It's crucial to establish a clear connection between the growth of the company and its employees: Aditya Kanthy

Aditya Kanthy, CEO & MD, DDB Mudra and CEO of Omnicom Advertising Services, India outlines the network’s strategic vision, shedding light on the structural and leadership changes. He further offers insights into the transformative journey ahead.

Pranali Tawte
New Update
Aditya Kanthy

It has been approximately six months since ad agencies TBWA, BBDO and DDB Mudra Group came together to form Omnicom Advertising Services group. Aditya Kanthy, CEO & MD, DDB Mudra and CEO of Omnicom Advertising Services, India, told us that since then, the network has focused on three key things to ensure a smooth transition. It has focused on retaining talent to become an attractive destination for creative, media, and research talent. 

Despite the potential stress and job losses associated with acquisitions and mergers, Kanthy emphasises the importance of building a culture where employees can grow without the urge to leave the organisation. 

Secondly, the network has focused on ensuring that their clients get the full benefits of the holding group and that they go beyond the briefs that have been shared with them, becoming the agents of learning.  

Lastly, as the adoption of AI accelerates, OAS sees AI and allied technologies as enablers. Kanthy stated that the organisation is equipping its workforce with the necessary skills and training to handle these technologies effectively. The widespread integration of this technology is evident, with global AI marketing revenues projected to soar from USD 27.4 billion in 2023 to USD 107.4 billion by 2028. 

Kanthy further speaks to us about how the network is currently positioning and marketing itself,  how agency structure on an industry level should change to better meet client expectations, and more in this interview.

Edited Excerpts:

Aditya, you've joined DDB Mudra Group in January 2003 and have completed more than two decades there. In this period, you've held various roles at DDB Mudra Group, ranging from Manager in Corporate Strategy to your current position as CEO and MD. What would you identify as the key learnings from these roles, and how have they influenced your strategic thinking in the current landscape of the advertising and marketing industry?

I have spent over two decades with this company, starting my career in a research firm. I was very keen on exploring the world of advertising, and I got offered this opportunity here in Bombay. One of the significant lessons for me, from my personal experience, is the importance of creating an environment within a company where people can grow, feel challenged, and feel rewarded, without ever feeling the need to leave. Designing an organisation and a culture like that has been a huge part of the journey for me because, obviously, I've benefited from that experience—to have great bosses, to be surrounded by wonderful colleagues, to have clients who invest their faith in you and want to share the spoils of their growth with the agency and the people who work for them. So, I think that aspect of the culture I'm trying to instil in every part of the organisation has been a big personal learning for me, recognizing the value of that for the people who work here and our clients.

On a professional level, in terms of being well-prepared to meet our clients' expectations, I've also enjoyed the journey because I've witnessed the evolution from being an advertising agency to becoming a marketing services group. I've seen the transition from being the most successful independent agency to becoming part of a large global network. Gaining a comprehensive understanding of how client marketing ecosystems have evolved, how client expectations and the relationship between marketing outcomes and business growth have developed, and some of the complexities that have come along with it, has been another part of that learning. This includes understanding how the agency ecosystem is set up, which is crucial.

It all comes down to one brand and the ability to pull it all together with all the levers that help a client drive business and brand growth, ensuring that we are again well-prepared and set up to do that. This is the other significant learning from my long journey at the company. I believe it has a fundamental bearing on how we establish our culture and how we are equipped to work with our clients, delivering a level of service and solution that is truly world-class.

As one of the employees who has stayed loyal to the network, how are you trying to instil this value of loyalty, which is now seldom found, within OAS?

OAS is relatively new, so I'll offer a perspective based on my experience at individual agency levels within great global agency networks like DDB Mudra, BBDO, and TBWA. These networks have successfully engaged bright, capable individuals for extended periods - 5, 10, 15, 20, and even up to 25 or 30 years in some cases. To address the question it is important to focus on what kind of conditions engender that feeling of loyalty.

One significant factor is the freedom for individuals to express themselves, to be themselves, and to bring their best to their work every day. Moreover, it's crucial to establish a clear connection between the growth of the company and the growth of its employees. Maintaining interest and engagement over the medium to long term is challenging if the company itself isn't growing and striving during that time frame. Thus, there's a direct relationship between company growth and employee loyalty.

The vision for the company plays a role, influenced by its financial performance, but equally important is its product and reputation. Ensuring that we are constantly evolving and maintaining a best-in-class status in the market is key to retaining talent. Recognising the individuality and capabilities of our employees, making them feel valued for their contributions, and then to ensure that they see how the company's growth correlates with those are vital components. This may involve opening up new avenues within the company, whether in terms of geographies, disciplines, or roles.

Viewing a long career in 2 to 3-year chunks can also be a beneficial strategy for considering individual growth. If these aspects are managed effectively, we can create the conditions for what is termed loyalty, which I see as a series of conscious decisions by an individual to continue contributing their best to a company over time.

In taking on the role of CEO for the Omnicom Advertising Services (OAS), can you tell us how the merger panned out? How do you envision OAS contributing to the marketing ecosystem in India?

