If the period from 2013 to 2016 was about the mushrooming of independent agencies, 2017 seems to be all about agencies restructuring either at a regional level or shuffling things around at a global level. The newer modes of communicating with the audience and the ever increasing need for an advertiser to be present at all relevant touchpoints make it harder and harder to bring out solutions from traditional agency models. While we may not be seeing drastic overhauling of processes, teams, leaderships or offerings in all agencies, a change is definitely brewing.
Marketing intelligence firm Creativebrief recently surveyed 50 agency CEOs and 50 brand CMOs, wherein 68% of CEOs and 72% of brand CMOs voted that agency structures, processes and pace of delivery are not evolving at the same pace that matches that of a brand. The survey also revealed that senior marketers today believe that over the next three years, they will gravitate to a more ‘full service’ agency model. They also believe that within the same time period, agencies will need to adapt their business models and thus, are innovating to become more open to new models. It is no surprise then that agencies are now more inward-looking, and there is a clear emergence of unconventional roles and functions within the agency structure. But there is a method to the madness.
The new C-Suite
In September last year, Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN) appointed Gautam Mehra as chief data officer (CDO) — an atypical but ever so important function in agencies and brands alike.
Ashish Bhasin, chairman and CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network, notes that the function is necessary as the business moves from being all about television planning to video planning. “We are all talking about big data but nobody is investing in understanding what it is and how it is going to be used, considering that it is a specialised field,” he says.
So, the group set up a team of data experts. These are postgraduates in Economics, people with backgrounds in data or in computer sciences, statistics, etc, led by a chief data officer who is responsible for ensuring optimal use of data with high regard given to privacy issues.
MullenLowe Lintas Group, up till the recent formation of PointNine Lintas, used to have the position of a chief marketing officer — another unconventional agency role, which was occupied by Vikas Mehta, prior to him assuming the role of CEO at PointNine Lintas. The new agency however offers its own unconventional role: that of national director — consumer engagement, occupied by Sriharsh Grandhe. The role involves working closely with strategists, analysts and creatives within agencies.
Mehta believes the need for carving out this role comes from needing to put consumer engagement at the heart of a marketing practice rather than at its fringes. “The purpose of this role is to take a brand proposition, use data to map customer journeys and create omni-channel go-to-market plans that mirror those journeys,” he says.
Now consider another non-traditional role that was created at Leo Burnett earlier this year. Prashanth Challapalli’s role in the agency as chief integration officer was specifically crafted to aid the transformation that is happening across the group in South Asia, and across the Publicis Groupe in India. Every department and group agency works with this role as and when needed. It’s like playing in a soccer team, Challapalli exclaims.
The role has three primary functions —to identify business challenges and put together a team of specialists; to drive digital transformation by leveraging Publicis Sapient; and lastly, to build and scale ‘Play’ — the agency’s specialised process that blends data, technology, creativity and media to provide seamless solutions. Surbhi Gupta, chief talent officer, Publicis Communications India, shares that clients are seeing greater value in having the combination of an overall perspective and then drilling it down to specialist capabilities.
Another agency to address gaps is DDB Mudra Group by appointing Brijesh Jacob as chief creative technologist in June this year. And only a few days ago, Deepak Nair was appointed as chief growth officer. Chief growth officer is a newly created position that will focus on technology, data and analytics at DDB Mudra.
FCB Ulka’s function for tech support, although a must-have for every organisation, is something Rohit Ohri, group chairman and CEO, FCB India believes has earned its way to not be something you club in as a back-end function. The group has Ritu Madbhavi as its chief information officer. Ohri points out, “The function has evolved keeping in mind that technology is no longer a blackbox that nobody understands. We see young talent within the agency updated about what technology is available and how it can be used.” The group recently created a title, that of president — digital integration, occupied by Vikas Parihar. Over the last 10 to 12 years, the group had a digital agency, FCB Interactive, with a separate P&L and a separate team. “What we have done now is a true integration of digital into the main agency. The future is about being a creative agency but with digital at its very core,” adds Ohri.
Need of the hour
Not too long ago, Publicis New York appointed John Biondi as chief experience officer. Recently, iProspect brought on board Rohan Philips as chief global product officer. Both roles are not typically associated with agencies. It would be great if it could be said that agencies, domestic or global, are building or introducing new leaders to head fresh functions as a proactive move. More often than not, it comes across as a reactive attempt to catch up with the changing landscape, with the bigger, network-type agencies being able to afford shake ups such as introducing new functions.
Ruth Stubbs, global president, iProspect, in an official statement from the agency on Philips’ appointment said “As a business, we must become more sensitive to the challenges clients are facing.” And clients are glad that cognizance of their changed needs is what agencies are focussing on.
As Nomit Joshi, marketing head, Gionee India observes, “Such roles are great as they allow the campaign to extend, and the experience and the expertise which comes on board has a lot of value while creating brand love.”
But challenges are aplenty, from agencies facing competition from peers to consultancies which come equipped with deeper insights, better data resources, analytical insights and the will to be the next stop for a client’s communication needs. The traditional way of clearly defined creative, servicing and planning functions were good for a certain type of marketplace and a certain kind of client set. Both of which have evolved and have become more demanding. Clearly, it’s time for agencies to suit up!