Aegis plants firm foot in India with Ashish Bhasin

By Savia Jane Pinto , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Media | June 20, 2008
On his first day at Aegis Media, ex-Lintas hand Ashish Bhasin speaks to afaqs! about his new role. On the agenda is the launch of Aegis Media's various other global verticals in India and strengthening the Aegis team here

Aegis Media

has planted a firm foot in India with its appointment of Ashish Bhasin as chairman, India, and chief executive officer, South East Asia.

Bhasin was earlier executive vice-president, Lowe Worldwide, and Asia regional director for integrated marketing. He had been with Lowe (then Lintas) since 1988, when he joined there as a management trainee. To be exact, he was with Lowe for exactly 20 years and 17 days.

On his very first day at Aegis, Bhasin made time for an interview with afaqs! to discuss his new role.

Ashish Bhasin
So, what prompted him to move out from a place that was like a second home? Bhasin says, "I have had a fulfilling time at Lowe, but I enjoy turning things around. Carat is a strong brand, but hasn't realised its full potential in India. I see this as an opportunity to help grow the company to its full potential."

Bhasin was promoted at Lowe just last year (following the IPG sale proceeds), so his moving out a few months later comes as a surprise. Was his decision influenced by the fact that his mentor, Prem Mehta, moved out of Lowe recently? Bhasin says firmly, "No, that has nothing to do with my move to Aegis."

At Aegis, Bhasin will be responsible for all the activities of Aegis Media in India and South East Asia. On top of his agenda is making sure that top class service is delivered at all times to the agency's clients. He says he will ensure that all the tools with which Aegis is equipped are used to the fullest.

He will also set up a strong office with senior recruitments and train the existing employees. He is expected to pay particular attention to training, leveraging the experience he's gained with Northpoint (Lintas' education centre, which was designed by him) in the launch of the Aegis Academy in India. The Aegis Academy is a global training concept of the Aegis Group.

The Aegis Media Group has huge plans for the Indian region. The media conglomerate is already present in India through Carat, its media planning and buying outfit. Now it plans to launch its other arms: Isobar (digital marketing), Posterscope (out of home) and Vizeum (its challenger media brand; a second agency in full support of Carat).

As part of its expansion, Aegis Media recently acquired majority stake in the Indian search engine marketing firm, Communicate2, which will remain under Isobar. This gives the impression that the group will focus strongly on the digital arena. Bhasin reiterates this, saying, "Digital has been an important priority for Aegis Media worldwide and we plan to establish that here as well."

It is worth considering that Aegis Media isn't particularly strong in India and that it faces strong competition from agencies such as GroupM. It has taken it a rather long time to set up shop in India. Carat had entered into a joint venture with the Percept Group in 2003, but the JV fell apart. After this, Carat saw several exits, including those of Shripad Kulkarni, then chief executive officer, Carat, South and West; Pradeep Iyengar, then national buying director, and, more recently, Charles Jenarius, group CEO, Carat. Patrick Stahle, CEO, Aegis Media, admitted in a media interview recently that Carat has faced setbacks in the region, particularly on the people front.

Bhasin attributes this to "historical reasons globally, including some management issues".

"India has a very different impression of Carat in comparison to the other media biggies," he says. "Globally, it is very strong. We plan to leverage that global strength."

With Bhasin on board, the other Aegis agencies will make an entry soon and things could turn around for Aegis in the region. Top priority is the launch of Isobar and Posterscope. "Vizeum, too, will enter India, but only when the market need arises. It isn't the main concern right now," says Bhasin. He is confident that Aegis will be one of the top three media agencies in the country by next year.

Some of the businesses that Carat handles in India are Philips, ABN Amro Bank, Baderwals and the Muthoot Group.

© 2008 afaqs!