Prasad Sangameshwaran
Sep 11, 2019

For Ashish Bhasin, the sequel becomes bigger than the first part

The career trajectory of Ashish Bhasin, the newly appointed CEO of DAN APAC, shows that it's possible to have a longer and more impactful second innings in advertising

Ashish Bhasin, then and now
Ashish Bhasin, then and now
Unlike life, the advertising business does not give you a second chance. At least, there are many examples that lead you to believe that this is indeed the unsaid truth of the business. 
There are enough and more examples in the Indian context, where ad veterans who spent a large part of their careers in a single agency, fell by the wayside when they decided to script a new beginning in another agency of their choice. Others lost their way after trying a hand as entrepreneurs. It’s even rarer to find an example, where the sequel in one’s career, becomes larger than the first part. 
In June 2008, when Ashish Bhasin, quit the Lowe Lintas Group as the EVP Lowe Worldwide and Asia regional director - integrated marketing, many feared that he would go down the road to obscurity.
When Bhasin later joined the Aegis group, the odds were stacked against him.
After all, he had quit a long and high profile career of 20 years and a month with the Lintas group – a career that also saw him benefit from a windfall, as long-term employees benefitted from the stake sale to the InterPublic Group. (IPG, which till 2007 held a 49 percent stake in Lintas India, bought out the remaining 51 percent in the early part of that year, making the agency a 100 percent IPG subsidiary. As the Indian shareholding was owned by the Lintas Employees Welfare Trust, permanent employees of Lintas agencies like Bhasin, were given some of Indian advertising’s largest-ever payouts, as the trust reportedly disbursed the entire proceeds from the stake sale amongst its employees -- from the receptionist to the chairman.)
In comparison, the operation of Aegis that Bhasin was to take over in India, had just about 50 people. And it was a loss making operation. No one, including Bhasin, would have probably visualised at that juncture, that this career move would go on to pay such rich dividends over a 11-year-period. Over the next five years, Aegis would acquire some size and scale.  
By the time Dentsu was set to merge the operations of Aegis with itself, post the acquisition in 2013, the operation of Aegis India had scaled up to be of a similar size to Dentsu's operations in the country, putting Bhasin in contention for the top job as DAN’s India head. (Dentsu’s India CEO Rohit Ohri had by then relocated to Singapore as the CEO of Dentsu APAC operations -ex Japan.)  
Over the years, with a string of acquisitions under its belt, consisting of creative boutiques, digital hotshops and even looking at areas like event management firms and public relations agencies, DAN in India had built up an impressive arsenal.
  • August 2012 - Taproot Dentsu
  • August 2012 - iProspect
  • May 2013 - Webchutney
  • July, 2014 - Milestone Brandcom
  • January, 2015 – WATConsult
  • October, 2015- Fountainhead MKTG
  • September, 2016 - Perfect Relations Group
  • October, 2016 - Happy Mcgarrybowen
  • December, 2016 – Fractal
  • March, 2017 - Grant Group
  • April, 2017 - SVG Media
  • July, 2017-  Sokrati
Bhasin used this to his advantage to launch a campaign across outdoor media and digital that DAN had become the second largest network in India in 2015. The network's vision was to achieve this by 2017, but it had reportedly crossed the mark in 2015 itself -- a claim that many rivals contest till date. Bhasin dispelled any doubts by challenging industry rivals to bring their respective audited financials to a common table. “I will bring the calculator,” he told The Economic Times.
Big wins like Maruti’s reportedly INR 1000 crore advertising account, further led to some sort of credence to that claim. There were other positive indicators for the group as well. Digital agencies within DAN were contributing to as much as 35 per cent of DAN’s revenues in India, as per internal estimates, when digital accounted for only 12-15 percent of advertising spends in the Indian market. Also, digital as a medium was the fastest in terms of annual growth rates.
Was DAN's success story in India purely because of picking up the right acquisition targets? Bhasin claims that only 50 percent of his network’s growth was fueled by acquisitions. “We are the only group that has managed to execute the one P&L model in its true spirit,” Bhasin told Campaign India, a day after he was given charge of the APAC responsibilities. He adds that the group has also managed to retain the talent post acquisitions and in some cases, promoters have been retained well after the payout.
Will acquisitions play a larger role in his APAC model for growth? "It depends on market to market," is his response.
Has he taken on the global role at a time when networks are facing severe headwinds? “Tough times call for smart management,” Bhasin says.
Campaign India

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