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Digital gets a seat at the CxO table

The vertical is increasingly moving from the fringes to the centre of the management table at agencies

Viveat Susan Pinto  |  Mumbai 

In the last 10 months, there has been a series of developments in Indian pertaining to digital, pushing it from the periphery to the centre of senior tables at agencies.

Consider this: At the India Group, which is part of the network, the world’s second-largest marketing-communications company, Vineet Bajpai, who was the digital head, took over as its chief executive officer, after the incumbent Shiv Sethuraman stepped down in March. This was the first instance of a digital head becoming the overall head of an agency group in India.

By June-July, (DAN), ranked among the top five marketing communication companies in the world, had set up a digital-only council in India intended to leverage its in-house digital capabilities. The council consisted of chief executive officers of DAN’s digital agencies, which was a first, since creative and media agencies usually add digital heads to their creative and client councils.

Finally, the Paris-based Groupe, the world’s third-largest and marketing company, acquired US-based digital marketing major Sapient Nitro in November in a $3.7-billion (Rs 22,200 crore) transaction with an eye on India. Sixty-five per cent of Sapient’s workforce is in India, servicing offshore clients, which was keen to leverage. The latter is expected to consolidate all its digital assets under Sapient globally. The new structure will be rolled out in India in the coming months.

The three episodes reinforce the growing clout of digital. As a result, digital professionals are bound to increasingly take centre-stage.

Ashish Bhasin, chairman & CEO, South Asia, DAN, says, “Digital 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, digital advertising will be a significant chunk of total advertising.”

Giving digital heads a seat at the CXO table, is then a bid to be future-ready. A year ago when 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.”

According to an survey on digital media consumption and habits, almost 18 per cent of the respondents say that their 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 in the future, even though its birth was separate. “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,” says Sidharth Rao, CEO and co-founder, Webchutney. “Digital is as central to the (advertising) plot as TV or print,” he adds.

In most ad agencies, it is now common for digital, print and TV advertising specialists to work together on common briefs from clients. Those days of working separately are over.

“Today, you have digital specialists within mainline ad agencies, whose task is to come up with digital solutions and give the required digital flavour to an agency’s creative product. With acquisitions, the digital prowess of (mainline) agencies is only growing,” says Colvyn Harris, chief executive officer, JWT, South Asia.

In March, JWT, which is part of the WPP Group, the world’s largest marketing-communications company, made its second digital acquisition in India after snapping up Hungama Digital Services in June, 2012. The acquisition was of Social Wavelength, which was intended to give JWT a sound understanding of social media marketing, a rapidly-evolving area.

Omnicom’s DDB Group, on the other hand, acquired Bengaluru-based digital agency 22feet this February, merging it with Tribal DDB, its in-house digital agency. The latter works closely with the group’s creative agency, DDB Mudra on projects, assignments and client briefs. Similarly, when Publicis Groupe acquired and then merged New-Delhi-based ad agency, Law & Kenneth with Saatchi & Saatchi, this January, it did so keeping in mind L&K’s digital capabilities to further its agenda. In a recent interaction, worldwide CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, Kevin Roberts, said that his agency would harness L&K’s digital strengths to grow its business in India.

Sonal Dabral, chairman and CCO, DDB Mudra Group, says, “There is a coming together of digital and mainline advertising, driven by certain product categories where the involvement of youth is high. This is the fastest growing medium in India, though TV is still the largest and most efficient advertising medium from a reach point of view. But with the explosion of smartphones in the country, and people accessing the net through mobile phones, digital and mobile marketing will increasingly become relevant.”

First Published: Mon, December 22 2014. 21:09 IST