Two weeks after he came on board at Dentsu India Group as executive chairman in June 2011, Rohit Ohri put in place a ‘mid-term’ plan, one that would lead the agency up to 2015. Mergers and acquisitions were very much part of the plan, and the most talked about amongst them - that of Taproot India - played out towards the end of 2012. Add to this the global acquisition of Aegis by Dentsu, and the aspirations of the Japanese ad giant were obvious.
Ohri claims that he hasn’t enjoyed himself so much in a ‘very, very long time’. But he does recall that when he moved to Dentsu after 21 years at JWT India, the situation was ‘worse than what he thought it would be’. For starters, the agency was running without a leader for eight months.
“The first challenge as an agency was to demonstrate change, and demonstrate it quickly – to both clients and employees,” Ohri reflects, from his high rise office in Gurgaon on a December afternoon. One of the first things the agency did was to audit its talent base, in terms of skills and capabilities. Consciously, it went about hiring the ‘best talent’ available in the market, agency heads included.
“We said it’s not about whom we can afford now, but about building a base for the future. This was across the three creative agencies, Dentsu Digital and Dentsu Media. Then we streamlined the IT processes, finance, HR. And then, we went to existing clients,” Ohri explains, on the rejuvenation of Dentsu.
Admittedly, Japanese clients don’t necessarily want to work with a Japanese agency, but with the best in the market. Ohri and team went to clients to reassure them that all was well at the agency, with output to back their claim – the chairman cites Canon’s ‘What makes us click’ as one example. Re-interpreting Honda’s ‘Power of dreams’ is said to have delivered too. He credits account some new business wins for helping incubate a ‘winning culture’ within, to evolve as an agency with a ‘point of view on advertising’.
All of the above seem like a lot to do in a short span of time. Notes Ohri, “I knew when I came in that I would have to build an agency and culturally change an agency.”
None of this has happened without support from Dentsu Japan, or New York for that matter, he acknowledges. But the mandate in India is clearly Ohri’s. “Unlike some other networks, Dentsu says it’s your market,” he clarifies.
The creative portfolio
Dentsu Communications, Dentsu MarCom and Dentsu Creative Impact are the three creative agencies that exist within the Dentsu India Group. What helps, according to the Group’s chairman, is that the agencies exist in different geographies, ensuring that they’re not ‘beating each other up in the same market’. Being entities that handle conflicting business, it also takes care of client confidentiality issues. Ohri notes that Dentsu operates a ‘mini-WPP’ in India, and adds, “Unlike WPP agencies, Dentsu agencies don’t compete, they collaborate’.
He admits that Dentsu in India has been stronger in Delhi and Bengaluru than in Mumbai, perhaps thanks to its early clients like Toyota and Honda.
“Yes, we are not as strong in Mumbai, and that is a big challenge really. But we’re scaling up. Arijit (Ray) has come in from Mudra. He’s putting down the plan right now. One of the reasons he was my choice is that he has experience of working with not many network-aligned clients. And, within the Dentsu India Group, we now have the hottest agency in the country,” says Ohri.
He was referring to Taproot. Ohri reveals that it’s all part of a much larger plan, one that was plotted in the latter part of 2011. Once the plan was in place, Dentsu went after ‘interventions’.
The acquisition route
The strategic road map that was drawn up has since been worked on further, and Ohri is currently charting the course of Dentsu India Group over the next five years. On his ‘To Do’ list right from the start was M&As that would help Dentsu group entities rise. He refers to the Taproot acquisition as getting a ‘creative tugboat that would pull the larger ship into different waters’.
On the media end, Dentsu Media saw the appointment of Divya Gupta as CEO in December 2011. Ohri explains that the agency’s integrated communications model with one P&L for India helps. But Dentsu Media has never been the group’s strong point, as he concedes.
“We are not a strong media agency in many parts of the world. That explains the strategic acquisition of Aegis, to give ourselves a strong media and digital presence globally. In India, we will look at how we can leverage the combined strength of Carat, Vizeum and Dentsu Media. We have a very strong competitor in GroupM – they have evolved into a different level of skill and capability,” explains Ohri.
By the first quarter of FY 2013, one can expect a new grouping on the media end within Dentsu India Group. For Dentsu’s presence to grow, the agency is not averse to looking at more acquisitions, including on the media front.
Ask him about the possibility of buying an established media agency, one which has been in the news for being in talks with potential suitors, and he doesn’t flinch. He instead offers, “We are open to that if the opportunity comes up. We are open to finding the right set of skills and capabilities, to get where we want to be. These could be through the acquisition route. The intent is to leverage our existing resources and current acquisitions, and potential acquisitions, to attain the long term vision.”
So what is the target envisioned? “We don’t want to play the game other agencies are playing – on billings and revenue. I think that’s the opportunity for Dentsu,” he notes.
Come 2013, and we will see the launch of Dentsu IPs in India. Under Dentsu Digital, a tool iButterfly was unveiled in January. Developed by Dentsu’s global innovation centre in Japan, Ohri underlines that these IPs are fundamentally not led by client needs, but by consumer needs. Extensive licensing agreements that Dentsu has with the likes of Facebook and Apple don’t hurt at all.
“Integration of creativity, technology and innovation is the foundation on which the Dentsu philosophy is built. All the agencies that we have (and possibly will have), will be aligned with that philosophy,” he adds.
On what the roadmap for the four creative agencies would be in terms of positioning, Ohri is practical enough to let that be determined by the market. He quips, “Who knows? We could make Taproot the next big agency.”
The last year has seen significant change in the perception of Dentsu agencies in India, but the Group’s executive chairman admits that there’s a long way to go. But at this point, he is glad that Dentsu ‘can see down the road’ - a departure from the situation a year or so ago.
“There were three big eras. There was the print era, which was dominated by Trikaya. There was the Television era, with Piyush, Prasoon and Balki dominating. Who is best poised to define the coming integrated communication solutions era? Maybe our time has come,” signs off Ohri.