Jasmin Sohrabji, Chief Executive Officer, OMG India & South East Asia and Harish Shriyan, COO, OMG India look forward to nurturing the entrepreneurial, start-up culture of ‘millennial agency’ OMD to deliver the strongest results on clients’ business
BY SRABANA LAHIRI
(with inputs from SAMARPITA BANERJEE)
A few weeks ago, we walked into a sea of cupcakes, balloons and streamers accompanied by general merry-making at the offices of OMD India in Worli, Mumbai. The agency was celebrating the 10th anniversary of its launch and there was palpable excitement in the air. We could spot members of the senior management mingling with the millennials in party mood - sporting horns, over-sized sunglasses, turbans and what have you! In the midst of it all was Jasmin Sohrabji, Chief Executive Officer, OMG India & South East Asia and Harish Shriyan, COO, OMG India, partying hard, yet talking business with us when required. Clearly, it is this warmth that endears them to clients and associates in the industry alike.
THE MILLENNIAL MONIKER
Having digital at the core of its business much before the industry adopted the medium has earned OMD India the ‘millennial agency’ moniker, and the endeavour within the agency is to remain true to its entrepreneurial, start-up culture. Much of the rapid growth of the agency is attributed to its digital and mobile prowess, which has helped to future-proof the business. In November 2016, OMD India scaled up its operations by consolidating Omnicom-owned DDB Mudra Group’s media business under the OMD brand. The consolidation has helped solidify OMD’s presence across all platforms and create an integrated media brand to take on the expanding India market. Today, OMD India is a 550+ member organization with billings over $650 million.
BEATING THE ODDS
Ten years ago, when the OMD India launch was announced, Sohrabji remembers a very senior person in the industry telling her, “All other agencies have been here for the last two decades or so. What do you think you are going to do in such a competitive environment?” At that time she came across the quotation “Whatever you can do or dream you can; begin it, boldness has genius, power and magic in it” by German writer and statesman Johann von Wolfgang Goethe, and it has become her mantra ever since. “These words have been an inspiration, not just for me but for my entire team. Looking back at these 10 years, I feel it’s been a magical journey,” Sohrabji says.
PERPETUAL START-UP MODE
Talking about forthcoming initiatives at OMD in the next few years in terms of people, clients, plans and strategy, Sohrabji says, “OMD could not have asked for a better start in India. On that base, over 10 years, we built an amazing brand; our work is well awarded, our talent well recognized and our relationships well cemented. As we enter the next phase of our journey, we want to focus on maintaining our culture as we scale newer heights. We want to keep nurturing the entrepreneurial, start-up culture that got us here and that we hold so dear.”
According to Mainardo de Nardis, Global CEO of Omnicom Worldwide, “¬¬¬OMD India is in perpetual ‘start-up mode’.” Says Sohrabji, “As we keep enhancing the skillsets of our people, we want them to never let go of what they have. I am told OMD India has the largest number of internal moves from both offline to online and the other way too! It means our people seek out new opportunities and are fortunate enough to find them within our network itself. Our focus will always be on equipping our talent to grow with us and give back as much to our clients and business.”
The focus for OMD India, going forward, is to ensure that the agency is not just futureready but actually leading the path. “OMD is a millennial agency, we were as comfortable with Digital as with other media from the word go. We never want to follow, or play catch up.
That’s not in our DNA… we will always stay ahead, giving our people the best learning, tools and capabilities to deliver the strongest results on our clients’ business,” Sohrabji declares.
10 years from now, I see the agency stronger than ever: Jasmin Sohrabji
Q] Do you remember what you and Harish said to each other on the day you started OMD on February 7, 2007?
“Every day, I would ask Harish, ‘Do you think we can pull this off?’…Every day, Harish would respond with the Harish brand of optimism: ‘I can see the headlines in exchange4media, Jas… India’s most successful agency launch!’”
Q] Do you think you have achieved what you set out to do 10 years ago... how would you rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10?
Yes we have. We wanted to put OMD India on the map quickly, and we did. We wanted Digital to be at our core, and it is. We wanted to attract the best talent, and we have. We wanted to have strong bonds within our industry, and we do. We wanted our network to be really proud of us, and they are.
Q] Where do you see the agency 10 years from now?
Stronger than ever, with a leadership team that is more passionate, more ambitious to ensure OMD India is always evolving, always future-ready and always ahead of the pack!
