Interview: Aditya Kanthy, MD & CEO, DDB Mudra Group

‘You realise the value of long-term partnerships when chips are down’

Aditya Kanthy, explains how purpose-led work is connected with business outcomes
Aditya Kanthy, explains how purpose-led work is connected with business outcomes

DDB Mudra, Omnicom’s integrated agency and No 5 in the Afaqs list of Top 50 Marketing Agencies published this month, has grabbed a bunch of star clients in recent months such as Meta, Flipkart and Raymond. Aditya Kanthy, the agency’s CEO & MD, explains to Christina Moniz how purpose-led work is connected with business outcomes.

Edited excerpts:

DDB Mudra has grown 26% to reach Rs 242 crore in revenue last year. What were the big growth drivers for the agency?

We have had a good, double-digit growth for two years running, which was on the back of a difficult 2020. We were fortunate we had the scale to offset some of the pandemic setbacks with upsides in categories that benefited from the adoption of technology. These include OTT, e-commerce and start-up firms, which seized some of the shifts in consumer behaviour. Our growth is also enabled by our diverse portfolio of brands. We have recorded growth in the past year across all our practices in media, digital, design, advertising and branding.

I am especially excited about some of the work we have done under an initiative that we call ‘DDB For Good’, in areas like menstrual hygiene, which has gathered support in the past year across India and the US from institutions like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Miss Universe and Global Citizen. DDB For Good brings a new dimension to brand building and marketing. We are proud of the work we have done in areas of diversity and inclusion.

How much of your growth is being driven by new business and how much is from existing accounts?

Some of the account wins across creative, media and digital in the last 12-15 months are Flipkart, Raymond, Meta, Parle Platina, OnePlus, MARS Wrigley and TATA Cliq, among many others. These have added an interesting dimension to the work we have been able to do, though the work we have done on our existing clients is by no means less exciting. We have strengthened our relationship with brands like McDonald’s, Stayfree, TTK Prestige, Diageo and Royal Enfield, some of which we have worked with for over a decade.

While we are focussed on winning new businesses, we are equally — if not more — committed to our work with existing clients. Our proudest achievements are our long-term partnerships with our clients. These don’t always make headlines but are arguably much more important in terms of contribution to business. These relationships help us attract good talent, extract a premium and endure through difficult times.

During the pandemic, there was a disproportionate effort in winning new business, which also mirrored what was happening in the economy with the emergence of new categories and brands. So new business contribution that year was exceptionally high, over 30%. Most years however, our business is a healthy mix with around 15-20% revenue contribution from new business.

How big a concern is the slowing down of business from start-up advertisers?

It is at times like these that you realise the value of long-term partnerships. I believe that good, solid brands always endure. Our vast portfolio of brands allows us to overcome some of the setbacks that are category-specific, much like what happened during the pandemic years, when others stopped advertising.

DDB announced its new positioning a couple of years ago: ‘Unexpected works’. How does that work?

DDB’s founder, Bill Bernbach, has been an advocate of holding creativity accountable for business results. ‘Unexpected works’ is an expression of that. It represents commitment to using creativity responsibly, to drive brand, business and societal outcomes.

At various points in a company’s history, there is a need to take a step back and ask yourself fundamental questions about what we do and why, and address the question of being relevant with integrity. Once you do that, it is important to express it in a way that is clear and also inspiring for everyone in the company. That’s what the new positioning move was really about.

As an agency that has won numerous global awards, how do you balance purpose-led creative work and work that is focussed on business outcomes?

It is not difficult because I don’t believe these are two different things. Brands have an emotional core and operate in the context of culture. If you are true to that, then these two things are not a contradiction at all. Our best work is living proof of that. On Stayfree, when we put out brave and provocative work like Project Free Period, it is consistent with the brand’s endeavour to normalise conversations about menstruation. It is a great example of a brand that over time is able to hold work that reflects its purpose and activates its role through the product. Another example is McDonald’s ‘EatQual’ campaign, which is one of the brand’s most powerful pieces of work on inclusion, yet is consistent with a brand that is for everyone.

So when done well and with integrity, both should sit comfortably with each other. In places where that doesn’t happen, the work is usually indulgent and done for the wrong reasons.

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First published on: 17-05-2023 at 09:51 IST