Firstly, it's important to clarify that what we're discussing isn't a merger. It is fundamentally different from some of the other things that we've seen happen in our industry. It stems from Omnicom's perspective on the importance of individual agency brands, which have driven its success over the past four decades. Agencies like BBDO, DDB, and TBWA are recognised as being amongst the best in every local market because of the recognition and investment in the individual agency brands.

Thus, our strategy isn't about merging these brands. It's about doubling down on our efforts at the holding group level to make these individual agencies even better than they are and to equip them with as much firepower as we can with a normal common outside of it. Our goal is to ensure that our clients get the full benefits of the holding group through TBWA, BBDO, and DDB, as and when it is required tailored to their unique needs.

Omnicom's approach is fundamentally different, designed to uniquely address client needs without compromising the quality of solutions. That's a huge part of Omnicom's strategy going into the market. Viewing the establishment of OAS in this light clarifies our focus and underscores our continued confidence in, and commitment to, the individual agency networks. It emphasises closer coordination with the Omnicom Media Group and a very sharp focus on our clients across different Omnicom agencies, organising ourselves in new and more effective ways to serve our clients in India.

How is OAS currently positioning and marketing itself in the competitive landscape of advertising and marketing? 

The foundation of OAS's structure acknowledges our clients' need for a comprehensive view of the marketing services spectrum in preparation for the future. We aim to offer a holistic perspective that spans strategy, brand design, and how these brand narratives integrate into popular and mass culture. This includes our approach to media investments, consumer journey planning, performance marketing efforts, and the overall brand experience design.

This strategic orientation guides the structure of OAS and its interaction with individual agency brands within the Omnicom network, in India and abroad. We are setting up an environment characterised by increased fluidity, interaction, communication, and coordination across Omnicom's components. This ensures a coherent setup tailored to our clients' needs, facilitating the necessary investments and learning exchanges between client and agency. 

These exchanges span new technologies, emerging platforms, and addressing the challenges of an increasingly fragmented ecosystem.

Ultimately, this approach is the fundamental driving force behind any structural adjustments we  are going to have.

What is that X-factor that you want group OAS to be known for? What unique qualities or skill sets do you aim for Group OAS to be recognized for?

The answer lies within the history and legacy of Omnicom Group's track record. Omnicom is by far the most creatively effective holding group globally. Each of the individual agencies are known for their creativity and innovation, whether it’s in creative or media.

For instance, DDB has earned the title of Scanned Global Agency Network of the Year. TBWA has maintained a prominent position in this metric for the past two to three decades. Additionally, PHD has been recognized as the Global Media Agency of the Year, while OMD has built an outstanding reputation for innovation.

At the core of our business and our market approach is a belief in the power of creativity and innovation. We aim to harness these qualities in a manner that drives growth. This is what we strive to be recognized for as Group OAS.

How do you think the agency structure on an industry level is changing and how should it change to better meet client expectations?

Firstly, there's a growing emphasis on a holistic perspective in client-agency partnerships. It's essential for our agencies to work closely with client leadership and marketing teams to ensure that there is fullness of perspective in the brand's positioning across various consumer touchpoints. Synthesising these insights becomes a significant structural imperative, given the multitude of interactions between consumers and brands involving various partners both within and outside the agency holding group.

Secondly, it's important for us not to lose sight of core aspects like brand focus, creativity, and consumer insight, despite the changing industry landscape. While these aspects might not always grab headlines, they remain fundamental to driving growth from a marketing perspective. Delivering powerful creative work and deep insights are what set brands apart in competitive markets, making them relevant both now and in the future. Ensuring our agencies continue to excel in these areas is crucial for meeting client expectations.

Thirdly, a lot of work has to be done to ensure that we continue to be the most attractive destination for creative, media, and research talent. This involves various efforts, including engagement at entry levels, organisational structuring, compensation strategies, and initiatives in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Success in these areas will largely determine agencies' ability to thrive in the present and future landscape.

Lastly, it is the way in which we deal with the changes that technology is bringing to our business. While AI is a significant component, there are various other technological advancements impacting how brands and consumers interact and how commerce unfolds. Staying ahead in this regard will be crucial for agencies' success moving forward.

Aditya, when you started working in this industry, you have worked with clients that have lasted with one agency for more than a decade. However, that dynamic has shifted. Now the average client-agency relationships are lasting for 3 years. Why do you think this has changed?

It's a little simplistic to look at that statistic regarding how long agencies and clients are working together because it's not an apples-to-apples comparison. The agency landscape has changed, and so has the client landscape. We still have, particularly with well-established agencies in our industry, client relationships that span decades. For instance, within the DDB Mudra Group or TBWA or BBDO, relationships within the company often span 10, 15, 20, or even 30 years.

It is important to acknowledge that such long-term relationships are still very much in play. What has happened is that the number of agency partners in any relationship has increased, reflecting the complexity of client organisations. Marketing teams within client companies have evolved, leading to more flux in the agency ecosystem. This is the first observation I would offer regarding the nuance around how long agencies and clients are working together because the answers might differ based on which part of the agency ecosystem we're considering.

