Shreyas Kulkarni

Wunderman Thompson has always been great at storytelling, where we are adding value is the creative use of technology: Shamsuddin Jasani

A year after he became the agency's CEO, he talks about its focus on commerce and health, and what upskilling means for him, among other things.

Time often slows down at work but when you are at the helm of an advertising agency as CEO, you may start to wonder where did the past 12 months go.

Shamsuddin Jasani joined Wunderman Thompson as chief executive officer in October 2021 after spending 13 years as the chief of Isobar from the house of Dentsu.

For Jasani, the move from Isobar, a pure digital agency to Wunderman Thompson, a legacy creative advertising agency must have meant a lot of learning and more importantly, unlearning. After all, regardless of whether you are an intern or a chief executive officer, learning, of all types, never stops.

The difference in scale, between the two organisations, is what Jasani first acknowledges. “… it's more about me still going on a much more steep learning curve myself, because when you step into something of scale, you also need to be able to grasp new realities, new changes that are there, the speed at which you can go is slightly different,” he remarks.

When asked if the pace of scale at Wunderman Thompson was slower than his previous organisation and yet deeper, the CEO was quick to respond that the WPP agency is undoubtedly scaling up “but where are we scaling up is the most important part.”

He says the scaling up Wunderman Thompson requires is on “newer and different skill sets.” He mentions the scaling up of the agency’s commerce business, healthcare business, martech business… “So I wouldn't say lateral, I would say complementary skills that we are adding to what we already have is where I think a lot of our focus is on as we go forward.”

Going a bit deeper, Jasani says when it comes to commerce for Wunderman Thompson, he thinks “commerce for us will grow 100% to 200% year on year… but when we talk about commerce business, the industry itself is growing 30%.”

Commerce, a global Wunderman Thompson offering, is an eCommerce consultancy which, as per the agency’s website, helps organisations deliver winning commerce capabilities across digital channels: Amazon and other marketplaces, online retail, D2C and social. Jasani tells us Wunderman Thompson commerce India with its 600 folks exists to not only work for Indian business but also globally.

From an Indian perspective, “… the focus is how can we use the understanding of consumers that we've had for 90 years, marry that with the great tech capabilities that we have in commerce, and be able to give a solution across the board for clients.”

An interesting point that Jasani had made was the aim to double Wunderman Thompson’s revenue in three years. The CEO explains, “How do you measure what we're trying to do? Otherwise, it becomes just talk, we need to be able to also give results in what we're doing.”

And therefore, it is no wonder that commerce is one of the focus points for the new CEO and the other one is the four-month-old Wunderman Thompson Health, a specialised practice whose aim is to help health and wellness brands connect more meaningfully with consumers and health care professionals.

For this practice to deliver, Jasani is banking on the capabilities that exist, both on the healthcare professional side, as well as on the consumer side of the business across the Wunderman Thompson network.

“... It's a very unique skill set. You need to be able to, unlike any other industry, speak to thousands of healthcare professionals, in addition to consumers. And that is a capability that we have within the network,” he stresses.

When prodded about the clients his agency had won with these business offerings, Jasani would not reveal names but said the kind of work they are doing is “large scale and pure development.”

What does that mean? Think very high-end development work, whether it is on “Salesforce or IBM Cloud, this is proper tech development, that is there… So that's the scale, anything between 500 to one and a half million dollar projects, each one of them.”

The new literacy

Wunderman Thompson’s legacy lies in creative storytelling but with its stress on commerce and health using high-end technological tools as the base, finding people with the right know-how to build these pillars is no easy task.

“We are getting new people and upskilling our people,” answers the CEO and points out that the new learning will stress on “understanding digital” as a whole. “Wunderman Thompson has always been great at storytelling, creative artwork, where we are adding value is the creative use of technology.”

Jasani speaks of the agency’s key platform partners like Facebook or Google and the training they offer as the right kind of upskilling. Adding to them is on-the-job training which the CEO espouses because it gives you a “lot of perspective.”

The retainer vs project debate

It has earned its status as one of adland’s most asked questions and yet it refuses to wither. Jasani is clear, “… our vision is to converse with clients where we are not just talking about their marketing needs, but also where, as a partner, we help them in the entire consumer journey” and says “90% of the work that we do is on the on retainers right now.”

The skills in demand?

That the future is tech is an adage. So, what kind of tech skills is Wunderman Thompson looking to focus on or is there something else in the pipeline?

Says Jasani, “When we are talking about digital and creative use of technology, I would say it is purely from a creative perspective… you need to be able to understand platforms as a third element in the digital space because each one is unique.” Speaking about the metaverse, he feels the understanding of it is very limited and that most are only scratching the surface right now.

This advent of the metaverse is evidence of how one must always remain adaptable to change. For instance, Wunderman Thompson was going big on a TikTok campaign for Pepsi Cola with Salman Khan when the government banned the short-video app.

“I will say that we've done great for nine decades,” answers Jasani and says that one needs to trust their capabilities and their understanding of consumers. “I can envision what the next year looks like, beyond the next one or two years, I think it's futile honestly to say anything because things change a lot what we need to keep on doing is keep on updating that understanding of consumers, I think that is front and centre.”

Another question for the ages is on the battle between in-house creative teams and external ones; brands like OYO, Cleartrip, and Amazon work with in-house creative teams.

To this, the Wunderman Thompson CEO said he has always been a believer in saying “this is what we do for a living, which means we will keep on innovating, and we will keep on growing and we will look at newer avenues of business and new ways of working.”

He says they have worked with in-house teams in the past “but I strongly feel that the investments that agencies do in, you know, kind of looking ahead of the curve. It's just something which comes to us because that is our business.”

Have news to share? Write to us