Within three months of being appointed the CEO of Dentsu Webchutney, Gautam Reghunath is in the hot seat, managing the digital marketing mandates of brands that have been severely hit by the pandemic. He speaks to Venkata Susmita Biswas about the overnight change in communication strategies to address the need of the hour, the impact on digital advertising, and more. Edited excerpts:
What aspects of the business have you had to rethink since the lockdown?
There is no playbook for decision-making in times like these. We have several long-term clients who are going through a tough time changing the direction of their services and offerings overnight, in view of the coronavirus outbreak. Therefore, we have primarily had to rethink how we adapt to the sudden but necessary change in the needs of our clients.
Your clients Flipkart, Swiggy and Uber have taken a big hit. How have you steered the communication for these clients?
Indeed, Flipkart, Swiggy and Uber are three clients who have had to pivot in response to the need of the hour. For instance, Swiggy’s primary business has been delivery of food, but it is now equally focused on delivering essential products, something it has never done before at this scale across India. In addition to adapting to this change, we had to initially focus on communicating with delivery partners for the brand. The same goes for Flipkart which is also delivering essentials now. In the case of Uber, which has been off the road for a while, the priority has been to look after their driver partners. Therefore, most of our effort for Uber was to achieve that objective.
What has been your advice to brands wanting to continue advertising during the lockdown?
The general advice to brands that want to be active on social media has been that ‘unless you have something useful and constructive to say, it is best not to say anything’. People will remember brands for their acts of goodness in times of crises, particularly if brands are not being opportunistic. People are hyper-aware about the behaviour of brands; so, companies must be careful, as a misstep could be costly.
What has been the impact on digital marketing in terms of ad rates?
An individual’s immediate response to an event like this is to be more considerate and thoughtful before spending, and the same applies to brands and companies, too. In fact, there has never been a better time to advertise on digital platforms. We have noticed that customer acquisition costs are down by 20%, and in some categories by 40%, as the ad rates are a function of demand. We are seeing that there has been a marginal increase in the number of brands advertising online now. As the economy opens up eventually, we will see a revival in ad spends, especially from e-commerce brands.
Do you think this disruption will strain client-agency relationships further?
Right now, with clients being impacted by the global pandemic, we are going to see a lot more consideration being given to advertising spends. From that perspective, it is very much dependent on the agency to adapt to the requirement. I am confident that if an agency has people who are nimble and agile to respond to changing requirements, there should be no problem.
In terms of agency models, 20th century systems cannot deal with 21st century realities. However, I do not think the agency business alone is an area of concern. Any business that is perceived to not produce value for clients will become irrelevant. In our industry, where aspects like distribution, media productivity and efficiency are increasingly getting commoditised, there is hardly any differentiation. So, we must maintain our focus on creativity, which is a truly scarce resource.
As the lockdown eases, what do clients wish to tackle first?
Clients are preparing for the time when the lockdown opens. A lot of aspects in their businesses have been reset. For instance, consumer behaviour would have changed in these two months of lockdown. Brands are trying to study such changes and address those when the lockdown eases out into normalcy.
*Please note that the story has been updated