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Digital crowned again

If earlier digital advertising could be mistaken for an afterthought, increasing senior appointments, such as Kunal Jeswani as O&M's CEO, suggest it is not so anymore

Viveat Susan Pinto  |  Mumbai 

Kunal Jeswani, O&M's CEO
Kunal Jeswani, O&M’s CEO

When one of the country's premier ad agencies, (O&M), appointed its digital head, Kunal Jeswani, to the position of chief executive officer, recently, it put its stamp of approval on a growing trend in advertising: The evolution of digital. The agency and a creative powerhouse reiterated that agencies could no longer do mere lip service to digital, say market experts.

In fact, Jeswani is not the only such appointment in recent months.

In March, last year, TBWA, part of the Group, appointed digital head, Vineet Bajpai, as its CEO after incumbent Shiv Sethuraman stepped down.

Jeswani, with for 10 years, has been leading its digital business since 2010. Prior to that he was in client servicing, managing some of O&M's key accounts such as the beverage portfolio of Hindustan Unilever (in India, handles all of HUL's beverage brands such as Brooke Bond, Taaza, Taj Mahal and Bru), Cadbury (now, Mondelez) and the Board of Control for Cricket (BCCI). He is, say industry sources, amongst a small but growing tribe of professionals who successfully transitioned to being digital heads, early on.

Market experts say that executives such as Jeswani, who have a sound understanding of both mainline and digital advertising, will increasingly be in demand as the vertical moves to the centre of the managment table in the world. The above-mentioned appointments also come at a time when is growing steadily.

Ashish Bhasin, chairman & CEO, South Asia, Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN), says, "in India is about 8-9 per cent of total advertising. By 2020, it will be about 20-22 per cent given that digital is growing at 30-35 per cent a year. So, will be a significant chunk of total advertising in a few years from now."

DAN, which about eight months ago, began a digital-only council consisting of heads of its digital agencies, something which was never done before in the advertising and media world, says the move has been beneficial. "What we have done is brought all our strengths together within digital. So, if a client wants a certain kind of digital service, we can also introduce him to our other offerings wiithin digital and help him consider those solutions. This way, he can cut out multiple vendors and we have the advantage of offering a holistic digital solution," Bhasin says.

Ogilvy’s new chief: Kunal Jeswani
In his 19-year advertising career, the MICA-alumnus, has worked under the tutelage of some of the biggest names in the business, such as Rajiv Agarwal and Mohammed Khan at Enterpise Nexus (between 1996 and 2003; he rose to become client services director) and Kersi Katrak and Maia Katrak at The Republic (between 2003 and 2005; he was the MD). He joined in 2005 as senior vice-president, responsible for managing key accounts.

He was elevated to the position of president and country head of OgilvyOne India in 2010, responsible for leading the digital marketing vertical and driving initiatives across brands such as Dove, Bru, Vodafone, Star- Plus, Fox Crime and ICICI Bank. He was elevated to the position of chief digital officer at O&M in 2013, in charge of driving the group’s digital agenda. His elevation now as its CEO will have him oversee all operations at the agency. He will also continue to drive the digital agenda of the group, the agency said in a statement.

Giving digital heads a seat at the CxO table is also a bid to be future-ready. In December, 2013, when Publicis Groupe chairman & CEO Maurice Levy visited India, he emphasised the importance of digital in his organisation's scheme of things. He said, "The size and scale of our digital operations has grown (in India). In 2011, we had 100 people working in digital. Now, we have 1,500 people."

The acquisition of US-based digital marketing major, Sapient Nitro, in November, 2014, in a $3.7-billion (Rs 22,200 crore) transaction boosts Publicis Groupe's digital prowess in markets such as India, market experts say. Sixty-five per cent of Sapient's workforce is in India, servicing offshore clients, which Publicis was keen to leverage. The latter is expected to consolidate all its global digital assets under Sapient. The new structure will be rolled out in India in the coming months.

According to a recent survey by Accenture on digital media consumption and habits, almost 18 per cent of the respondents say that their digital agencies were driving the medium forward for their companies. This number was lower earlier, but is expected to grow, says Accenture, as companies increasingly count on specialist agencies for insights and activations in digital.

Digital's growing clout can only mean that mainline and digital advertising will converge soon.

"Somehow digital in India grew in a different silo, but you can't separate mainline advertising from digital just like you can't separate print or TV advertising from mainline advertising," Sidharth Rao, CEO and co-founder, Webchutney, says.

"Digital is as central to the (advertising) plot as TV or print," he adds.

First Published: Wed, January 28 2015. 21:40 IST