Kartik Iyer joined Carat India as MD in July 2008, almost a month after his mentor Ashish Bhasin was brought on board to head Aegis Media in the region. A management graduate from IMT Ghaziabad, Iyer was president of Initiative Media until mid-2008. The primary challenge was to grow Carat’s business.
With operations in Gurgaon and Mumbai, Carat was then admittedly handling a limited number of accounts. “We had good brands on board but there was this challenge of quality of people and servicing. We were ‘disbalancedly’ staffed, if I may say so,” notes Iyer.
But thanks to the ‘good people in the system’, Carat made sure to get back into the action and improved the quality of servicing significantly, he adds. “And those people have stayed with us. We have had clients who have been with us for a very long time. The quality of client relationships that we have is one of our biggest strengths. Clients like Muthoot, Philips, Mattel Toys, Adidas, Reebok have stayed with us and that has been a big advantage to us,” says the agency’s MD.
The last six years have been spent on revamping the Carat brand in India. “When we started on our journey, Carat was a brand that was seen as having a strong global heritage but a very weak India presence. We needed to change this. In 2008, while Ashish was planning the rapid growth of Aegis, we needed to focus on the Carat growth plan to ensure that we contributed to the network growth,” he reminisces.
The second phase concentrated on ‘delivering’ growth. Iyer elaborates, “The second phase was to bring all the strengths of the network into the country. The whole team has been working on it and we have had phenomenal year-on-year growth numbers with new businesses coming in every year. This year has been exceedingly good. We opened our South operations couple of years back, which hit the ground running. We won significant business in that market including Ayurwin. Air Asia has been with us since they launched in India.” The global network also played a role in the growth story, with tools and technologies.
“All of these have helped us in our journey from being a floundering brand in India to becoming India’s fastest growing media agency with a capitalised billing of well over Rs 1000 crores,” says Iyer.
Currently, 250 people work on Carat businesses across verticals including OOH, search, digital, offline. People aboard Carat alone number around 75, which is expected to go up by another 30 to 35 by end-September.
Iyer maintains that globally, Carat has been a leader in investing in technology. “Considering the huge challenge in understanding of the Indian consumer, Carat and Aegis have made huge investments in CCS (consumer connection system) which is a proprietary study that attempts to get a better understanding of the consumer. CCS has been with us for a year and a half and CCS Planner for six months. This deep understanding of consumers sits at the center of our strategic planning process and has enabled us to deliver strong solutions to take on brand challenges,” he notes.
Aegis’ specialist entities - Posterscope, Isobar, IProspect, Web Chutney, PSLive etc. - have also played their role in helping Carat make a difference to client businesses, according to the agency’s India head.
Talking about the recent big account wins such as GM, Microsoft India, Nokia, British Airways, Iyer modestly says, “I think the fact that these large accounts decided to work with us is a sign that they felt that we were now capable of handling their business. The fact that global clients saw a team that is ready to deliver a state-of-the-art product is really a big reason why they decided to work with us. I am grateful to them for taking this decision.”
Aiming at ‘five times the growth for the company in the next five years’, Iyer’s task for the next 12 to 18 months is to consolidate the North market and expand West and South operations. The agency is also planning to expand its footprint into more markets from mid-2015, moving into East India.
He adds, “Apart from that, our focus continues to be on delivering to our clients consumer-centric, digitally-ahead solutions which will enable continuous growth in earned media. Towards this, we are planning our investments in research like the next rounds of CCS which will have a sample size increase between 50 and 130 per cent across various audience clusters.”
“We are also looking to leverage the very strong capabilities of the Dentsu Aegis Network in areas like sports marketing and entertainment to deliver world class solutions to our clients in India,” claims Iyer.
Competition and challenges
Talking about the competition in the Indian market, Iyer quips, “There is a lot of confusion in the market about who is coming up and who is going down. However, it does not matter to me. We are targeting top three and we shall get there, if not top two.”
He identifies two challenges that the industry faces right now: quality work force and reliability of data.
“There is lot of data in the market but we do not know if it is reliable. It’s as reliable as it can be, probably, but I do not think we have reached a stage where we can be confident about the data out there, which is why we need to make our own investments into research, or why we do consumer connect studies. Challenges that IRS, BARC are facing are well known to the industry. Forget about predictive and econometric modelling of data, getting understanding on current data in itself is a question mark,” he notes.
Iyer admits that it has not been an easy drive-through at Carat thus far. “But if I were to sum it up, I would call it amazing. I think all we have established is an amazing result of great people, great clients and great work culture. I have to be reminded that I have completed so many years in the organisation. Someday you might want to hang your boots; when you realise that you have done what you came here to do and you will go and speak to Ashish, and tell him that you are looking for change. However, right now, the job is not complete. There’s lots of work to be done yet,” he underlines.
(Published in the issue of Campaign India dated 22 August 2014.)