Co-founders Nisha Singhania and Ramanuj Shastry spill their mind after celebrating the agency's 10th anniversary in ’23.
There comes a moment, usually during times of celebration, when we feel distant from the revellers despite being with them. Feelings of hyperfocus takes over us and our minds begin to recollect the journey which led us here. A feeling of lightness envelops us. Images of the future are conjured in our minds.
For Nisha Singhania and Ramanuj Shastry, co-founders of Mumbai-based Infectious Advertising, that moment struck them sometime before they celebrated their agency’s tenth anniversary in April 2023.
“We got into a contemplative mode at that time… that is where we started introspecting what do we want to do differently when we take things forward for the next couple of years,” says Singhania.
Infectious Advertising came to life in April 2013 with five employees. Today, it is a 65-employee-strong agency with clients such as Bayer Corporation, Aditya Birla Group, Tata Group, IDFC, UltraTech Cement, and Aquaguard, under its belt.
It wants more.
Shastry says the agency in its first decade was a happy family with some of the lowest turnovers in the business, but it is no longer a picnic. “After 10 years, you can no longer call yourself a start-up, all those privileges go away. You are an organisation now,” he remarks.
This shift in mentality does not rise from a point of concern. Infectious Advertising, after all, as per ROC data, registered a 47% increase in revenue and a 91% increase in profits in FY22 compared to FY21.
It comes from how the co-founders now view their agency. A decade ago, when it started, the agency did not have any credentials to show and had to start from scratch.
A lot of clients, says Singhania, are sceptical of handing business to someone new because they do not know if you will last. “There is a certain size of clients who come to you when you are a startup.”
She, however, says they have noticed the nature of clients choosing to work with Infectious Advertising change as the agency grew older. “… bigger clients are taking us far more seriously,” remarks the co-founder.
The duo’s first point of action was and is to cultivate a team of C-suite leaders. “We can no longer be Nisha and Ramnuj. You need to have other people who can have equal conversations with clients, can sit across the table, who earn the respect, those are the requirements now,” states Shastry.
The agency, in the past year, has hired a slew of senior folks: Siddhartha Singh as MD and COO, Shabbir Motiwala as head of production, Ashish Naik as ECD.
Shastry considers them “co-mountaineers” who’ll help the agency move ahead from its present position at Everest base camp because they have conquered the mountain before.
Adding to this, Singhania and Shastry have tweaked their designations too. When starting, they had picked their titles without much deliberation, however, “designations matter to people when you are a big organisation,” she explains.
She is the CEO and managing partner and Shastry is the creative chairman and managing partner. Infectious Advertising has three designation levels. First come the partners, following them at the mid-level are the directors, and then come the C-suite folks.
And all these workers will see a good amount of their time invested in doling out video content in the coming years; it is what the agency will now focus on.
“Content will be front and centre… If you can't do videos, reels, pull off shoots, if we don't have editing capabilities, and have internal people who can animate, it is a joke to say you are a digital agency,” says Shastry.
He believes many digital agencies are led by what is trending and what is new, but if the trending and the new are not married to the brand, it leaves a lot to be desired. “We are at that sweet spot where we understand the brand, and we are digitally capable to service our client,” states the creative chairman.
Shastry says the day of the big idea is gone, and the problem with it is it only comes to you once in six months.” What do you do in between? “You need to evolve. You need continuous conversation and for that, you need continuous content creation.”
Setting up an in-house production offering was the first step and Singhania tells us it was not a challenge at all. She believes they lucked out when it comes to hiring the right folk for their new offering.
The two co-founders believe in long-form brand building and it is expressed in their clientele. “Almost 80% of our businesses are AORs,” reveals Singhania.
However, with an uncertain economic climate hanging over everyone’s heads and start-ups facing a funding winter, the flow of money must have squeezed for Infectious Advertising to some degree.
The CEO disagrees. “There are enough clients willing to pay the big bucks if they see the value,” she asserts and blames agencies that have “unfortunately created a market where people are willing to work at anything and everything.”
Adding to this, another issue that Shastry feels plagues adland is its fixation with awards. “You win 10 this year, now you must win 20 next year, awards groups are made at agencies who only work on awards, they do not do any brand work,” he says, and adds that the “problem with chasing awards is that brands take a backseat.”
“Most clients are looking for work that solves their business problems, an award won't meet their marketing objective,” chimes in the CEO.