Aegis India Sojourn

Written by Pritha Mitra Dasgupta | Updated: Jun 30 2010, 01:46am hrs
Aegis Medias revamp of its India operations is paying off. What started off about 20 months ago, with the induction of Ashish Bhasin as chairperson India and CEO of South East Asia Aegis Media, is now complete, with the 1.5 billion media buying company seeing its India business grow manifold. On one hand, while the structure of the company has been made simpler, for clients, the service offerings have expanded. That has set the cash registers ringing. Says Bhasin, Last year was not a great year for any agency but we feel embarrassed to say that it was a great year for us. Because, not only that we were launching new businesses but we were winning new businesses and growing. In the last 20 months we have grown about 500% and all the new businesses that we launched were profitable from day one.

Bhasin is the man responsible for Aegis Indias unprecedented success. When Bhasin, a veteran in the media buying and selling space who had worked with the Lintas Group for nearly two decades, joined Aegis, the company had Carat, the media buying arm and Synovate, the market research unit, under it. Bhasin restructured the company, preferring to call it a restart of sorts, and brought other Aegis service offeringsPosterscope (the outdoor communications agency), Isobar (the digital agency), Carat Fresh Integrated (activation) and Vizeum, touted as the agencys second media agency with a creative tingeto India. At the same time, there was a strong focus on integration and all the divisions were brought under the banner of One Aegis, one of the companys new-fangled success mantras.

While Bhasin was focussed on increasing the service offerings in India, he also consolidated the position of Carat, the groups flagship business. Nick Waters, Aegis Media Asia Pacific CEO says that Carat in the Asia Pacific region has been underweight (see interview). Waters said, My observation is that they didnt really understand Asia very well. I think probably they had the wrong regional leaderships.

Bhasin changed all that. Carat has been here for a while but the history has been mixed at the best so we look upon it as a relaunch of sorts, said Bhasin. So the first thing I did was bringing in a new managing directorKarthik Iyer. And we tapped into some of our international clients such as Philips, Reebok, BMW, Mattel, Google, YouTube, Bose.

Globally, Aegis had always shared a strong bond with various top league clients. It now used its linkages with these clients to bag a number of key clients in India including Air Asia, Tetra Pack, PVR and Go Cheese.

We started revamping the agency by bringing in the right people, bringing in all the tools and knowledge, retraining people and making sure that they are world class. We built it world class, much bigger than the need was for at that time and that is the consistent thing you will see in all our efforts, added Bhasin.

With that the first phase of consolidation at Carat is now over. While we will continue to leverage our relationship with our existing clients, we will now actively go for new business growth. We have invested time and money in building a team and now all that will contribute to the quality of product, said Carats Iyer. The past two years had been especially challenging for Carat. The issue was mainly with the image of the company and its instability, said Iyer. The new team had to demonstrate to the client that it was bringing in dependability.

Clients are growing confident about Carats expertise. Ravi Chandra, national sales and marketing manager, Scandic Food said, Carat has a deep understanding of the Indian market and media, and has the desired perspective on integrated communications planning.

For Posterscope too, Bhasin has been the changemaker. I joined in the middle of 2008. A little later in the year I was convinced that outdoor is a very big opportunity and Posterscope globally is a world leader. So I saw that as a big opportunity in India, said Bhasin.

The company brought on board Harish Nayak as its managing director. He came in with his own team of people. Thats been very successful from the first day. And we have now got more than 50 clients, added Bhasin.

Some of those were clients of Carat. But thats about 30% of the business. The rest 70% has been won by Posterscope on its own strength. And today we are working with clients like Colgate, Nestle, Blue Star, Go Airways. One of the biggest clients is Future Group, which is also incidentally the first client of Posterscope in India as well, said Bhasin.

Posterscopes work for the 5-day Maha Bachat campaign of Big Bazaar, the flagship brand of Future Group, has been much appreciated. For this campaign, Posterscope had created a slew of creative outdoor innovations. Translating the big sale idea into a campaign, Posterscope had put up a super sized trolley on hoardings and mobile vans and gantries, thus attracting huge attention.

Said Pawan Sarda, head of marketing at Big Bazaar,, Trolley is the symbol of shopping and the 5-days Maha Bachat is the biggest shopping event where consumers would shop to their hearts content. So the trolley became an extremely important part of the campaign, and was emphasised as an OOH format in the innovation executed across medias across markets, he explained, crediting Posterscope for the campaigns success..

