Interview: Mithila Saraf, CEO, Famous Innovations

‘From being anti-craft to being high-quality’

"I believe digital contributes more to business than creativity"
"I believe digital contributes more to business than creativity"

Six-time winner of South Asia Independent Agency of the Year, Famous Innovations, has ambitious plans for 2023. Aggressively pursuing new business, though, is not part of the agenda. In an interview to Akanksha Nagar, CEO Mithila Saraf speaks about the steps the agency has taken to achieve its target of 60% growth over the last fiscal. Drawing attention to what she calls “visual pollution” in the industry posed by burgeoning online content, she insists the digital platform will see a return to quality from quantity sooner than later. Edited excerpts:

Last year was good for the agency in terms of new client acquisition (nine in all). Are we going to see the same aggression in 2023?
Advertising is going to become a lot more about taking business accountability because today content has become democratic and anybody can make an ad sitting at home. Therefore, the value of ads, per se, is going down. Marketers have started to look for agencies that bring something to the table that’s beyond advertising. What that means is that they may have a lower number of clients, but it’s about high-value, quality relationships. So we are not aggressively chasing new business; we want to make sure that our relationships with clients go from being advertising and marketing relationships to business relationships—that’s our goal this year.

What you are saying is clients now have different expectations from agencies and advertising?
Nowadays, clients are kind of treating agencies like they’re all the same and more like vendors. Every project is a pitch, and every pitch will have multiple agencies; they choose whichever script they like and they produce that—that’s a very transactional way of doing business. That trend in the industry — of aggressive and frequent pitching or pitching for essentially one project — doesn’t make any sense to us. Sometimes they’re very high-profile brands and the temptation is high, but as far as possible, we feel that that model does not work for us.

In that case, does creativity also have a new language or definition?
I believe digital contributes more to business than creativity. Today every client is surviving via e-commerce or via performance marketing or SEO. When you talk about creativity, there’s only that much you can do. It is all about tapping into the right insight and telling the right story.
Digital is a new medium to tell that story, you might have some innovative tools to tell that story but the story fundamentally doesn’t change. Digital opens up new avenues that require a deeper dive into mechanics, into numbers, and into understanding how consumer behaviour works on these platforms and arriving at a more solution-based approach.

In an era of global networks, how has your decision to remain independent impacted growth?
Being an independent agency, all our senior leadership are partners and owners of the agency. So, there’s a lot of personal skin in the game; every client we have or every relationship and piece of work we do really matters because our own next business depends on it. What also worked for us is keeping the focus on the work; we believe in honest, sincere work.
Also, as an agency, there is an overall push on investing in high-quality, diverse talent across all the pillars. What we are also seeing is that a lot of good talent from network agencies wants to move to independent agencies since the latter gives you a lot more autonomy, a lot more sense of independence, control, and freedom to do what you want to do.

Can you list 3 of the most significant changes that will affect your community in 2023?
First, content has become so democratic today that we’re going to see a swing back toward quality. We have been at a place where the quality of content didn’t matter and kept churning out content for just being visible, which has led to absolute visual pollution. So, we are going to see a shift again in content where quality starts to matter again. There will be a comeback of craft and quality because digital has always been anti-craft and has always been anti-quality in the name of authenticity per se. Second, agencies will have to become business partners, they can’t just make ads anymore. Everybody’s making ads today so agencies that will be able to pivot will play a larger role. Lastly, network agencies are struggling big time, so I think there is room in India and across the world for a larger play of independent agencies. In India, some of the best work is coming from independent agencies and that spirit is kind of getting fuelled and pushed by the larger entrepreneurial wave that’s happening across the country.

How is the year ahead looking for Famous Innovations in particular?
At present, we are about 200 people in Mumbai, Bangalore, and Delhi, and just about putting together our setup in Dubai too. This fiscal has been very good, we are seeing at least 60-70% growth and are hoping to close at our highest-ever revenue with a significant jump from last year. Also, we are really getting into how technology and digital can contribute to our business; 50%-60% of our business is already digital now. We also do have some plans for acquisition on the tech side.
In the last year, specifically, one of our biggest gains has been the continued focus on a hybrid media-agnostic approach. By developing ideas that work across multiple platforms and media types, we have been able to create campaigns that are truly impactful and engaging, regardless of how they are consumed. Looking ahead to 2023, I believe there are several growth enablers that will help us build on our success including a continued focus on innovation and creativity, and data-driven insights.

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First published on: 29-03-2023 at 10:21 IST