Clients are looking to work with fewer partners: Tarun Rai, Chairman and Group CEO, South Asia, Wunderman Thompson

Published: August 16, 2019 12:14:22 AM

With the merger we had set out to create a new agency breed — a creative, data and technology agency that can offer genuine end-to-end solutions to our clients.

Tarun Rai, Chairman & Group CEO, South Asia, Wunderman ThompsonTarun Rai, Chairman & Group CEO, South Asia, Wunderman Thompson

By Venkata Susmita Biswas

WPP’s CEO Mark Read’s “radical evolution” plan that sought to streamline agencies under the holding company saw the world’s oldest agency, JWT, merge with digital agency Wunderman late last year, to form Wunderman Thompson. Tarun Rai speaks to Venkata Susmita Biswas about the fragmented media landscape, the trend of irresponsible pitching, and more.

How has your India set-up changed post the merger?
With the merger we had set out to create a new agency breed — a creative, data and technology agency that can offer genuine end-to-end solutions to our clients. Clients are spending a lot of their marketing budgets directly with platforms and content creators, and not through the agency. With Wunderman Thompson (WT), the capabilities on offer are through specialists who are experts in their fields. This allows for a truly ‘integrated’ solution. Therefore, we now have the ability to work more extensively with our clients. We can open up new revenue streams and get a larger share of our clients’ marcom spends, rather than just the advertising and communication spends.

As an industry, we are going through a phase of value erosion. But with WT, I expect better value recognition and appreciation.
How are you upskilling existing talent?
We first took stock of our existing capabilities through an online survey of all client-facing employees. We then used the findings to identify, prioritise, customise and create learning and development capsules for the region.

We are now working on running a Train the Trainer (T3) programme to equip the internal bank of subject matter experts with programme facilitation skills. We launched Wunderman Thompson Edge — a series of programmes that will upgrade their skills to stay relevant and ahead of the curve. As part of this initiative, around 700 client-facing employees across the group have gone through the Brand Custodian Program, which was specially curated by Facebook for WT employees in India.

Is it still the might of Thompson over Wunderman that wins clients in India? How big is the demand for an agency offering integrated solutions?
Thompson is certainly a more familiar name in South Asia than Wunderman. However, we have aggressively communicated what the new company, Wunderman Thompson, is all about, and most marketers are aware of this. We have approached clients with Wunderman’s capabilities in about 50-60% of our pitches, in cases when the client has been open to having an end-to-end solution. We work with close to 1,000 clients, all of which are on different stages of their digital transformation journey. When we talk to them about the capabilities that WT brings, they are keen on having an integrated solution under one agency umbrella.

Agencies are now competing against digital platforms, consultancies, content studios as well as film studios. What does the marketer want in this fragmented ecosystem?
With disruption in every sphere of marketing, the CMO has his hands full. With so many available platforms to communicate to consumers, the landscape is really cluttered. Coupled with this fact is the plethora of partners that have mushroomed everywhere, offering all kinds of ‘expertise’ and niche solutions. Increasingly, we find that clients are now looking to work with fewer partners — those that can help them navigate through the assortment of communication platforms.

Do marketers see agencies as respectable peers or just vendors?
It’s fair to say that the relationship agencies had with clients three decades ago has changed. In those days, the agency was the single window to all the communication needs of a client; including media buying. Clients are now dealing with so many partners; it would be naïve to hope for the same relationship. However, most of our clients have an excellent understanding of the value we bring to their businesses. For some, the relationship with the agency is more transactional. These are mostly new companies that are in a hurry to build valuations and do not, yet, differentiate between clever videos that give them a million likes and consistent communication that builds brands.

The incidence of pitches has been on the rise. As an agency, how do you tackle this?
The issue of irresponsible pitching has been around for many years. Yes, of late, marketers have become more fickle and the number of pitches has increased significantly. I am encouraging our people to do two things: first, pitch for new business from our existing clients; and second, while pitching for new clients, be very judicious. Learn to say no to those that appear to be sham pitches.

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