Tapas Gupta
Guest Article

If WFH is the new normal in advertising, why not PFH?

If agencies can adapt to WFH, it is only fair to ask clients to adapt to PFH (pay from home). From the desk of Tapas Gupta...

Unprecedented times compel us to adopt newer skills and technologies to continue running our businesses unhindered. And we in the advertising industry are quick learners and great adapters.

Work from home (WFH) in the conventional advertising industry is a relatively new phenomenon in India while in the IT Industry it has been there for quite a few years.Our colleagues in the digital divisions in ad agencies have been practisingthis for years now, but by exception during their leaves, travel or some specific assignments they could undertake peacefully at night from the comfort of their homes.

COVID-19 has however changed the ball game drastically in the last few weeks. Most large advertisers have revisited their advertising and communication needs, and CMOs and senior management teams have used this opportune lockdown time when they are relatively free from their daily office chores, to review and in many cases revisit their strategies particularly during the beginning of a new financial year when their plans have not been frozen yet, and are engaging and interacting with their agencies far more intensively. And totally virtually.

Keeping In view the post COVID 19 market scenario, many marketing and communication plans are being tweaked or are being drastically recast and re sized, and not surprisingly new tactical products like hand sanitisers, antiseptic lotions, creams and disinfectants, and similar products are being aggressively launched in quick time given the pressures of the environment.

ZOOM calls have become the new way of life. Strategic and creative agencies like us are being stretched to our fullest sitting at our homes which have become virtual offices. And I must state my discoveries loud and clear. Since a lot of brand / new product thinking, planning, strategic and creative issues are being tossed around and discussed thread-bare, I am actually finding that this virtual way is a more efficient, more productive way of communication that are yielding better quality results in lesser time and in a more focused and thought through manner.

I have realised in last three weeks (on an average participating in 3 to 4 Zoom calls a day, both internal and with clients) that the participants both from agencies’ and clients’ sides are more focused, diligent, participative and above all disciplined.

With the Zoom protocols, our attitudes changed from the normal conference room meetings and discussions (where frankly a lot of time gets lost even in assembling people) and in many cases representatives from both sides of the table waffle, whereas, in all virtual meetings there is a focused agenda, often limited time is set and protocols like muting if you are not speaking, not interrupting unless critical, lesser and more seasoned professionals taking the lead in speaking, have made these Zoom meetings more ‘no nonsense’ and a sharper way to communicate.

But the greatest benefit is the time and money it saves. For a meeting in Noida from my office in Gurgaon, one has to spend 3 hours travelling up and down for a one hour meeting (leaving aside that the client may keep you waiting another 15 to 20 mins before he meets). In all for an hour’s meeting, time taken is four and a half hours.

And just think of the multi city conferences and meetings. As an executive member of AAAI (Advertising Agencies Association of India, based in Mumbai) I have often travelled from Delhi to attend their meetings in Mumbai. AAAI has Executive Committee members from all large metros and they too have travelled frequently. But thanks to the lockdown, the March meeting was virtual and almost all members across various cities attended. I have been attending AAAI Executive Committee meetings from last 10 years or more but have never seen such a large participation. This indeed is the way to go in the post COVID 19 era and this would become the ‘NEW NORMAL’.

Coming back to my original point that how most large and medium sized agencies have quickly adopted and adapted to the new normal of virtual interactions, engagements and presentations and clients are relentlessly engaging and challenging the agencies to deliver on strategies, creative, digital and media planning issues to firm up their brand plans post COVID-19 resumption. I am happy to note that most agencies of repute are living up to the challenges in inconceivable time frames from the confines of their homes, oblivious of the pandemic that is threatening the very existence of mankind.

This is the beauty, spirit and passion of the advertising folks that keep them going. Challenges are being met with grit and determination like never before.

In this context I can’t help but observe that while all clients big and small expect their agencies to deliver in the most challenging times through WFH module and most agencies are doing that at 100 per cent of their erstwhile office capacities (in WFH there is no office hours or commuting time) if not more, I don’t think I would be asking too much as an industry veteran that if WFH is the new normal they expect from their agencies, they should also immediately adopt and institutionalise PFH (pay from home) for their agencies’ monthly remuneration.

If agencies can quickly adapt to WFH with ease, it is only fair to ask clients to adapt to PFH so that the agencies can pay their staff salaries on time and keep the wheels of WFH moving fast. Today all advertisers have online/ electronic payment systems which are operated by the authorised finance professionals or their bankers through which they pay their staff salaries and essential disbursements even during the lockdown days.

In today’s times (unlike the past where media commission was the norm for agency compensation), all creative agencies work on fixed monthly retainer fees and these are easy to implement in a PFH model like an advertiser’s staff salaries and other fixed expenditures like rents, statutory disbursements, etc.

Given the nature of the pandemic and its wide tentacles, it is difficult to predict when India will get back to its ‘old normal’. While most agencies have paid staff their March salaries on time from their own resources, God forbid if the lockdown is not withdrawn by May 4, agencies’ timely staff salaries may take a hit.

So through this column I am urging all advertisers/clients to seriously consider and implement PFH to keep the wheels of their partner agencies well oiled and efficient and motivate them to work more passionately from their homes.

(Tapas Gupta is founder and MD of BEI Confluence Communication and former president and CEO of a McCann-Erickson agency.)