Anupama Sajeet
Mar 01, 2024

India's ad landscape no longer a conservative playing field: Ad veteran Jarek Ziebinski

Post the WebTalk acquisition, Jarek Ziebinski and Wondrlab CEO and founder Saurabh Varma, reiterate the importance of creating a global world-class network from India

Jarek Ziebinski and Saurabh Varma.
Jarek Ziebinski and Saurabh Varma.
In January this year, Wondrlab Network launched its European hub by acquiring Polish agency WebTalk, thereby marking its foray into international waters. This was also the platform-first digital network’s fifth acquisition since its inception in 2020.
Campaign India caught up with Jarek Ziebinski, an advertising industry veteran and independent management consultant who is also the chairman of Wondrlab's European operations advisory board, on his recent trip to India, along with Saurabh Varma, founder and CEO of Wondrlab.
The duo go back a long way to circa 2009, when Ziebinski took over from Michelle Kristula-Green as the CEO of Asia Pacific for Leo Burnett. That’s where he met Varma who was then chief strategy officer for Singapore. Since that day, their relationship has only been growing stronger, Ziebinski tells Campaign.
In a career spanning over 30 years, Ziebinski has previously held key positions at Leo Burnett and Publicis Groupe across marketing, media, and advertising roles, before launching his own consultancy, Jazi Consulting, in Warsaw, Poland in 2022.
Scroll below for our freewheeling conversation with the duo, on the way forward for the Wondrlab network and what lies ahead for advertising. 
Wondrlab's collaboration
Talking about how this latest collaboration between Wondrlab, Ziebinski and WebTalk came about, Varma says, “We started building Wondrlab with the simple ambition of building a global network. We believe the network of the future will not be built across 100 countries, but across four or five large, strategic hubs servicing global clients.”
He continues, “The first hub had to be where we would have a lot of comfort outside India.”
And that comfort came from knowing Ziebinski for so many years, says Varma about his former boss, ‘guru' and 'mentor’.
“When he asked me if I would join in to help him, I said yes, because it is such a wonderful thing to see what he is building: A global network that’s built completely different from the way the networks and holding companies of the past were built,” says Ziebinski. 
To make his point, he explains how the base from where the holding companies that exist today usually come from 'powerful, well-developed rich economies, or one of the centres of gravity economically and culturally—from places such as London, New York, Paris or Chicago'.  
“Today, Saurabh is creating it from India and Poland, and that is exciting because, first of all, he is speaking to markets which are some of the fastest-growing economies of the world. So, why not use the economic momentum to kick off business from these places?” states Ziebinski.
Another important aspect, according to Ziebinski, was that these two places offer an abundance of talent. “Both, India and Poland have a lot of great talent that is well educated, well trained, and very capable of delivering against all the technology and cyberspace needs of today's marketers, and current and future clients of the company- Talent that we need for Wondrlab if we want to build a successful business.” 
“We don't need to wait for the Western powers to come and tell us how to do things. We can build it from the East- Eastern Europe and Asia. So I liked that from the beginning,” he emphasised.
The acquisition juggernaut
At the time of acquiring WebTalk, Varma had laid out plans for future acquisitions, aiming for 21 more in the next three to four years, with a strategic focus on building similar hubs in India, the Middle East, and Vietnam. 
While setting out to build Wondrlab’s European hub in Poland, the duo looked at several different companies before zeroing in on WebTalk, Ziebinski revealed.
“After analysing the company, the talent, the leadership, the capabilities, and how it’s going to work with the rest of Wondrlab, we decided that it's a good first step,” says Ziebinski who helped shape the first acquisition in Poland. 
“I have seen all the acquisitions Saurabh has done in India. And I liked the fact that he is not buying whatever comes his way. He's very selective and very strategic—looking for the right capabilities, right talent by competencies, and right leadership,” he added.
The plan is to create several global hubs in Asia, Europe, America and Middle East, and to make sure that these hubs will be interconnected and have the right capabilities, which will enable them to have the power to service any global client from anywhere on the planet, share the duo.
Varma reiterates the blueprint for future deals. “We will aggressively follow this with acquisitions across our four key verticals: Digital video content and community, digital media and data, digital business transformation and marketing tech/ adtech. Across these four pillars, we will keep strengthening our abilities, and specialisations, as we move forward. So, anything which is a fantastic company across these four pillars will be an acquisition target for us,” he states.
The India story
In 2015, on one of his trips to India, Ziebinski had stated in a interview to a publication that there's a paradox that’s peculiar to the country that worries him—despite it being one of the most dynamically changing markets in the world. He believed that the advertising industry in India, which should be the avant-garde of change, is very change-adverse and conservative. Does he still hold the same belief about Indian advertising, we ask.
“Well, honestly at that time, that was the impression I was getting every time coming to this market, that there is a conservative approach and the market is change-averse and the way it was run that day I think I was probably right,” he says.
