Shreyas Kulkarni

“30 per cent of our revenue comes from projects": Dheeraj Sinha

Leo Burnett and BBH India chief sheds light on doing business while locked in, whom he considers a challenge, and on building his personal brand.

It’s been a happy couple of months for Leo Burnett. It announced the Meta India account win in April 2022 and a month later, it was awarded the 'Creative Agency Of The Year' at the One Show ABBYs.

“30 per cent of our revenue comes from projects": Dheeraj Sinha

Speaking to us (afaqs!) at the event, Dheeraj Sinha, CEO, Leo Burnett, South Asia, and Chairman BBH India, a day before this coronation, said the biggest peak for him during the last two years of lockdown(s) was his agency folks. “We've never had such a unified agency ever before.”

The result of such a unified force, as per the CEO, was the agency winning “40 new business clients during 2020 through zoom and online pitches.”

Sinha tells us one of the first things they did after the lockdown was to launch a program called 0-3-6, a thinking tool and workshop module brought together. Clients and Leo Burnett folks logged in from home to discuss what to do now and in the next three to six months on business and brand strategy.

“We ran at least 50-70 client workshops,” he remarks and tells us, that from the workshops, came the idea of Mobileshaala for Whisper and Weddings At Home for

Despite all these efforts, the pandemic and its induced lockdowns played evil to whatever good the agency did and intended to do. “A good 20-30 per cent of our clients reduced spends,” reveals Sinha but adds that the agency, in response, didn't scale back on services to any clients, did not let go of any people, and “hired about 150 people in the last two years”.

When asked if clients, because of the pressures and wounds of the pandemic, were approaching Leo Burnett with only project work, Sinha was quick to respond that “we embrace projects because they are good”.

He explains that projects are high-intensive; you deliver the goods, you get out. "We do one, and go back and do another, go back and do another". He says projects are also relationships, it's just that the nature of the relationship is different, “I'd say that 30 per cent of our revenue comes from projects.”

Revenue is important and it is always affected when battling a rival. Four to five years ago, consultancies were pegged as the biggest rival to agencies. The appointment of Deloitte’s Andy Main as Ogilvy’s global CEO in 2020 certainly helped bolster this thought.

Sinha, however, doesn’t see consultancies as a threat to agencies in India. “We're not losing pitches or clients to them at all.”

This year, we saw Pepsi use deepfake technology to cast two Salman Khans in the same ad. Cadbury India used AI and ML to mimic Shah Rukh Khan’s voice for different script lines; technology is in vogue in advertising. Is creativity losing its shine in front of zeros and ones?

Sinha feels the starting point is still about what's the problem or opportunity and then you use the right colour in the palette to solve it. He took the example of his agency's 'Roads that Honk' campaign for HP Lubricants as an example of tech used creatively. “All tech pieces have been proposed by us than the client asking for it.”

If technology can become a rival, what about humans? Whom does Sinha see as a rival or keeps an eye on? The CEO tells us if you're running a business, you keep an eye on everybody be it an agency or a team which is doing breakthrough work. "I mean that could be new start-up companies coming from AIB folks or a Tilt Brand Solutions or a consultancy."

One also needs to keep an eye on Sinha because he’s building his personal brand with a podcast and a book. He tells us he did not go out with an objective of a building a brand of his own, it’s just that he wanted to learn a new medium and that’s how the podcast started. He had some ideas which needed to fly and therefore the book came to life.

Before he stepped out for his session at Goafest, we asked if his new job at BBH as chairman was a day to day affair or just a ‘margdarshak’ like position.

“Initially I will get in a lot to set the course, to set the trajectory for the brand. The potential of BBH as a brand is much larger and our objective is to be in the top two BBH offices globally. And I will be as involved as required," he signs off.

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