10 ON 10
SEVERAL CONVERSATIONS WITH TEAM OMD HELP US RECOUNT 10 HIGHLIGHTS OF OMD INDIA’S JOURNEY OVER THE LAST 10 YEARS…
1LAUNCH YEAR WITH A+ IN RECMA
Within a year of OMD India’s launch, it earned its stripes. The agency debuted on a very good note, securing an A+ in RECMA rankings that came out in January 2008, which was validation of the quality of work being done at the agency. “In less than a year of our launch, in the first RECMA report to ever have OMD India in it, we got an A+,” says Jasmin Sohrabji. “It felt great, but I don’t think I fully understood the magnitude of this achievement until a month later when I attended my first OMG global leadership conference in Las Vegas and OMD India got a shout out for our A+ ranking. Our global CEO, in his opening keynote, remarked that our larger, well established markets could not do what our youngest, newest market had achieved. In less than a year of our launch, OMD India was on our network map and we have never looked back.”
2 NATIONAL PRESENCE IN LESS THAN TWO YEARS
In a short span of two years, OMD not only expanded its presence nationally but also managed to break even. The Bangalore office commenced operations after the agency won the global Intel account in 2008. Winning the Henkel account gave impetus to setting up of the OMD Chennai operation in 2009. Both the operations started off with a single employee in the respective geography who worked out of a single room office in a business centre. The operations have a healthy mix of national brands like TTK Healthcare, Amrutanjan Healthcare, Medimix and multinational clients like Renault. The agency also bagged clients from Coimbatore and Hyderabad. On the secret recipe for success in such a short time, Gita Ram, Managing Director – South, says, “We gave great importance to getting organized and knowing and understanding the market. Being creative and staying focused in what we had committed to deliver helped us win trust. We now look back at the past 10 years with great pride and look ahead to the next 10 bringing us greater success and achievements.”
The agency started its Delhi operation on the back of the HP win, which helped in rounding up the client offering. Says Ashish Bhatnagar, Managing Director-North, “We started the North India (Delhi NCR) operations in mid-2009 with a handful of dreamers and unwavering commitment to deliver sharper insights, smarter ideas and stronger results. We ensured the vast coverage and potential of North India is tapped in a quick time. Within a span of around eight years, the Delhi office proudly manages multiple blue chip brands, both global and local across categories and has emerged as a positive stronghold for OMD India operations.”
3 FIRST SHORTLIST AT CANNES FOR TOURISM AUSTRALIA
Another turning point for the agency came in 2012 when OMD got its first Cannes shortlist for its integration work on Tourism Australia. Mamatha Morvankar, Managing Director – West, OMD India, says it was very special for everyone at the agency. “Tourism Australia had just come on board and the challenge was to showcase Australia’s beautiful locales. The country was until then known only for its cricket team. We found the opportunity with another OMD client Sony, which was about to launch the immensely popular show ‘Bade Achche Lagte Hain’. We used Australia as a honeymoon destination for the show and seamlessly wove it into the story, which brought about high recall for the brand. The show enjoyed immense popularity, and it worked very well for us. We received great support from Sony, Balaji (the production house) and, of course, Tourism Australia. It was a first of its kind brand integration and is still remembered very fondly,” she adds.
Subsequent to the win, the agency has been consistently delivering award-winning work on its other clients like Nissan, Renault, Ferrero, J&J, Monster, CISCO & Beiersdorf.
4 NURTURING INDUSTRY RELATIONSHIPS
Over the years, the agency has not only grown its business but also forged great bonds with industry leaders who have worked with them, ties that go beyond the scale and volume of business. Several industry honchos talk of the high regard they have for OMD, especially the people at the agency.
Joy Chakraborthy, President-Revenue, TV18 and CEO, Forbes India says, “OMD is one of the very few agencies where even the people at the very top are involved in every account. I have very high regard for both Jasmin Sohrabji and Harish Shriyan. As an agency, they don’t get into stand-offs. They find a solution, keeping in mind the interests of the clients and broadcasters or publications. There is a lot of maturity in the way they deal with clients. They have a very good team that is also very meticulous. Many of them have been with the agency for quite some time.”
5 THRIVING ON WOMAN POWER
OMD also boasts of being one of the very few organizations that have a power-packed Exco comprising 65% women. Besides Jasmin Sohrabji, some of the senior team members include Nalini Lalvani, Chief Financial Officer, Anju Kurien, Talent Director, Mamatha Morvankar, Managing Director- West, Gita Ram, Managing Director-South, and Jyoti Bansal, previously head of new business who now leads PHD as its Managing Director. Harish Shriyan jovially calls it the agency’s ‘gender bias’. “Amongst the many things different about OMD is our ‘gender bias’ - for a change, it is dominated by women. With a ratio of 65:35 in the senior management, we are clearly leading the way on a current, hotly discussed global topic - gender neutrality! This is also reflective of a very secure culture and environment that exists within our system. Many of our women leaders have started the journey with us, making for an amazing story for OMD India and inspiring the young talent that sees the success and opportunity,” he says.
