media business evolved over the years? What are the areas where you feel the need for growth/change?

I think the media business constantly keeps evolving, and the evolution largely comes on three fronts: the way the consumer choices keep evolving, the way media and technology is evolving and lastly the evolving agency eco-system. All of them go hand-in-hand. Consumers today are exposed to a lot of technological changes which have practically taken over our lives. A well-known case in point is the mobile revolution. The mobile is no longer a device for communicating, the mobile is also a computer replacing laptops and tablets. And that has really revolutionised the way in which we consume media.

From the consumer side, India is becoming a stronger, younger country, in terms of being able to add to the GDP, the Indian awareness about things around them has really increased exponentially. This is a younger India with more knowledge, hungrier to do new things, and more willing to experiment. This has an impact on marketing as a whole.

From the media side global media changes are felt locally too. India now is a separate topic for many global media companies due to the sheer size and opportunity India offers. Indians are as aware of any of our global counterparts and are also expecting more from media brands. India by and large is a value driven market therefore media owners have to customise their offerings to appeal to that need without compromising on quality.

Lastly from the agency side, the big question is around talent. How do we find the right mix of diverse talent? I believe diversity in talent is going to be critical for organisations to grow. This can be achieved when leaders can articulate the right purpose.

Another area agencies need to focus on is automation. Our industry has been fairly under indexed is the area. The default mode to think is more people. While people are the brain behind agencies there are many repetitive tasks which require automation and deploying relevant technologies will unlock value.

As an industry veteran, how do you think we can tackle the issue of clients switching agencies every few years leading to shrinking margins?

I think clients are under tremendous pressure to deliver both on the top line and bottom line. For many of them marketing budget is a big cost item and they tend to use pitches as a shortcut to see if they can get some quick efficiencies. While this has been the trend until recently I am seeing a lot of progressive clients have realised that getting lower prices is not the only goal. These clients are looking for strategic advice, integrated communication solutions, creativity and so on. Many of our recent wins have all happened at the back of quality of recommendations and much less over prices. If clients were to conduct pitches regularly they will lose out more than they gain as fear of losing the business is not a great motivation for anybody to give their best. Clients are realising this and I am optimistic that we will see some changes quickly.

Where have agencies failed in delivering to the clients?

Agencies fail when they don’t invest in the right areas and nurture their people. As I mentioned earlier a large chunk of the agency’s success comes at the back of the quality of people. Agencies which throw in lot of money to attract talent without investments in the relevant areas and not setting the “right purpose” for the agency eventually struggle. It is also critical to set the right values. At Wavemaker we value people who are PACED. PACED is our articulation of what we value and stands for Passionate, Agile, Collaborative, Entrepreneurial and Diverse. People who exhibit these values do very well.

Agencies also fail when they are desperate to get business at any cost. Many of the pitches with cost efficiency as the singular focus are testimony of this. Many agencies which have gone down this path have not only struggled to deliver prices but in the bargain have put so much pressure on themselves and their own teams that it is not a sustainable situation. Something will give away eventually and clients too need to recognise this.

What are your big plans for Wavemaker in its second year?

More than big plans, I think we are on a fantastic journey of building a great business. We will continue with that journey, so the focus is always how do we give our teams a great career and how do we help our clients grow big. These two mottos go hand-in-hand. It is a journey that will continue for a very long time and that is what we are focussed on.
 

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