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Ad agencies can share learning, harness synergies: Shashi Sinha

Viveat Susan Pinto/Mumbai 18 Nov 12 | 12:17 AM

Shashi Sinha took charge as chief executive of Mediabrands, the media arm of IPG, the world’s fourth-largest advertising network, in India a few weeks earlier. He would oversee Lodestar UM and Lintas Media Group (LMG) operations. In an interview with Viveat Susan Pinto, Sinha talks about how he plans to position Mediabrands in the country. Edited excerpts:

You are known to act with speed. How would you deal with LMG, considering Lynn de Souza had recently quit as the company’s chairman?
The first thing I did after my appointment was spend time at the Delhi office of Initiative, one of the primary agencies under LMG. I met a few clients and also spent some time with the team there. I tried to assuage their fears, since they had many questions after Lynn’s decision to move on. She was associated with Initiative for long. I also held a meeting of the Initiative team in Mumbai and attempted to answer their questions. At this stage, my priority is strengthening the Initiative team, working closely with all its members, including the senior staff, and helping them align themselves with the philosophy with which I propose to drive Mediabrands.

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Would this be easy, given Initiative has lost quite a few employees in recent months?
Initiative has various strong points. It is a brand with a strong legacy and good entrenched people, who are managing their clients well. In other words, client leaders at Initiative are good. However, I see two gaps. First, the “talkability" isn’t there — they haven’t spoken much about themselves in the market, for whatever reasons. This has repercussions. Second, while I don’t say their strategy is weak, I do see some gaps in their ability to address client needs. Communications planning is an area they need to focus on. I propose to bridge this gap by getting some Lodestar team members to work closely with them or by hiring talent from outside. Also, the agencies can share learning and harness synergies. For instance, we can set up centres of excellence, in which team members from both agencies would work together.

Like Lodestar, Initiative has a good bunch of clients. How did they respond to your idea of Lodestar and Initiative members working together?
They were surprised when I proposed the communications planning idea, a strategic one, in addition to those on media planning and buying. But they appreciated the idea. So far, communications planning was something the advertising agency would do, not the media agency. But in the last few years, some media agencies have taken the lead in driving communication plans for clients. Advertisers are looking for strategic work with a core idea at its heart. It doesn’t matter whether this comes from the media or an ad agency. I broached the subject of communications planning first with Sony Entertainment Television, an Initiative client. It liked the idea.

Where do you see Mediabrands in three to four years? Would you try and narrow the gap with GroupM, the leader in the media agency space in the country?
At the moment, my priority is to get going. I have a 90- to 120-day plan in place to win the trust of people internally. This would be followed by winning the trust of clients and later, global trust. After that, I would look at developing value-added services such as customer relationship management, analytics and digital and branded content. So, when a client approaches us, we would have everything at our disposal — from communications planning, hardcore media buying and media planning to value-added services. This bouquet of offerings should help us hold our ground in a fragmented media environment. GroupM is large, but I certainly feel there is an alternate position to GroupM.

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