#SMLive 2019: Future of Agencies in India – where are we headed?

#SMLive 2019

#SMLive 2019 saw industry stalwarts discussing topics such as digital coming off age, AI for marketing, the consultant phenomenon, and more.

After an inspiring keynote from  Babita Baruah on ‘Behavioural Science, next on the #SMLive 2019 screen were our panelists Mohit Hira, Strategic Advisor, and Consultant; Shubho Sengupta– Brand Consultant; Prashanth Challapalli, COO Leo Burnett Orchard; Shormishta Mukherjee, Director, Flying Cursor. The session on the future of agencies in India was moderated by Lloyd Mathias, Marketing and Business Strategist.

Keeping in mind the macro-level changes in the Digital Business Environment, Mathias kickstarted the conversation by throwing in the dice discussing the changing dynamics of digital and how it is slowly and steadily becoming mainstream. On which Hira commented that the creative agencies woke up to this trend a little late.  

Reminiscing the old days, Sengupta shared that 10 years back the digital enthusiasts would wait at the reception till the mainline guys finished their meetings.  

“All things come down to budget. The cola majors were allocating 1% to digital then. But I am sure they have gone up. Your legacy brands are increasingly saying- digital first creativity. That needs everyone to be at the head of the table strategically. We are definitely at the cusp,” he added.

Sengupta also feels that now it is a good time to be on digital and that for people with mainline and traditional experience this is the best time to experiment in another career.

Are we getting Digital-First?

On how digital is slowly taking the traditional world by storm;  Challapalli opined that when he looks a year back, 60-70% of the work the agency did was mainline. Nine months down the line, its come to 80%  digital-first work.

“Over the next 6 months- 1 year, I don’t know how many clients will keep doing TVCs. They are asking us to do a digital-first campaign. They are telling us to reimagine what your creative is going to be on digital and to give them a 20-sec film for digital. But there is still scope for long format content to happen. The rules have changed rapidly. Its Impact has been on the kind of people we hire and the kind of skillset they bring in”.

Further, Mathias put spotlight on the startup ecosystem by quizzing Mohit Hira on how digital is more considered as a lead generation tool and as a medium to be measurable.

To which he replied saying, “Early days of digital we kind of oversold ourselves. I went from print to digital. There the team would always sell measurability and start inching into the budget of advertisers. Start-ups- whether B2B or B2C- the ones that are well funded are the ones who need to really build the brand and understand digital. But if you are at an early stage, every rupee is invested by an investor- then measurability is the holy grill in many ways”.

On if creativity is getting undermined going behind numbers, Mukherjee thinks that firstly we are all are ina business of solving problems and communication. She added we are here to not only create good content but deliver change. Some of the measurability and ROI makes sense. Why should it not be there, digital allows you to do there. Not to lose a sense of intrusion. The client and agency side have spent so many years. That intuition is imp. How we balance numbers and ROI and intuition is very important.”

Status of AI in India

In terms of the impact of technology and AI, in the creative space, Mathias asked the speakers to share their viewers on the impact of the whole concept if AI in the creative business. Sengupta briefed here that programmatic approach to creative is sort of AI.

“Unlike 10 years back, you don’t blindly blast creative’s to any  Tom, Dick, and Harry. Data today is increasingly at the head of the table. It is deciding what audiences we are talking to more. I don’t think Indian agencies are doing it the way Walmart does. It will take a year or two. But data-driven media plans are right at the head of the table. A lot of clients have relied on”.

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The Consultant Phenomenon

Jumping on the debate of the existence of Consultancy vs Mainline agencies? Challapalli thinks that consultants will stay as long as you can add value to a client’s business. According to him, it doesn’t matter if the agency is really good but the consultants are able to bring in something extraordinary- there is scope. He doesn’t see a reason why consultants should stop being in the business. “Clients have multiple requirements- Their needs are changing a lot. If you can’t provide it as an agency-then somebody else will”.  

Echoing similar view, Sengupta too opined that this is the age of consultants. “I am increasingly being called by brand leaders saying hey listen, the digital agencies are good but they don’t understand brands. Please tell them what to do. So it is a good time for consultants”.