He has been called a serial entrepreneur and compared to Sir Martin Sorrell as he acquires, co-launches and incubates agencies. But Vivek Suchanti, MD, Concept Communication prefers to shun these labels. He humbly prefers to call himself an opportunist looking to fill the ‘need gaps of budding entrepreneurs’ in the advertising world.
Liqvd Asia was the latest ‘opportunity’ he has addressed. Concept Communication acquired majority stake in the digital agency in December 2014.
While one may think acquisitions are a result of immaculate thinking and planning, Suchanti suggests it is all about investing in people instead. He says, “I don’t invest in an agency or organisation. I invest in people. An organisation is because of its people, not the other way around. When you do early stage investing, like we do, Excel charts have very little meaning. Figures can only set a direction and possible targets for a company; they don’t form a vision or win clients.”
On his role in these acquired agencies, he says, “I don’t go for any pitches, or actually meet any of the clients of the partner agencies, but sometimes there are requests for me to meet them.”
Just as he says this, he receives a call from one of his partners to meet with a recently acquired client.
He says, “In the early stages, when we started partnering with boutique agencies, questions about their stability would arise. Quite a natural concern for clients, especially those who look to take on board agencies on a retainership for partnering their brand communication. Fortunately, the very framework of these boutique agencies is built on a direct engagement of senior partners with clients and brands. It didn’t take time for this system to build client confidence and ensure a stickiness to the business. More and more, it is become a case for our public relations business too”
Even as Suchanti and Concept entered the pureplay digital arena with Liqvd Asia, he had his hands in three creative agencies – Enormous, Scarecrow Communications and ITSA Brand Innovations. The three work independently and Suchanti informs that they are free to compete against each other in pitches too.
However, he is actively involved with Concept PR and Concept Communication - the parent business.
He says, “In the PR business, we focus on specialist agencies when we look at acquiring a new set up. In public relations our inherent strengths have been primarily in the financial and corporate businesses. The acquisition of Zzebra, recognised for sports PR, saw it merged with Concept to add to our strengths. More recently, we followed that with the acquisition of iConnect, a brand play agency. In all these acquisitions and mergers our focus has been to bring partners into our fold and add their specialisations to ours while they continue to lead their individual spaces within Concept PR.”
Concept Communication currently employees 700 people across verticals, of which 200 to 250 are on the PR side. According to Suchanti, PR contributes a third to the group’s revenues.
He adds, “While acquisitions are critical to the business model we have designed, being in the service industry it is equally pertinent that we ensure a smooth, quick and healthy integration of the old and new. This once again is not just about merged balance sheets, it’s very much about people.”
Growth and way ahead
Suchanti insists that he and the group would be keen to take the MEDIAplunge as and when opportunity arises, on more opportunities.
On growth within the agencies, he says, “Scarecrow has already made a mark for itself in the country. Enormous, in its early stages still, is making steady progress. We’re looking at a higher rate of growth from them. But in 2015, we will be bullish about our PR business. Challenging capital markets in the past two-three years, have meant the PR business wasn’t growing at the rate at which we would have liked, but now that should change and I expect PR to grow by about 50 to 60 per cent in 2015. We’ll also be looking at more acquisitions in this sector to bring into our fold specialist verticals that we have not yet whetted.”
Healthcare is one of the verticals that Concept is looking at. And Suchanti claims that a deal should be in place during the year. He explains that acquisitions are important but they can’t go on high gear all the time because integration needs to be in place too.
He notes, “It is extremely important for us to ensure that the integration happens correctly. We are extremely particular about that. iConnect was acquired about nine months ago, so we’re putting efforts into integrating that currently. The agencies work in a completely integrated manner and it’s not only about merged balance sheets.”
Suchanti also underlines that since acquiring the PR agencies, the first of which was Zzebra in 2011, there have been zero ‘dropouts’.
While he has his hands in digital, creative and PR agencies, Suchanti maintains that he will never look at acquiring a media agency. He reasons, “We’ve steered clear of the media and events business. This is the business I understand and run, so heading into anything else wouldn’t be right. With the startup agencies we partner, we maintain a zero interference policy. We work with these agencies as a strategic investor and naturally our infrastructure and knowledge of the business helps giving them the initial support. I realised most senior talent wanted to move out of the network agency systems to work in a free environment. So I have ensured none of the agency heads report to anyone, not even me. They hold the position of partners and are excited about developing their individual visions.”
For 2015, his plans are articulated thus: “We closed 2014 with the acquisition of Liqvd Asia – filling the void we were feeling in the digital space. We see a lot of action in 2015. A lot of our partner agencies are in their early stages, so I think it’ll be a great year for Enormous, Liqvd Asia, Scarecrow and ITSA.”
While Suchanti has a stake in three advertising agencies, he also heads one himself - Concept Advertising, where Rachna Roy is the NCD. He declares that there will be healthy announcements made by this agency in 2015. The agency currently works with public sector banks, other PSUs, brands across education and real estate. All the work the agency executes is currently ATL, informs Suchanti.
This prompts us to ask if there could be conflict within Scarecrow, Enormous, ITSA and Concept Advertising. Suchanti rubbishes it. “There is absolutely no conflict of interest between our various agencies. Each set up has an individual creative edge that they bring to the table. They meet and participate in healthy competitive pitches and each one’s victory is a matter of pride for the group. As a group we have never cross-sold, and we don’t intend to cross-sell. We’re not like an international network agency that asks the client to go with its own PR and media agencies. We do have overlapping clients, but they are all wins in regular pitches,” surmises the communication entrepreneur and incubator.
(This appeared the Campaign India issue dated 9 January 2015)