‘Half of our business wins are integrated mandates’
In 2018, WPP-owned Grey Group acquired a majority stake in social and digital marketing agency Autumn Worldwide. In 2020, Anusha Shetty, co-founder of Autumn Worldwide, was appointed the chairperson and CEO of the group in India. She speaks to Venkata Susmita Biswas about infusing digital capabilities into a legacy agency, recovery of the advertising business, and more.
What kind of expertise has Autumn Worldwide brought to Grey?
The power of brand building and thinking for brands had been held by mainline agencies. When the whole world began to go digital, it was independent digital agencies that accelerated learning and creating knowledge, and therefore created value for clients. It is a strategic move for mainline agencies to acquire digital specialist agencies, because the consumer has gone digital.
Therefore, there was no reason for agencies who support brands that target this consumer, who had converged from across mediums, to be fragmented anymore. If brands really need to benefit from agencies, they need a single agency that understands all media touchpoints. Further, a whole new set of media options have opened for brands. Content manifests very differently on these. The specialisations and skills about how content works in the digital world came faster to the independent digital firms than mainline agencies. We are adding competencies in data and insights, e-commerce, and technology-related products and solutions.
Being a legacy ad agency, how did you go about bringing a young digital agency into the fold?
The first step was to acquire the digital specialisation; following that, we worked as two separate P&Ls for two years. In those two years, we tested a few models. In January, 2020, we kicked off an agency that thinks like a mainline agency and executes like a digital agency.
The vision is not about building all kinds of capabilities and having multiple teams working with clients. We are instead looking at creating professionals who understand multiple media touchpoints, who will be part of a single team that will deliver these integrated solutions. For example, one planning, creative or client servicing executive can handle both the landscapes. We tested the integrated model models on a few clients like Raymond to identify areas we need to work on and strengthen.
I believe that is the future, as this is when clients will genuinely get complete value from an agency. We have bagged a lot of integrated accounts, and this number is growing steadily. In the last one-and-a-half years, about 50% of our new business wins have been integrated mandates.
Did the preference for project-based work get accelerated during the pandemic?
In the past year, we saw a lot of project-based work. Brands were cutting back on marketing spends, but also realised that they needed to continue to communicate with their consumers. A lot of clients who did not want to commit to a retainer but had a sizable budget for a project went ahead with projects, especially during the festive season. A healthy number of clients have also revisited their association with us and renewed their retainers. Around 80% of our clients are on a retainer-basis. New-age brands that are well-funded are looking for long-term associations to have consistent communication, whereas we are getting projects for product launches, or any new initiatives that brands wish to promote. Any work where a hypothesis needs to be tested is where we are seeing short-term work.
Is the quantum of work back to pre-Covid levels? When do you estimate a full recovery to happen?
The advertising business began to recover during the 2020 festive period, before dropping in the initial months of 2021. We are witnessing a rise in business for the festive season this year. In fact, we have already registered business growth in 2021 over 2020. As we head into 2022, I do not expect a huge fluctuation in business; the revival of our business will be consistent. However, it may not hit 2019 levels quickly.
What has the Grey-AKQA merger meant for the agency business in India?
AKQA is a tech powerhouse supporting clients in every region of the world including India. The merger with Autumn Worldwide has already made Grey Group gain a lot of strength in technology-based solutions. AKQA makes us that much more powerful in tech capabilities.