Posterscope also realised that there was a big opportunity in the creative and innovative outdoor business. And through that we also got an opportunity to get into the retail space. The retail malls and multiplexes are going to be huge. So, for example, for Mattel Toys, we do 150-200 stores for Barbie and everything. And we eventually won the Essar hyperspace account (Essar has B2B steel retail outlets) and we do visual merchandising for its 300 stores every month. So its an offshoot of Posterscope which has started shaping a life of its own, added Bhasin. The idea is to keep capitalising on retail growth.

One of the key strengths of Aegis globally is its digital company Isobar which was not present in India till 2008. Bhasin launched the company in India and hired Shamsuddin Jasani as its managing director. Isobar today is working with clients such as UTI, UTV, Perfetti and others.

Said Bhasin, What started off with two or three people has grown to 17-18 people now. We now have four clear verticals in that. Then we hired the creative head of Webchutney, Sudarshan Sudevan, and in the coming months you will see a number of big international websites which are being developed by Isobar. And the third area is mobile. We have just seeded it and the opportunity there is big. And then there is social media. Its small now but we think the potential is big.

Carat Fresh Integrateds inclusion under the Aegis umbrella followed a different route. When I was in Lintas, Debasish Das was in Linterland (the rural marketing division of Lintas) and he left and set up his own company called Fresh. I am a big believer that activation and below the line is going to be huge in india. Because its all about direct contact with the consumer. Ultimately when you get into tier II, III towns, its all about that, said Bhasin. So, when I realised this huge opportunity in the activation space, we absorbed the Fresh team in Aegis. It wasnt an acquisition. They had their own set of clients and now they are pitching for more. They also do part of activation for Nokia and handle Air Asia. They are a complete division of Carat and 100% owned by Carat.

The latest division to come into existence in India has been Vizeum. Vizeum is a very exciting brand because it looks upon media in a very different way, where the consumer insights and motivations are the starting points rather than the TRPs (television rating points). And its a little more creative, said Bhasin. We started this towards the end of last year. And that has been spectacular because very soon it won the Luxor business in Delhi. And the real icing on the cake was the Essar business. And it has been a good start. I think in five months we have got five businesses.

Vizeum is headed by another veteran in the media buying space S. Yesudas. It is the second media agency of Aegis which has a creative bent of mind.

Clients, too, have appreciated Vizeums work. Said MK Dhir, chairman and managing director of Dhir Global, one of the clients of Vizeum, said, We were in the process of identifying a brand custodian for Giovani, and Vizeum was referred to us by media partners. After meeting the Vizeum team, we had no doubt as to why the media partners thought Vizeum would perfectly fit our expectation of a brand custodian. Their thinking is fresh, their experience is deep and their passion is immense.

Industry watchers say that Aegis Medias Asia Pacific business currently accounts for nearly 20% of its global revenues. This is expected to go up to at least 25% of global earnings in the next three to five years. Aegis India is also expected to account for 10-20% of the companys Asia Pacific revenues in the next 3 to 5 years. As of now, China is the largest revenue earner in the Asia Pacific region, accounting for nearly 50% of the annual income in the region.

However, the challenges are not yet over. Today we are not as big as we want to be and going forward size will be a challenge, said Carats Iyer. For instance, when Nokia had realigned its 300 million pound global media account in June 2009, Carat had bagged the account globally except for the India market. In India the account is handled by GroupMs media arm Maxus. But this has not deterred the Carat team here. Said Iyer, I cannot comment on whether Nokia will move to Carat or not. That is the clients decision. But I am confident that if we get the account I am equipped to meet the brand needs. Bhasin is optimistic about the various opportunities that await Aegis in India. Its hard to say in percentage terms which one of these businesses is fastest growing. All of them have high growth rates because they are starting from zero, said Bhasin. However, going forward I see outdoor and digital as very big growth areas generally in the industry and specifically for us because we are in near leadership position. I think the whole activation area will grow well but its going to be a long term business.

Though he agrees that the spectrum of offerings is complete in the broad sense, Bhasin would like a larger search business for Aegis India. We are really interested in the digital space because a number of interesting developments are happening there. We think search will become very big though India itself is not a big search market. Internationally we have something called Iprospect which is into search and we hope to bring that in, said Bhasin. And it will come in less than two years, he promises.