Aditya Kanthy, CEO and MD, DDB Mudra Group, was handed the title of CEO of the newly-created Omnicom Advertising Services, giving him the responsibility of around 1,000 people working across BBDO, DDB Mudra and TBWA\.
A couple of days after the announcement was made, we caught up with Kanthy to learn how he plans to approach his new role, whether there will be a replacement CEO and MD for DDB Mudra Group, the reaction of the top management across the agencies, and more...
What’s the thinking behind this launch?
The thinking driving it is that by taking an Omnicom-level view of the three creative agency brands and being able to coordinate our efforts across the rest of Omnicom (within India and the rest of the world), we will make the three creative agencies stronger. We will also make Omnicom in India as a group stronger and will be able to deliver on India’s potential in a fuller and more meaningful way.
This seems to be the first market it has been launched in. What was the need to launch this in India?
During the last few earning calls, John Wren (chief executive officer, Omnicom Group) has publicly stated the seriousness with which Omnicom is doubling down on India for a host of capabilities and their global delivery model.
We are also setting up campuses in multiple cities. We have 6,000 people in India as a group right now and there’s a stated ambition to grow this disproportionately.
As a holding company, Omnicom has operated like this in other countries too, but there’s no formal structure like this. In India, it was deemed to be of strategic value in the market now and in the future.
Will we be seeing more markets following this formal route?
The evidence of how we have operated in multiple markets suggests more coordinated, coherent efforts as Omnicom . Whether or not it will form an entity of this nature is something only time will tell. It’s not formally discussed with me yet.
Who takes over your role at DDB or are you going to be continuing with that?
At this stage what we are clear about is that there’s a formation of an entity called Omnicom Advertising Services which I will run. What we are very clear about is that each of the three agency brands will continue to operate independently. Each of them will continue to be distinct.
We have a deep pool of talent in each of these agencies. At this point, I’m running it and will continue to run it (DDB Mudra).
We don’t want to bring operational complexity to this model. It’s about clients, talent and individual agency brands. The purpose of this entity is to serve those needs. The reporting is designed to help that. As we start to put this into an operating model, including relationships with OMG, and the support that we need for the global delivery of that journey and vision, if investments need to be made, we will. The important thing now is to be clear about what the reason for this is and the focus on the individual agency brands is very clear.
I’ve worked at Omnicom for 20 years and one thing I’ve always been proud of is our creative reputation. We are well known across the world for it and it’s true for India too. All three agency brands are world-class and if you look at the work produced out of the three agencies in India in the last five years, it holds that truth.
What would be the one differentiation each of the agencies has?
Each of them has a distinct culture and a way of going about doing things. Part of it is shaped by the global agency brand and its beliefs, history, legacy and roots which have to be protected and nourished, part of it is shaped by the local market environment, and part of it is shaped by the local talent.
We are lucky that on all three fronts, we have very strong conditions. At Cannes this year, we performed well globally which means that we’re in good health because some of the best work is coming from DDB, BBDO and TBWA\.
In India, we have exceptional talent across the three agencies too and the opportunity in India is only getting bigger and better with each passing year to be able to apply creativity and creative thinking to brand and business problems in a way that makes a big difference.
That’s the frame in which we see it. The success hinges on protecting and identifying the distinctive cultures of the three agency brands and that’s what my job is.
Coming to the differentiation, if you look at the way these agencies have operated in India – BBDO’s reputation here has been built on the back of being pioneers in shifting the conversation from ads to acts. Just as digital started to get serious in the country, you saw BBDO take the steps to apply creativity in a way that would spark conversations and live in a digital environment but with good solid insights.
TBWA\ has the sharpest position around disruption and applied that in different ways. When they’re at their best, they live up to that way of operating.
As far as DDB is concerned, from its roots in Mudra to its more recent work that we have done, it has happened in the belief of creativity for great outcomes. We are the inventors of the planning discipline with a great focus on creativity and results and matching those two things and we see that in the kind of clients that have grown with the agency in the last 20-30 years in some cases.
So, they’re three distinct and different creative companies, but all very relevant. In a market where there is so much opportunity and so many types of challenges, well-run creative companies will always be in demand and our focus is on that.
Would you be making any drastic changes to the way either of them operates?
(Long pause) No, I don’t think so. The spirit is to find ways to become better. I’m sure that we can become better in all three and we can do it in a way that the full Omnicom group can help and get better too.
You have to take drastic measures when agencies are in deep trouble when their cultures are awful, or when they’re doing terrible work. We are as far from that type of reality as we can be. These are three beautiful companies that are well-run with wonderful cultures.
Do we need to think about change? Of course, we do. That’s the only reason we can stay relevant in this business and that we will do. Does it have to be drastic? No.
What’s been the reaction from the clients and the other senior leaders from the agencies?
Everyone welcomes change that feels like it’s done for the right reasons and that’s exactly what everyone here feels. There’s an intuitive feeling that our operations will get better with this change. We can bring out a stronger set of capabilities and everyone sees it.
As far as clients are concerned, there will be more material change for some clients and less for others. Depending on their situation and needs, we’ll see what’s best for them. The one thing we know and the one thing clients understand, is that it’s good for them and they can see it. Clients want the best talent, simpler structures, and fewer complexities in the way they operate and relationships too, and this is designed to do that.
There’s always been consistency at Omnicom. Its genesis as a holding group was in service of the great creative companies that were a part of it. That’s the way Omnicom has been successful and continues to be successful. We are very clear about that approach in this market as well. We want to be a powerhouse of creative talent and a family of distinct brilliant creative companies that play as a team when it makes sense and excel as individuals when we need to.