That being said, it's important to acknowledge that the pressure and performance expectations on both the client and agency sides have increased dramatically. There's a heightened level of accountability expected in marketing organisations within client companies, which naturally reflects in the agency ecosystem as well. I view this as a positive development as it keeps marketers on their toes, constantly striving to put their best foot forward.

Furthermore, it emphasises the importance of both marketing departments and agency partners in outlining the value of long-term relationships. Such relationships are integral to making brand investments work for client companies. As marketers, it's part and parcel of our business to step up and be able to do it.

In reality, the situation is more nuanced than what the statistics might suggest. While there is more movement within marketing departments and the ecosystem than in the past, it's a combination of factors leading to this state of play. However, there's enough room for demonstrating the value of consistency in partner ecosystems, especially for brands and companies.

What do you believe is crucial for ensuring client satisfaction and loyalty?

One thing I hear consistently about is the value of a better understanding of the client's business and the importance of proactivity. It's about doing more than simply reacting to our clients' expectations but rather leading the conversation, being agents of learning, and actively collaborating with client companies. I suspect that if we excel in these areas, along with our day-to-day responsibilities, we're on the right track. 

However, assuming we fulfil our basic job requirements, I believe the X factor, or the secret sauce, lies in these aspects: developing a deeper appreciation of the client's business and ensuring proactive engagement. Going beyond the brief consistently is what clients truly value in our relationship with them. It's about fostering learning and creative thinking that can reshape their perspectives on what is possible.

What are the short-term and long-term goals that OAS aims to achieve? 

There is a very clear track of metrics both in the short and the long term. We want to continue to see our individual agency brands grow and thrive. There is a very clear focus on using the strengths of these individual agency networks to design better solutions for our clients, which has implications both in the short and long term. So, we're setting ourselves up to do that well by identifying our client roster and areas where we can collaborate more effectively to provide exciting and innovative solutions for our clients. 

Additionally, bringing the best of Omnicom globally into play is part of our long-term strategy. This entails delivering a standard of product that is recognized by our clients and the industry as the best in the country.

Given the influence of AI on the industry, are there new roles or specific skill sets that OAS is incorporating into its workforce to stay ahead of technological advancements and industry trends?

The fact that we want to be the most attractive destination for talent is adjacent to how we handle the relationship with technology. We see AI and allied technologies as enablers, but we firmly believe that their effectiveness depends on the quality of the individuals managing them. 

We're committed to equipping our workforce with the necessary skills and training to handle these technologies effectively. Specifically, in terms of skill development, we're focused on ensuring our people are comfortable and well-equipped to handle these technologies, particularly in the areas of exploration and discovery work. However, it's essential to emphasise that while we're eager to explore the creative possibilities AI offers, we want to be very clear that it happens within the rules and regulations and the laws of land. We don't want to in any way venture into that territory without being cognizant of the laws that protect copyright.

Furthermore, we're also exploring opportunities to leverage AI in areas such as post-production and adaptation, particularly in media where established rules and regulations exist. This strategic deployment of technology aims to enhance our work and improve the overall experience for our clients and their audiences while operating within the legal frameworks of each market.

In your role within the creative business, where collaboration is important and ideas stem from the team, how do you prioritise spending your time with team members as you move up the ladder?

It's important to ensure that you prioritise spending time with team members as a top priority. Omnicom has been consistent in emphasising the importance of talent, people, and culture within our agencies. Some of our agencies frame it as ‘people, product, performance’ in that order. Therefore, as a leader, it's essential to invest time and energy in a manner that aligns with this value chain, often referred to as the service-profit chain.

To achieve this, our leadership team and I have established various behaviours, rituals, and markers within the organisation. We signal the importance of these aspects and measure them to ensure accountability. Prioritising these elements is done by making time for them, signalling their importance, and expecting the same from all leaders aspiring to grow within the company. 

The growth within Omnicom agencies is not only based on individual performance but also on leadership abilities and creating an environment conducive to growth. It's as integral to our work in the agency as any other aspect.

How do you prioritise your personal time while juggling the demands of your professional responsibilities?

I've become better at managing this balance with each passing year. It's a reality that each person sets themselves up and they work up in a way in which they are able to strike a balance, as professional and personal requirements vary from individual to individual. 

Personally, I find a lot of energy from my family, spending time with my wife, son, parents, friends, and pursuing my passions, which in turn positively impacts my work. I've found my rhythm within the working week and weekends, even while travelling, and I'm able to channel that energy in various ways. 

One key aspect I constantly remind myself of is to live in the moment, to seize each day, and not to postpone important matters.

By conducting a mental audit of my energy and time investment—similar to how I assess business quarterly—I can make more informed decisions about managing my work-life balance.

What are some important skill sets that agency heads of today must have? 

One crucial skill is the ability to deal with change, as both agencies and clients operate in demanding environments. This requires openness to learning, active listening, and the ability to instil these qualities in the employees within the agency. 

Openness to doing things that we've not done before and in ways that we have not done before because the arrogance of having done something a certain way can come in the way of doing a good job. It is really important to be open to truly embracing a way that we might not be used to.

Putting your ego out to pasture and say, ‘listen, there's no place for that’ is perhaps the other quality I would say is quite important at this time.

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