Campaign India Team
Dec 24, 2013

‘We’ve progressed on the creative side of digital’: CVL Srinivas

The GroupM South Asia CEO reflects on 80 new business wins in 2013, over half of revenues coming from ‘non-traditional’, and the most critical area of focus - talent

‘We’ve progressed on the creative side of digital’: CVL Srinivas

“2013 was a pretty challenging year in many respects,” reveals CVL Srinivas, in conversation with Campaign India, a day before he took off for a well-deserved year-end holiday in Spain.

But it was also a very satisfying year, with progress made on many fronts, notes the GroupM South Asia CEO. Moving into (now Maxus’ global CEO) Vikram Sakhuja’s shoes, the mandate was to keep the momentum going.

“We have progressed with an eye on where we want to be three years from now,” explains Srinivas. Read the full interview below.

At the very end of the year comes news of a new talent head for GroupM. How has progress been on talent, in 2013?

It’s been a great year on the talent front. We’ve had the lowest staff turnover in many years this year, at half the industry average (which I think would be 30 per cent). Despite having 1,400 people, across seven offices and multiple units, we are at half that turnover. More than anything else, that has been extremely satisfying.

The Y-Co (Youth Committee) we launched will complete a year in the next two months. It has helped us get a lot better understanding of ground level issues. Some of the projects include how we can build a stronger digital culture within GroupM. One of the things it has led to is the launch of a GroupM app, which is being used internally right now. It provides all information on the company, events, important dates and more in a user-friendly way. We keep doing all this for clients; it took a Y-Co to tell us that we need to do this for ourselves.

We observed at staff turnover at the junior most levels is slightly higher. We did an exhaustive staff survey at those rungs. There were some interesting insights and some of them were actually very simple to action upon – like welfare measures and (sharpening) role definitions.

Another important function performed by the Y-Co is that they are not just working on such projects, they also serve as a good sounding board for the Ex-Co (Executive Committee).

We planned and managed the fifth edition of Choreos (GroupM’s internal awards) in house this year. We also had the global leadership in town for that. The Y-Co played an important role with the awards.

Tell us about the ‘New Me’ initiative launched this year...

The ‘New Me’ initiative has been on since the start of the year. It is a plan for the next three years; outlining our newer areas of focus – the ‘New Core’, of digital, content and analytics. It started with the top 10 per cent (around 150 of us) spending time and thinking about this in Goa. Over the next three to four months, this has cascaded down the line. I personally spent a lot of time in this area as I believe it is very important.

This year, we also took Aspire, the GroupM training program, to South Asia. We had a five-day program in SriLanka this November, with colleagues from Pakistan and Bangladesh joining in. It was conducted by regular planning folks from India, who volunteered to conduct the training.

Analytics has been a buzzword through the year. How has Meritus grown?

There is great, quality work coming from Bangalore on the analytics front. Meritus in India is becoming a global hub for GroupM worldwide.

How has business changed? You mentioned that over 50 per cent of business is already from outside traditional media planning and buying...

Within business, the ‘New Core’ has been in focus – therefore digital, activation, content. We began by laying a strong foundation for a digital-centric organisation. At the start of the year, we said we would build digital culture, evolve activation and content.

We scaled up digital video with the creation of MashUp. Within Dialogue Factory, the activation arm, a lot of projects today involve digital, including mobile.

It was also a year when we partnered with Social Media Week and the Mobile Marketing Association. We’ve had one round of ‘Digital Rendevous’, where we invite partners and media to discuss key issues related to digital.

The digital business has grown substantially. We’ve dominated digital awards across industry. There’s been a fair bit of progress on the content and creative side of digital - it was not as evident earlier. We’ve seen work like, for instance, Gum Charades from Maxus (for Perfetti). We’ve had some great work on Nestle that straddles owned and earned media.

Four to five years ago, as a media agency, we wouldn’t have been able to do some of this work. But now we’ve been able to attract the kind of people to handle this kind of work.

We have had a record number of movie activations this year, at over 120. We worked with two IPL teams, and are now working with some of the new sporting leagues. The intent clearly is to expand beyond cricket to other sports next year.

How has new business been and where has it come – in digital/mainstream...?

We’ve won over 80 new businesses including several blue chip accounts, across agency brands and offices. We’ve also retained global clients post periodic reviews. Most of the new businesses would straddle media planning and buying, and other areas.

How would you rate each agency brand this year? We’ve been reasonably informed of Mindshare and Maxus. How have the rest fared?

Standalone also, each of the agencies has had a good year. MEC has done very well on awards and new business. Of the 80-odd businesses, quite a few are from the agency. It was also the year Red Fuse came into its own - managing the transition has been extremely smooth.

MediaCom continues to do great work on P&G year after year. It gets very high client satisfaction scores. It is always ahead of the curve on talent and people, with single digit attrition rates.

Rabe Iyer moved into Motivator, and has brought in solidity and stability this year. From Himalaya to Havells and Apple, there’s been good work and the agency has very aggressive plans for the coming year.

What impact has the 10+2 ad cap had, in your view?

It has had an impact at two levels. In August/September, advertisers started mentally preparing themselves to look at diversifying media investments and reducing dependence on TV. We saw a lot of big clients look at digital, print and OOH seriously – many did diversify. It involved a lot of thinking on the part of media planners; doing their own research.

In phase two, we have some clarity on how each network is placed, inflation, etc. At this stage, it’s about optimum spends on TV. In the current climate, no advertiser has the appetite for rate increase. Some are willing to look at newer channels, diversifying outside TV. We will see the full effect of this next year.

The blackout of ratings was felt for a few weeks - what effect did that have?

It’s happened in the past. If the period of blackout is short, media agencies can manage. And we did. It’s a different story when the period is much longer – like in SriLanka, where we’ve had no ratings for more than a year.

You mentioned ability to attract new kinds of talent. Can you elaborate...

It is a lot easier now to attract talent from diverse streams than it was four or five years ago. It has to do with the way we have positioned ourselves. We have the benefit of world class systems, tools, databases, cumulative experience of working with some of the best brands for over 10 years. We go to the extent of saying we ‘also do’ media planning and buying, but that remains at the core. We have been able to make all these forays because the core product is strong.

How have you been able to implement ‘horizontality’ across GroupM entities?

The model is that we work very closely with the agency brands. In digital for example, when we set it up, we incubate it under GroupM. Digital was set up as a vertical 10 years ago. So the entity works outside the agency. As we scaled up or acquired agencies, we started embedding them within our agency brands. It’s a pretty unique and an extremely collaborative structure. Similarly, this happens across all units, including content and experiential. With an agency, all the experts are under one roof. They report into the agency head - as well as the vertical head (under GroupM).

What would you name as the focus area for 2014?

One thing that I’m always concerned about, is that we shouldn’t rest on our past laurels. Given the position and scale that we’re at, we need to be vigilant, on our toes. About what else we can do, to deliver the best value for our clients going forward.

If I were to name a one point agenda within that vision, it would be talent. In terms of acquiring high quality talent into GroupM -- people who can help us stay relevant. We want to be the most attractive place for quality talent in the communication space.

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