Ubaid Zargar

30% of White Rivers Media's revenue comes from Media & Entertainment category

The digital-first integrated agency’s co-founder reveals to afaqs! how the company found glory in select categories, and how pandemic enabled its growth.

A decade ago, digital as a marketing avenue was so experimental that most marketeers took the medium as a mere side-hustle to supplement their traditional marketing efforts. It has only been a few years since digital metamorphosed into a highly sophisticated advertising ecosystem, that is now projected to oust the traditional media as the go-to choice for advertisers. 

White Rivers Media started its journey in 2012. In a time when digital was still striding past its infancy, Shrenik Gandhi in association with Mitesh Kothari, co-founded the agency with digital on their mind. A chance that Gandhi believes he's glad he took. 

Since then, the agency has charted its presence in select categories, including M&E, BFSI, FMCG, Fantasy gaming, and more. Gandhi reveals to afaqs! that the agency saw a pivotal surge in business during and post pandemic. The agency’s current non-media revenue stands at nearly Rs 44 crore, as revealed in afaqs! Top 50 Marketing Agencies report.

Where it all began

The agency saw its genesis in the August of 2012, when college chaps Shrenik Gandhi and Mitesh Kothari reunited a year after their MBA. “At the time, we were just setting up the hype, and we had just started doing some work to understand the ecosystem.” 

Both the co-founders had strong inclination towards digital, which at the time was just starting to grow in India. It took some valor, and foresight from the founders to put all their eggs in a digital basket.  

“We were strong believers of digital, being from the native digital audience. We understood how digital enabled two way communication, a lot more intelligent analytics, and we were confident that it was going to yield better ROIs. We are glad that the prediction turned out to be right.”

What followed were a few years of experimentation, trial and errors. It was between 2015 and 2018 when the agency started to grow. “During this period our work started to get recognised. We started winning some awards, and we also started winning some clients.”

Setting up the priorities

The company saw a real growth spurt in 2019, amplified further during the pandemic. While Gandhi attributes the progress to various factors, he outlines the key defining elements of White River Media’s successes during the pandemic. “We realised that every successful agency would have some marquee clients (to build their success on). Someone might have Fevicol, someone could have Netflix, and someone could have the best real estate client (in the country). But instead of finding some star clients, we tried to focus on star categories.”

If you can hack a subculture, you can navigate conversations. And that in turn would generate ROIs.

The real predicament was to identify the categories that the agency would cater to, and hopefully build a formidable business around. Gandhi reveals that the idea was to become part of, and hack, ‘subcultures’. The term is loosely defined as a group identity under a larger culture. 

...We have marketed in excess of 200 Bollywood movies in the last four years. Then there is OTT, where we have worked with Netflix in the past and we’re working with Amazon Mini and Sony LIV.

“If you can hack a subculture, you can navigate conversations. And that in turn would generate ROIs. So, that is our process. Now, these subcultures could range between cricket, Bollywood, religion, politics, among others. We, of course, wanted to stay clear of religion and politics, and therefore doubled down on other subcultures such as entertainment, sports, BFSI, and FMCG.”

Out of the four categories, the agency has put in a lot of work towards M&E, and consequently, the company racks up around 30% of its business from the category. “To give you a perspective, we have marketed in excess of 200 Bollywood movies in the last four years. Then there is OTT, where we have worked with Netflix in the past and we’re working with Amazon Mini and Sony LIV.”

The agency, after establishing a strong foothold in the M&E category, has also focused extensively on other sectors. Between sports and BFSI, there are two quant categories that White Rivers Media generates business from - fantasy gaming, and crypto. “We have a certain level of dominance in M&E category and we wanted to establish a category of stability as well. We’ve been doing a lot of work with major FMCG brands, and legacy finance banks.”

Influencing the influencers

The agency works on two fundamental business models to sustain the growth - content creation and content distribution. The two avenues have become the prime focus points of the company. Gandhi reveals that the agency is sternly concentrated on providing the right content to clients, and distributing it through the right influencers. “About 80% of our business comes from traditional social media marketing. Our differentiator here is our Gen Z focused lab powered by a team of 10 people.”

The agency does a lot of primary and secondary research for brands, to provide optimised marketing strategies that are targeted at Gen Z. Beyond the research lab, the company also hosts many influencers, including some popular international names. “We represented the popular Norwegian dance crew ‘Quick Style’ in their recent visit to India. We helped them collaborate with a lot of brands, media, and celebrities.”

The agency also took on the role of representing Khaby Lame, the popular internet sensation. The only two campaigns that the influencer has done in India have been conceptualised by White Rivers Media. 

Reaching digital maturity

When White Rivers Media first started operating, digital as a marketing medium was relegated to a position where most brands were unaware of the potential it held. The same brands are still playing catch-up with digital, owing to its sporadic shape-shifting and relentless growth. But just how much have Indian marketers matured in terms of envisaging the possibilities of digital?

“The answer to this question keeps getting more and more optimistic every year. We are seeing the scale of acceptability of digital increasing leaps and bounds. A lot of the brands have started shifting towards a digital first narrative. Brands need to have 360 degree communication in an integrated strategy.”

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