Kumar, who will soon be completing three years at the helm of GroupM South Asia, talks about the changing media and advertising landscape and its implications for the industry
GroupM South Asia CEO Prasanth Kumar believes that the digital transformation that is currently underway is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for media agencies to understand consumers and come up with tailored solutions for clients. Kumar, who will soon be completing three years at the helm of GroupM South Asia, spoke to exchange4media about the changing media and advertising landscape and its implications for the industry.
What kind of shifts has the pandemic brought about in the media agency business?
The digital space got more evolved due to the pandemic. Areas like e-commerce, influencer marketing, and social platforms witnessed major acceleration. From a consumer perspective, insights into new consumer habits became critical. Today, our ability to learn more about consumers from different sources has become a lot more interesting. Our entire focus was on applying all these learnings to marketing. We have come up with new solutions for clients. A lot of work happened on building capability and getting more talent. What also became critical was working closely with clients by understanding their business and providing them with the right solutions.
How has the client-agency relationship evolved in the last two years?
With all these changes and evolution, it is important to understand how the client ecosystem has changed. The focus of D2C platforms and the acceleration of commerce from a client’s perspective became very critical. The ability to integrate and come up with integrated solutions playing from content, communications, etc back to targeting consumers became significant.
There is a lot more accountability from both sides to understand the consumers and then apply those learnings back to creating marketing solutions. For us, it has been a fantastic journey in all of this because we were very much involved in understanding and learning the business evolution from clients’ perspectives. It also gave us the opportunity to upgrade ourselves and apply that back to the clients' business and learn from it.
Culturally, coping with so many changes and being adaptive was a big watch out for all of us. Our team did well in adapting to those changes. We were also supported by clients’ enthusiasm and encouragement.
Have the expectations of clients from their media agency partners changed in recent years?
With the change in the media landscape, the tasks are also getting evolved. The ability to shape the future becomes accountability for us. Being proactive in leading clients became critical. Data tech also became a critical aspect as a lot of new-age players are entering the old-age categories and old-age categories are playing into new sub-categories.
Innovation and how radically we are able to come up with solutions for clients have also become very important. In all of this, the ability to be proactive assumed greater significance. Coming up with predictive insights based on all the data knowledge also helps. That’s how things accelerated from a client’s perspective. I must also point out that most of the clients got more involved which gave us an opportunity to do much better.
Has media planning become much more complex with the emergence of digital?
Media planning has become more exciting, thanks to digital, due to the insights that we have today. We have a lot more opportunities today. Insights from multiple sources have allowed us to come up with solutions that are more radical. That excitement is giving us the encouragement to come up with marketing solutions for our clients. Ability to come up with solutions and to think deeper has got expanded. We are in a very exciting phase and these things don’t come very often. There are lots of opportunities in the areas of data, tech, and content.
So, I won’t say that it is complex because digital has challenged media planners in a very positive way to do different things.
What kind of capability have you built in the last two years in the wake of digital acceleration?
It’s a continuous effort. We are fortunate to have a very large team across different brands and practices. A lot of emphases was put on learning and development and having expertise in platforms. Fundamental basic learning is not enough as there are multiple platforms in digital across search, e-commerce, social, and OTT platforms. We need expertise in different platforms. We collaborated with platforms and partners besides having our own upskilling aspects.
In the last two years, we have built a 1000-member team and an offshore hub has been activated from India. That’s again a great story for us. If you look at it from a WPP perspective, that’s even bigger. We have more than 4,000 to 4500 employees on hubs which we do for offshore clients. This is a new capability that we have built.
So, learning and development is one area, learning together as a community is one area, working with partners, and leveraging them to get each platform's expertise in one area, and business understanding is another area. We also widened our offerings. Our e-commerce solutions became deeper and more scalable. In the content space, we did some fantastic work in influencer marketing. Though we did not have too many sports events, the sports division got consolidated and strengthened since we had the Indian Premier League (IPL).
Given the digital onslaught, what do you think is the future of traditional media?
In the Indian context, there are a lot of opportunities for everyone to co-exist. What also happened was that the pandemic broadened channels for everybody. For media platforms, content is the biggest aspect that plays although the format in which the content goes is how the media gets decided.
As per our report, all mediums are growing. We work with every single media partner for coming up with the best possible solutions for clients.
One of the things we see on TV is the entire Connected TV piece which is growing. Every broadcaster today has an OTT platform. It’s a great area to watch out for.
Print today has great opportunities because they have fantastic content being played on a daily basis. There again, how they are leveraging all their assets and growing that into multiple formats needs to be looked at. There are innovations in the existing formats also which are not about the volume of pages but it’s about representing and creating great attractive pieces for consumers. The digital platforms of print publishers are also gaining ground.
Likewise, internet radio is a fantastic opportunity for radio players. On Out of Home (OOH), there is Digital OOH (DOOH) which is coming as a great solution. Digital should not be looked at in isolation, it is becoming an opportunity for every single space.
Going forward, what are the key priorities for GroupM as an agency?
Priorities for us are how are we getting prepared for the future. For us, everything starts with the people because we are a people’s business. When I say getting ready for the future, the first question that hits your mind is are your people ready for it?
Therefore, capability building, helping people to play in the relevant space, and encouraging them to do different things are critical. We are also focusing on data and tech, particularly in areas like commerce, addressable content, and performance. There again, we are doing a lot of work not only in the area of people but also in the area of tools and products so that we can come up with unique solutions for our clients.
Another key area for us is how to lead our clients in this transformation. We have clients who are running large legacy businesses. Then there are clients who are just new and there are clients in between. We have a great team of experts in each of these areas. Our goal is to bring the best possible solution to our clients.