Campaign India Team
Feb 22, 2013

Headliner: ‘I didn’t have the time to pause, rest and reflect’

As DDB Mudra Group completes a year of existence on 1 March 2013; Madhukar Kamath, group CEO and MD talks to Rishi Vora about the new structure, business growth, his vision and more.

Headliner: ‘I didn’t have the time to pause, rest and reflect’

When the erstwhile Mudra group became DDB Mudra Group (an Omnicom company) in the early part of 2012, the group’s chief executive officer  and managing director Madhukar Kamath’s biggest challenge was to realign the group’s business in sync with Omnicom’s global mandate.
So restructuring was on the cards.  A few senior members of the company exited, which subsequently, led to a perception (mostly in the media as Kamath believes) that the agency was going through a rough patch. “I would not deny that there were a few exits which happened during the course of the transition. Can you term that as major churn? I don’t think so,” he asserts.
“There will always be people who do not wish to embrace change, so they’ll move on. Also, the churn happened, primarily in our advertising vertical, in Delhi.  And I wouldn’t call that a setback.”
As against popular perception, Kamath clarifies that the group hired more people than the number of people that exited. “We hired more than 275 people in the group in the past one year,” he informs.

The new structure

Prior to the acquisition, Mudra group had four agencies: branding and communications agency Mudra India, marketing and advertising agency DDB Mudra, integrated engagement and experiential agency Mudra Max and Ignite Mudra.

The new structure has nine distinct businesses: DDB Mudra, DDB Mudra Max which includes media, out of home, retail and experiential; Mudra, which was earlier Ignite Mudra, DDB Health and Lifestyle, Rapp (data driven marketing services agency), Tribal DDB India (interactive and new media) Interbrand (branding and consultancy) , TracyLocke (retail) Gutenberg (pre-media production solutions).

“Today, as we sit and talk at the end of one year, we’re an organisation which has more than 1150 happy employees. We’re present in fifteen cities in India, out of which eight are large offices. We have presence in 37 towns and smaller cities, where we’re physically present, which helps us reach additional 4000 towns and over 1,50,000 villages where we are sometimes called upon to organise ground level activities. Not to mention the various schools and colleges, malls and public areas that you do experiential work in. So it’s a large group today,” he  states.

The year 2012: Two years rolled into one

The name change was made official on 1 March 2012. How was the year for the DDB Mudra Group, considering that it was the first year of being a part of a global network? “The year 2012 was a year where the industry’s growth rate slipped downwards, and it slipped perhaps to one of the lowest quarters we ever had. 2012 was a year when there was political flux, there was social and economic upheaval, there was this so-called policy paralysis, and everything that you’d want to make a year interesting and tough,” he observes. 

He believes that the year 2012 was two years rolled into one as far as DDB Mudra Group is concerned. Explaining the rationale behind that, he says, “When we became an integral part of the Omnicom ecosystem and the DDB Network, and when we look at the experiences, I would say it wasn’t a mixed bag of experiences, rather it was a phenomenal bag of experiences. We saw the best of the times, the worst of times, the toughening of situations, and there were some glorious moments. It was one of those years where I didn’t have the time to pause, rest and reflect.”

Highlight of the group’s journey in 2012, as he points out, is that 1150 people stood together in a scenario that was challenging; where advertising as an industry was slowing down.  “To cope with all that and emerge victorious when the agency was on a transformation agenda was the highpoint. So I’ll like to applaud the 1150 people for the quality of resilience they showed. It is with great satisfaction that I look back on the quality of talent that has come on board to complement the talent which was already there. But, at the same time I do regret the loss of a few good friends. But then, as they say, life is a movie; you got to keep carrying on.”

There are a few people within the group who are entrusted with additional responsibilities. Mandeep Malhotra, for example, who was the head of the out of home business, has now taken on additional responsibilities of retail and experiential.  Venkat Malik, who was earlier running Rapp, now also looks after Tribal DDB’s operations in India.  Saugata Bagchi and Bijoe George took on additional roles at Tribal DDB and Rapp India, where Bagchi handles the entire West and Southern regions while George has taken on Rapp India operations in West and South. George continues to lead the HP business, a key client for Rapp in India. Sameer Mehta, who was the head of Multiplier, is now the business head of TracyLocke.

Rajiv Sabnis has taken on additional responsibility of Ahmedabad. Put together Mumbai and Ahmedabad, Sabnis oversees a large business which employees more than 500 people and forms the largest market in terms of number of people present. “Next comes Delhi, where we have businesses growing in  as advertising, retail, media, out of home, health and lifestyle, Rapp and Tribal DDB verticals – all operating under one roof.” The group’s third largest setup is bengaluru. The staff strength in Kolkata office is about 45 people, but as Kamath informs, it’s a growing market.

While one may argue that the agency saw a big churn in the past one year or so, Kamath clarifies that it was only in the advertising strategic business unit of the group, and only in the Delhi office, where out of 40, 30 are new people.  “The beauty is that we’re very proud of what happened in Delhi. Despite a new head coming in, a new creative team, a new head of planning, new business heads, we had negligible loss of business. Instead, we gained businesses. We’ve strengthened our relations with longstanding clients such as  Dabur, Godrej, TTK Prestige, Dhara, Federal Bank, LIC, Peter England, HPCL, UBI, United Spirits to name a few, We won new businesses such as Bata, Livon, Marico - Set Wet, Jindal group to name a few.” 