"But my impression today is that I'm surrounded by people who are thinking in a very, modern way— they are creating a company that is a company of the future—of the 21st century. I think that these guys are doing something really progressive and I am excited to be a part of the new venture. I am impressed with how advanced is the thinking. I don't feel any conservatism, so I think that feeling from 2015 is completely gone over the last few days."
The entrepreneurial venture 
Talking about setting up his own consultancy practice in Warsaw, Ziebinski says, “Obviously, my domain is related to all my experience of the career that I had in media, marketing and advertising. So, this is where I operate and most of my clients come from within this space and this industry. That gives me the privilege that I can do it on my terms. And what is super important for me these days, is that I work with people I quite like and who I really want to succeed. I advise them in the business transformation for these companies, helping them make sure that they will win in the market. That is a big joy.”
He goes on to explain the thinking behind the latest collaboration. “I was working as an advisor to the board of WebTalk, so I knew it inside out. When he [Saurabh] came with the question of ‘who do we buy in Poland’ I thought I knew. I talked to the board and that is how the discussion started”, Ziebinski discloses.
“We realised that by doing the acquisition with Wondrlab we can build the business and take WebTalk to a new space overnight, versus doing it organically which would mean adding new capabilities, hiring new talent etc. to ensure that we're moving forward and growing the business. Organically doing that will take us years; and we would have to invest lots of time and money before we get there. It's a longer process.”
“The benefits are on both ends—from the Wondrlab perspective, it gives us access to a completely new market where we can start using the tech as a base to build what we refer to as a portfolio. For WebTalk it gives a new future, wherein it can deploy a lot of the tech created in India for its clients in Poland, CEE, and across the world. So, there is a win-win situation right from the start. That's why we have decided to do this deal.”
Betting big on integrations
"The way Wondrlab is doing acquisitions is by helping to integrate the team and ascertain that we were not creating any silos, any kind of separate zones that don't talk to each other or have their own agendas," says Ziebinski about the company model structured to make sure that everybody plays for the company. 
“We keep the entrepreneurs to manage their own companies to ensure that they do what they know best and we are not disrupting that model of managing the agencies. On any level you look there is no conflict of interest. There's only one common interest,” he affirms.
Ziebinski expresses concern about how over a couple of decades, the industry was fragmenting with large structures falling apart due to specialisation driving everything. “For our clients, we created a reality within our industry that was very difficult to manage,” he says.
"Therefore there was a need to integrate and change our business models to bring specialists together in an integrated shape and form. So, that was one of the major organisational operational changes in our business across holding companies and networks," asserts Ziebinski.
Shaping full-funnel agencies
Varma elucidates on the need to build seamless customer journeys. “If you look at most clients, and what we refer to as customer journeys, they are broken. The customer journeys break through the tech layers these clients have picked, it breaks across the CRM or CMS platforms. It breaks even in the way their ideas and call centres are structured.”
To put together a singular journey, which is joyful from a customer perspective, is actually what every client today desires, he states.
“They [clients] want the full funnel: They want the customer experience to start from understanding ‘who am I’ as a brand, which is building salience to engagement, which is a middle funnel, to finally performance, acquisition, advocacy, and retention.”
That requires huge doses of creativity, technology and data personalisation at scale, and that is the magic of what tech can deliver, he adds. “That also means that at our end as a network, we must have the products, the services and the ability to deliver across specific platforms or you are not going to win in today's day and age.”
On balancing creativity with data-driven insights
Reflecting on the criticality of data to creativity, Ziebinski says, “In our industry, creativity is at the center at the heart of everything we do. I mean, we are a creative business.” However, he adds, creativity has changed slightly over the years. “We are talking about different kinds of creativity today. We have to create solutions and ideas that solve marketing and business problems, whereas, in the past ages, we had been focusing on just creating an ad or a piece of communication.”
He continues, “Today our creativity has to be deployed to solve business problems and marketing problems, and should be done in a way that we can amplify by the use of technology. I think creativity is an integral organic part woven into any business model in this industry.”
But, obviously today, one cannot live without data and AI, he adds. “And now because we're going into a cookieless world, we're talking about first-party data. So, it will be more important to access first-party data.”
At the end of the day while it's important to have all this data, it's even more important to have proper understanding and analytics because we live in the era of unlimited access to information, Ziebinski cautions. 


Campaign India

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