Venkata Susmita Biswas

OMD’s Anisha Iyer will not stop hurling truth bombs at clients

CEO of OMD, Iyer, lays out in simple terms her agenda for the agency and how she plans to achieve it. 

Anisha Iyer is in charge of growing OMD’s footprint in India. She took charge of the agency’s India office in 2022 and is on a mission to shake off OMD’s image as a ‘challenger brand’. The agency was set up in the subcontinent only 16 years ago and is in the midst of rewriting its India story.

Iyer is the quintessential intrepid CEO the agency needs to become the first agency brands consider for their media buying requirements. Ask her to list three things she will focus on for 2023 and she shoots back, “I am focussing only on one area — we are growing this year and that’s the plan.” She sounds a lot like ace-archer Arjuna taking aim at the bird’s eye as she adds, “I believe that if we have multiple agendas life gets convoluted.”

Iyer’s India assignment at OMD follows a three-year stint at the agency’s Malaysia and Thailand centres. In Malaysia, she was the managing director and the chief product officer in OMD Thailand. 

In the last one and a half years, OMD underwent a transformation journey on all fronts — product, talent, process and all other relevant areas. On the product front, OMD India inducted products that delivered well in the Western markets into OMD India. Following the transformation, the company now has a significantly young team tenure-wise, with a long-term vision of 5-7 years, she informs.

“With all that done, we have the ingredients for the recipe in place and we simply need to cook and serve now,” says Iyer.  

There is a method to the madness. “We have split our growth agenda into two parts: hunting and farming.” OMD will farm new business through new mandates, by plugging any leakages in existing businesses or by developing new services. Hunting will hinge on target sectors and specific products the agency will plan to sell. 

Iyer is fearless about both hunting and farming. She narrates, “Recently when we targetted a client for business, we did not go with the agenda to get the media agency business and instead said that OMD would like to be the company’s e-commerce AoR.” What she intends to demonstrate is that it is acceptable to offer specialist services and expand the agency’s business through allied products and services, not just the core business offerings. 

In the past year, OMD India won six major businesses — Sony SAB, Muthoot Finance (South India), GoodWorker, BP Castrol, House of Beauty India, and McDonald's India (North and East). The agency retained two very important clients too — NIVEA India’s integrated media business and the Mercedes - Benz account. The OMD India-NIVEA India relationship is set to turn into a 10-year-long partnership this year. 

One sector that OMD is planning to explore for new business is - start-ups. But start-ups are doing anything but spending on marketing right now. “The fun about start-up businesses is not if they are spending today. I will have to bet on ten of them, one of them will convert in a couple of years. If I don’t consult for ten, I won’t find my one.” 

And landing these start-up clients is not an easy task she says. “One such company may spend one-tenth or one-twentieth of the money that an established client might spend but they would need ten times the rigour.” Therefore, the effort to land a consequential client and work for such a brand is significantly higher, “which we recognise, so until bandwidth allows us, we will do it”, she explains.  

OMD is also redefining key performance indicators for the brands it works with. “Omnicom does not believe in the same KPI’s that legacy brands chase,” she states. “You will never find us telling a client that we will increase the brand’s awareness score. I think it is a complete waste of time.”

She is of the firm belief that the agency should aid the brand in “selling more” be that a body lotion or a software license. “We pride ourselves on building a culture where the agency executives working on an account know the marketing head’s business KPIs.”

The “dhanda” approach is all about making the marketing agency relevant to the company's CEO and not just the CMO. “If an agency is going to be accountable only for mind metrics that are tracked by market research firms then it restricts its life to the CMO of the company,” she cautions. “If we instead talk about increasing market share, suddenly the conversation is with the CEO. And that is what we want.” And Iyer says that with at least six of OMD’s major clients, the agency gets a seat at the table with the CEO every quarter. 

She goes a step further to say that a client is more likely to stay longer with an agency that delivers on business goals over fancy innovations that win awards. Especially when there are recessionary headwinds she thinks it is imperative that agencies shift gears from mind metrics to business KPIs. 

In her quest to further the goals of the client OMD serves, Iyer even advises brands to spend on advertising judiciously. “Sometimes it could be that packaging played a greater role in a product’s sale over an OOH hoarding.” When such situations present themselves, she would suggest a brand scale down superfluous media spend. 

And superfluous media spend stems from unscientific media planning. Iyer admits that not all media blueprints made for brands are rooted in strategies born out of data and scientific research. Often media plans are drawn up based on the cognitive bias of the team/person in charge. And she confesses that she could fall prey to such cognitive bias too. But the hope is that data will inform more decisions in the future than personal opinions and prejudices. 

Iyer’s honesty is refreshing. As she says, more clients want her to tell them like it is and not hold back. 

We wish more clients can experience her candid yet measured outlook towards the media business.

Have news to share? Write to us