As far as the shares of different geographies are concerned (in terms of revenue contribution), Kamath informs that 50 per cent of the business comes from West, 30 per cent from North and the balance comes from South.  “The fastest growing region for the group is undoubtedly Delhi,” informs Kamath.

In financial year 2013-’14, Kamath expects 15 per cent revenue contribution from the businesses won in 2012. “The work that we did in terms of the restructuring, new businesses and new talent that came on board, has allowed us to begin 2013 with not just a big smile, but with great enthusiasm, tremendous confidence and more importantly, energy and momentum.”

Share of traditional advertising versus specialist units put together

Asked if the revenue contribution from non-traditional advertising verticals was more than the traditional advertising business of the group, Kamath responds,” Suffice it to say that the group’s traditional advertising business, excluding health and lifestyle, accounts for 45 per cent of the business. About 45-50 per cent comes from DDB Mudra Max which includes media, out of home, retail and experiential. Out of home is a large business which contributes about 15 per cent to DDB Mudra Max in terms of revenue.”

50 per cent of our group’s business uses more than one vertical, notes Kamath. He further stresses on the importance of a full service agency, where a client can benefit from the agency’s expertise across verticals. “A full service agency is something that is not talked-about these days.  There are global groups who have created separate agencies for specific clients, for instance General Motors or HSBC. The DDB Mudra Group is a full service agency.  Full service in the sense that all constituents of the agency come together for the common goal of a client. We have various clients; some clients deal with us as a full service agency, some  deal with us as out of home plus experiential. Some work with us as advertising plus digital while some have signed contracts for advertising plus pre-media production services. We have more than 100 clients and we can really bank on the diverse capabilities and skillsets within the group to derive at a single solution for a client.”                

Raising the creative bar

One may perhaps argue that DDB Mudra isn’t the hottest agency around when it comes to creative work produced in the country. When questioned on the same, Kamath reassures, “If there is a perception that we aren’t the best at producing creative work, we’d like to take that as a task at hand, saying that what we’ve done is not enough and that we need to raise the bar even higher. ” 

Under Bobby Pawar, the agency did succeed in raising the bar, and the awards tally at Goafest and Emvies is a testimony to that. Agrees Kamath, “Bobby played a key role in leading the raising of the the bar.  And Sonal has taken on from where Bobby’s left.”

He further adds, “Sonal and I are constantly on the search of raising the bar. Are we content? No, we’re not. Are we happy? Not totally. Are we aggressively persuading a bigger creative agenda? Yes, we are.”

The year 2012 was a remarkable year for the group in terms of awards won.  The agency won a total of about 138 awards, out of which 106 were national awards and about 23 were in the region and globally. If we further classify these awards, as Kamath mentions, 50 of them are creative awards, over five media awards, 60 out of home awards, four effectiveness awards, one direct marketing award, six HR, and three IT awards.

Not to forget the South Asia Specialist Agency of the Year at the Campaign Agency of the Year. The agency won the award two years in row – 2011 and 2012.  “We like to celebrate awards. We even celebrate when our HR team wins an award. So it’s not just the creative people who’re in the limelight. For us, everybody works hard to be in the limelight. But overall, winning the hearts and minds is perhaps the reason we come to work.”

Branding and consultancy arm:  Interbrand

It was only in the recent past the design and branding consultancy firm was renamed, from Water to Interbrand. On 1 March 2012, it became a part of the Interbrand network when the erstwhile Mudra Group was renamed DDB Mudra Group. And what better way to begin Interbrand’s India operations than winning a critical part of Mahindra’s business. Is it a growing business? “Interbrand business is a steady business; it is something I’m highly excited about and hopefully in the near future we will make some significant announcements,” observes Kamath.    
Kamath is ecstatic that all the nine businesses are on track  to making it big in their respective fields. “Pratap’s (Bose) contribution to restructuring and the overall success of the group in the past one year is significant.  If you take the group’s media business, Sathya’s (NP Sathyamurthy) coming in has steadied the ship, and is moving in the right direction as far as growth is concerned. Mandeep Malhotra has built an excellent OOH business in the last two to three years. So we rewarded him with additional responsibilities (retail and experiential).  And of course, needless to say, DDB Mudra Max continues to remain a large business within the group.”   

Vision 2017

The fact that Mudra was the only homegrown agency (of its size) competing with large network agencies, what does Kamath think of the Omnicom acquisition? “The industry has never given a special recognition for being an Indian agency or a non-Indian agency. It’s a level playing field. You could say that we were the largest group that’s grown in the last 30 years.  People have always seen us as the last remaining mogul, if I may call it that. It’s a process of evolution. Has it been good for Mudra? It has definitely been good for Mudra.

Asked what accounts he’d like to have in his kitty for 2013, he chuckles, “We would like to win at least 15 businesses. If I were to name business we really are going after, I wouldn’t be able to have conversations with you month-on-month. I have to save something for the next 15 months as we tick our boxes for each one these 15 clients we want to work with.”

Kamath’s vision 2017 is to be the most admired marketing services and communications group in the country.  “We want to work towards being the most admired agency in the country. Admired for the people and admired for the solutions we provide to clients. 2012 was a great year, and we look forward to continuing the good work in 2013 and for many years to come in our journey as DDB Mudra Group,” he signs off.

Campaign India

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