Piyush Pandey, Executive Chairman, Ogilvy India speaks with Anuradha SenGupta

In the show- The Media Dialogues, he weighs in how the advertising agency business has been impacted by COVID-19, from young brand managers to the heads of global communications companies and brand owners.

Have there been any learnings for you in this lockdown? You are the big ad guy, the big ad, the big campaign, the big idea and here we are - having to do these small things all over social media and digital media?

The communication, the formats don’t matter, the size of the screen doesn’t matter, whether you are doing an outdoor thing, it doesn’t matter, you are seeking ideas that reach people, connect with people, engage people and make them feel positive about you. So it is a challenge that we are confined to a certain media but then that is the challenge. It is almost like saying I cannot refrain from cricket - you have known me for years – the wicket is a little wet, you don’t throw your wicket away. You improvise and see how can you score runs and how do you not throw your wicket away. So that is the thing, enjoy the moment. It is your opportunity to work in adversity.

I think improvisation is the beauty of life. Everyone is improvising and everyone is doing a good job.

Give me a sense of how these ads are being made at this point of time given that you cannot go out, given that you cannot do PPMs the way you would do normally in this business, given that how much effort goes into casting just the right face in the ad, getting the lines right, the light perfect, the setting perfect, this is completely revolutionizing ad-filmmaking.

It is revolutionizing behaviour. Trust in each other is being tested. No longer is somebody sitting and saying show me frame-by-frame, show me who is the actor, could we have the actor like this and when the result comes out, I think it will be a long-term change for clients who would say that is not my area to decide on who the actor should be, that is not my area to go frame-by-frame and there are people who have always been like this with us, we have done films for Vodafone, Asian Paints, Voltas and everyone, they are not finicky people, they leave it to us but when people say that in these kind of situation - great stuff is being done, I think behavior of young clients will change, who wastes six hours of PPM time - I say waste because waste - they say show me frame-by-frame, frame in a 30 second film is 720 frames. So I think hopefully the youngsters will learn that we have to trust each other. I think this is a demonstration of trust not just at Ogilvy, many of my colleagues in the industry must be enjoying this trust that is being given and I hope everyone of us lives up to the trust that is being placed in us.

Tell me what you are hearing from business leaders and people who run companies about what their biggest anxieties are in the last 2 months because I know that people share these thoughts with you. It may not be directly what advertising will provide solutions for and yet you know these people over the years, what are you hearing, what are the biggest anxieties of the CEOs from different sectors?

Number of people have spoken to their 40-50 percent opened up anxieties are how fast will money come into the hands of the people, how fast will the work forces be comfortable in coming back to 100 percent to work, how fast the packages that the government has given – and I think they are fairly generous packages, will actually come into play because industry packages will take 2 years; it is not something that will bear fruit tomorrow morning. I think people have been very disciplined in their thinking, they know that this time is rough, they know that something will come back the moment it is over – faster the better, and they know that long term changes will take some time. I have heard very reasonable comments from big clients who I deal with and elsewhere the people that I interact with on my phone that India has not given up. It is 4 wickets down, but 6 are still in hand and people think that we can score the runs.

What are the solutions and the support that brands are expecting from advertising agencies today?

I think the support is proactive, support is – in the good old days proactive meant to satisfy your own creative instincts and get a client to agree to release it somewhere. Proactive has a different meaning; proactive is how can I contribute to your business? You may not have asked me for something, but I have thought of something. A few ads I have personally written in this period, they did not ask for it, but I know the brand inside out and I spoke to the client and said I think this will be good for you and they ran -- one of the Asian Paints ad, one of the Vodafone ads. So, my people are thinking hard and they are making me work hard. I am also thinking as to what else can I do. In moments like this you know the biggest thing is to keep connected with your consumer, sometimes through things that you can do for them, sometimes by doing things that make them feel good. It is a fair balance, every time you are not trying to sell, every time I go to my friend’s house, I do not carry flowers, I won’t give him a hug, there is a time to give a hug and there is a time to give a gift and wonderful balance between the two which we have to maintain.

What is your sense of how advertisers will behave once we are even closer to normal or have been in the last 2 months given that there are such big impacts on their revenues and on their business models in some cases even? What are you expecting to see in terms of their behaviour as marketers in terms of advertising budgets, in terms of therefore the volume of work for an agency?

There is a very simple answer to this. When we say they, who are they? They are just like you, how will you and I behave after things are better? We are all looking forward, moving forward. I think we will behave positively, we will always --- this has been a remainder of what your mother used to teach you that if you get Rs 100, save Rs 10 for a rainy day. I think we will learn from this that we must save something for a rainy day. It will make us also learn that if we are able to keep our employees right through, how much of relationship will repay to you in the days ahead. These are the things , I think there is no them or us, they will behave the way we do as human beings, as business heads everyone will look at coming back as quickly as possible and as stably as possible. I do not think people will say okay I will make up for everything in my Diwali sale, no it is not going to be that way. I think human being is being tested, the business man and the advertiser and the advertising agency is a subset of being a human being.

You mentioned about keeping people, about keeping employees through this time on every front. Ogilvy like most other Indian agencies are part of large global communications companies, of holding companies and we are hearing in the other markets, in America for instance, in Europe we are hearing of job cuts. Do you see India being able to shield, Indian agencies being able to shield its people from these drastic job cuts that we are hearing in the developed markets for sure?

Personally, I can answer this, and I do not have any hesitation answering this. I look at my job as a national job – when I say national it is international in this case, but I also see my job as a federal job. I sit on a cabinet committee of a nation in a way, but I am also the chief minister of a state. So, it will be an interaction based on my dual responsibilities and cannot be a unilateral decision that I will accept and act on blindly. I do not care as to who is listening to me right now, but that is the way I am. I will stand as the captain of the ship and hold my people together as much as I can and as much as it is good for team India and for the larger team Ogilvy and team WPP. But, in my one role, it is India first.

Even WPP has a bouquet to deal with the problem. If you are in deep problem, then these are the possible ways, if you are in a medium problem, these are the possible ways, if you are in no problem but there is a threat of a problem, then these are the ways. So, we have a bouquet, I will choose the bouquet which suits India the best.

(We got this information in a press release).

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