Guest Article: Antony Rajkumar: The times they-are-a-changing

By Antony Rajkumar , JWT India, New Delhi | In Advertising | September 02, 2011
This piece is not going to add to that list, but offers some food for thought on a few areas which could make a difference to the Indian advertising.

Has the advertising business, which had the pole position with all things concerning the brand, slipping down the value chain? You'll hear in the affirmative from both the mighty and the minions of the business.

Well, that's all fine, but what is the way back to the top? Plenty of good suggestions and recommendations have been made and several more are perhaps waiting to be heard. This piece is not going to add to that list, but offers some food for thought on a few areas which could make a difference to our journey.

Organisations have started taking cognizance of brands as primary assets and the expectations have only gotten bigger, wider and deeper. And, managing perceptions is only a part of it. Are we missing other important pieces of the puzzle that contribute to brand value? That's missing the change in the brand world.

While every resident CEO (chief executive officer) and visiting ones continue to talk about India's big growth story, the bigger action gets driven more and more by the small and medium enterprises (SMEs). They were taking the battle to the established names and changing the landscape faster than we could say 'let's talk to them'. That's missing the change in the business world.

'The world is going digital'. A phrase that is as popular in the conference rooms of agencies as 'where's my coffee'. And, whether the coffee arrived hot or not, new recruits did arrive and had 'digital' printed somewhere on their business cards. But, the conversations continue around banners, clicks and at its best, goes as far as Facebook and YouTube. If that is the only message we get about this medium, then that's missing the point entirely and the change in the world at large!

Given this environment, what are the changes that the agency business should not just be part of, but should be leading?

Intangible is now tangible

In recent times, brands have come to be recognised as independent sources of business value that directly ensures predictable future earnings. Business owners and CEOs are under increasing pressure to deliver on shareholder value. And, shareholders are concerned primarily with the efficiency with which their capital creates wealth. Two thirds of enterprise value of the world's top 200 companies as per the Business Week league table resides in their intangible assets. IFRS accounting norms are now making it mandatory for companies to report intangible values. That's an opportunity for our line of work.

It would be a worthwhile idea for us to understand and have a broader view on performance management, people and process structures, and not just restrict ourselves to 'perception management'. Where is value residing in the myriad process architecture of the client? How are 'people' as primary assets contributing to value creation and how much more can come out of it? What is a company's balance sheet telling us? Where is value lying untapped? These are just a few questions towards the right direction that can help us contribute to our clients better, and can help establish ourselves as partners and not vendors. Organisations today make partners out of those that can secure exponential growth, and not just play a small part in delivering an incremental one.

Small is now big

India's growth story is not driven by just the large corporate players that everyone is still hankering after, but there is more action from the SMEs. They are largely led by young and ambitious entrepreneurs who are not interested in single-digit growths. Look at the examples around us -- an online matrimony portal, a local FMCG player challenging the Goliaths, a local mobile handset brand taking on established global players -- the list can go on endlessly. The journey has just begun for them. But sadly, we are not a part of it. Banks, computer products and hospitality are few examples of industries that are tapping the SME potential with bespoke products / services and reaping the rewards as we remain spectators.

While smaller local agencies currently 'do their ads', the talent, experience and breadth of support that structured agencies can provide is not yet part of the SME growth. Our interest in them often gets aroused once they are big names, rather than being involved in the process of making them big names. Whatever it takes, a product, a structure, an orientation or a partnership model, it simply makes sense to be part of this emerging growth engine. It would surely be a great win-win the day we crack it.

God is in the data!

There is perhaps not a single day that goes by in an agency without discussions on digital, internet and mobile technologies. But, the real God behind all these exciting technologies that the world is engaged with is data. The giants in the internet / digital world make billions because they know who you are, what you do, what you like and what you don't, sometimes better than your parent! They have built their empires and continue to grow it based on data.

In the course of our work, we knowingly or otherwise deal with large amounts of data (data cannot be mistaken only for numbers) on an everyday basis. The ability to translate this data into usable information / knowledge and more importantly, a system to make this knowledge reusable, will not only keep our clients happy, but our balance sheets as well!

Larger agencies have their network portals that upload cases, work, knowledge, etc., which is a great thing. But, if we can just take a cue from the software and digital companies, who get the relevant data to find you even before you start looking for it. It's a smarter idea if we can get knowledge residing inside our system find our people and make its way into the work we do rather than brilliant archiving that still waits for people to find it. Once again it's good for our business and everyone in it.

These changes are not simple to adopt or execute. They would require a massive shift in thinking, in the way we structure our business, in how we manage resources, in how we get remunerated and in where we want to be in a changing landscape. It's our time to be the falcon. The bird not only has a majestic broad picture from where it sees the world, but it also narrows down with great precision in one single flight to get to its prey which is not sitting to be caught!

In 1963, Bob Dylan, arguably one of the best musicians of our age gave us a timeless classic, 'the times they-are-a-changing'. Every single verse is as true now as it perhaps was then, and as it will be in the times to come. Yes, our world is changing and the choice is for us to be the falcon or be our own prey.

(The author is assistant vice-president and strategy planning director, JWT India.)

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