afaqs! news bureau
The Planner’s Special

"Media agencies have been elevated to consultancies today"

An interview with Shashi Sinha, CEO, IPG Mediabrands. This is part of a special series of conversations with media agency heads - interview 5 of 31.

What, in your view, was your agency's best campaign of 2019? What about it impressed you?

2019 was a stellar year for IPG Mediabrands India and its agencies – Lodestar UM, Initiative, Interactive Avenues and Rapport. It’s difficult to choose one campaign. In 2019, we created a Guinness world record with our campaign for Too Yumm! at Ardh Kumbh Mela; the account is handled by Initiative and Rapport. Initiative also launched Mission Paani for Reckitt Benckiser; it’s a campaign close to my heart. The agency continues to do well on the Amazon business, which we have been handling since its launch in India.

I am proud of the work Lodestar UM is doing for Samsung, Spotify, Amul, Tata Motors, Mahindra & Mahindra, Johnson & Johnson and so on. Interactive Avenues won the IAMAI Agency of the Year award for the sixth consecutive time. As a network, in 2019, we won 42 gold, 39 silver and 38 bronze awards.

In 2020, what is that big trend that ought to concern or excite media agencies?

I think it’s an exciting time for media agencies. They've been elevated to play the role of consultancies today. Clients look at media agencies as extensions of their marketing teams – extensions that will help them solve business problems. We are moving from serving to solving. Media agencies play a pivotal role in building and growing the client’s business, and to my mind, that’s the single biggest transformation we have undergone in recent years.

In the context of media planning/buying, what's the one global practice/trend India will do well to catch up with fast?

Gone are the days when global headquarters used to introduce new services that we would then replicate. We are completely aligned to all our global best practices, tools and services. Moreover, media solutions are all about building strategies and solutions that are custom-made for the client’s business problems.

For instance, J&J India’s media solutions will be different from those in other global markets. We recently launched Spotify in India; the idea, strategy and execution factored in cultural nuances and local challenges.

What consumption trends are you seeing in rural versus urban markets?

Despite the steady rise of digital, television remains the key medium for advertisers targeting rural markets. FMCG categories like personal care and food and beverages continue to focus a large part of their rural outreach on TV, accounting for a dominant share of TV spends. The medium delivers a potential 70 per cent of rural audiences, supported by robust viewership measurement from BARC.

With easy accessibility of free-to-air channels and headroom for growth, TV will stay at the centre of the action for rural advertisers in the future. While TV also delivers cost-effective reach in urban homes, consumers are more evolved in these markets and media habits are fragmented.

In urban markets, advertisers have several screens on different platforms to target these audiences through. The key to connecting with urban audiences is identifying and participating in the genres they follow. Besides FMCG, auto, consumer durables and telecom also drive urban media spends.

In the next 12 months, the solution to the digital ad fraud menace will come from...

...increasingly sophisticated brand safety solutions and greater focus on transparent, named inventory sources by agencies and clients.

What kind of specialisation/talent is missing in media agencies today?

Now that the role of the media agency has evolved to that of a consultancy, clients are looking for business solutions which are media agnostic. We are focused on upscaling our mainline teams digitally. While other networks are focused on creating specialists, our teams are fluid and can seamlessly work on all mediums including digital. For most major clients across the IPG Mediabrands India network, we have offline-online integrated teams. Our endeavour is to bridge this gap through continuous training and to work more collaboratively.

I wish clients would...

...not compromise on the quality of work just because some agency is offering a lower commission.

Note: This interview was conducted for the mid-March edition of our magazine afaqs!Reporter. It is a special issue dedicated to the top media planning and buying executives, who service some of India's largest advertisers. Market conditions have changed dramatically since this interview was first written and any apparent obsoletion therein must be seen in that context. To read/download all 31 interviews, please click here.