The agency is the latest one to build digital capabilities
Interpublic Group’s MullenLowe Lintas is the latest legacy agency network to start building digital capabilities, an area network agencies did not have expertise in earlier. Virat Tandon talks to Venkata Susmita Biswas about the need to offer hyper-bundled advertising solutions to clients, the dissolution of PointNine Lintas, the faulty pitch process, and more.
Why was PointNine Lintas merged with Lowe Lintas within two years of being set up?
PointNine Lintas was an experiment on creating hyper-bundling or omnichannel marketing solutions. It is difficult to fund, invest and grow an omnichannel agency with no starting client base at all. Therefore, we set up PointNine to learn how to bring a variety of skills together and then imported those learnings into Lowe Lintas. With the merger, we brought digital skills into the mainline offering. We now have four pillars in the business unit: account management, planning, creative and digital.
Our teams are generating data-led insights and have started building tools to develop insights from data. All these initiatives have resulted in our digital revenue going up by 30%. While the growth is not a big base, we are getting more digital work now.
Given that many other legacy agencies, too, are merging their younger digital agencies with traditional creative agencies, is consolidation of offerings the norm today?
One of the learnings from our experiment with PointNine Lintas was that you need to have unified teams by breaking down silos and profit-and-loss walls. For this, we have brokered relationships across teams and given recognition where it is due to verticals like digital.
We moved into our new premises in Mumbai where the entire MullenLowe Lintas Group sits together. Developing a brief for hyper bundling requires us to create the customer journey, and not just write traditional campaigns briefs. Co-location improves collaboration across teams, and we are able to develop campaigns that address different stages of the customer journey.
Who does an agency need today — a generalist or a specialist? How are you upskilling your staff?
We need more people from new specialisations, but we can’t hire them all. We are collaborating with external specialists across technology giants, influencer agencies, etc.
That aside, we have made massive investments into training our team in 2019. We kicked off an internal digital training initiative called DNA. We are also working with Google and Facebook who are training our employees on using their platforms.
In the face of digital growth, are traditional agencies fighting obsolescence?
It is not a case of obsolescence. Over the last five years, the creative agency wasn’t giving end-to-end solutions. The client was forced to seek out other partners outside the mainline agency. Clients say the creative product is fractured. And they are looking to their main agency to fix it, rather than the digital agency. That’s how the experiment of PointNine Lintas began. We are two years into the journey and there is more to do.
Aren’t agencies losing influence on clients as most choose to work on a project basis?
We, as an agency, still hold a lot of influence with our large clients. That said, ‘projectitis’ has crept into the industry. This is because clients don’t want to commit to a retainer.
Working on a project basis means clients call for pitches often. This leads to a waste of time and energy for both the agency and the client. Agencies spend nearly 50% of the pitch value on preparing for the pitch. We spend money to outsource research and collect data, etc. Plus, if the top management or middle management is involved, we are spending time cost. It is wasteful if half of the cost of business is spent on acquiring the business. If the client really wants to stretch it, they can call three agencies and also pay us a pitch fee, so that we know they are serious about it.
How do you build a culture of charging pitch fees in the industry?
We have to come to some kind of agreement. It does not have to be a very hard agreement, but people have to be on the same wavelength, so that it can be enabled by an industry body. Long back, there was some conversation on charging pitch fee, but it never went anywhere. Things are different today, we have a different set of leaders who can compete and, yet, be collaborative.