6 TOOLS AND RESEARCH OFFERING TO CLIENTS
Adhering to its philosophy of consumer first, OMD India has set up a robust portfolio of research studies and tools, to help it deliver effective and efficient connections for consumers. Rachna Narain, Managing Partner Research & Insights says, “It’s been a fun and enriching journey due to the ever-changing consumer behaviour in the last 10 years in India. This has been led by changes in demographics (millennials, Gen X, Y, Z etc.), technology adoption, family structures and just the availability of so much more.” OMD’s operating system, research studies and tools are built around maximising their understanding. ‘Pathway’ delves into the consumer purchase journey and ‘TPA’ links the stages to the most efficient touchpoints. The agency’s tool ‘PcP’ has also won an Emvie for the most effective period linked to purchase. Another tool ‘TeQknow’ is a family technology study. The agency has further strengthened its media product with innovative tools like ‘MEquity’, a media choice tool, and its latest release, ‘IdeaScope’ which is an idea evaluation matrix. These India initiatives are rounded off brilliantly by OMD’s global operating system ‘Vision’. “Vision is rooted in our philosophy of ‘Insights leading to ideas leading to results’, and for stronger insights mining, we actively participate not just in global research initiatives but regularly launch breakthrough India proprietary research and tools to understand consumer purchase journeys, purchase cycle planning, technology understanding, touch-point analysis, etc.,” Narain adds.
7 BEING INDIA’S FIRST MILLENNIAL AGENCY
OMD India has digital at its core. It’s a millennial agency born in the digital age. It was digital-ready from Day 1, and launched with Digital in its DNA, giving clients an integrated offering. The millennial factor is also borne out by the way the agency nurtures the culture of fearlessness in young professionals. It considers talent to be at the core of its business and its mantra is to bring creativity to talent management with the responsibility to develop a talent base that is future-ready. Anju Kurien, Talent Director India, says, “For talent to thrive, we at OMD have built a culture where fearless is an attitude that constantly challenges the norm, disrupts conventional thinking, embraces creativity and empowers all OMD employees to showcase the best of their abilities with confidence. OMD embraced change fearlessly and thus succeeded in delivering sharper insights, smarter ideas, and stronger results, powered by data.”
When it comes to recruitment too, OMD follows the route of fearlessness, adds Kurien. “While attracting new talent, we lookout for attitude and entrepreneurship. Education is of importance but degrees are not our focus. In the young millennial team, we have graduates in the arts as also aeronautical engineers.”
Moreover, the agency also propagates fearless learning. “We have a strong belief in the integrated approach. All planners are digital-ready and medium agnostic. It’s no wonder that when India’s top 30 planners were called out, we had the maximum awards.”
8 TOP MANAGEMENT STABILITY
When OMD was established in India in 2007, it had five senior members in the Exco - Jasmin Sohrabji, Harish Shriyan, Mamatha Morvankar, Choodamani Parameshwar aka Mani and Beeraja S Swain. Ten years later, the Exco has expanded to 14 members. The stability of having a consistent core team is a great contributor to the agency’s growth. Says Nalini Lalvani, Chief Financial Officer, “Year after year, we delivered stupendous revenue growth. All this was done on the back of strong, stable leadership, excellent regional and global support, a committed and efficient team and most importantly a culture of trust.”
9 2016 – THE YEAR OF DIGITAL AWARDS
Last year would go down in OMD India’s history as the year when the agency was honoured with a large number of Digital awards, for both people and campaigns. On gaining so much recognition for Digital in 2016, Sudhir Nair, Managing Director, Digital says, “The growth story of OMD has been excellent in digital marketing. When one looks at the journey from a 10-year lens, it looks even bigger. It is also reflective of the vision with which the practice was started. At this point, we are augmenting our offering across the board; which effectively means having more digital firsts to our credit. 2016 has been significant in many ways. Some of our work has won many accolades locally and internationally. It is symbolic of our capabilities and the fact that we have the pulse of the touchpoints consumers are engaging with and where. The future is ‘technology in everything’. Our offering too will be aligned to address the shifts this will bring about.”
The cascade of accolades have come from key award platforms such as the Emvies, Goafest, ACEF, FOMA, Mobbys, Fox Glove Awards, IDMA, and many more. Given that the Mobile has become a game-changer for Indian marketers, OMD focused on innovating with this medium very early on, and amongst its most critically acclaimed campaigns winning a slew of awards are two very unique mobile marketingled initiatives: Kinder Joy Story Station (a voice-based mobile story telling platform for kids to listen to their favourite stories) and Stayfree Stay Ahead helpline (an infotainment portal, using an amalgamation of entertainment and FAQs around women’s hygiene to connect with young women in rural India).
10 TIE-UP WITH DDB MUDRA GROUP
The year 2016 also saw OMD entering into a partnership with Omnicom-owned DDB Mudra Group in India to consolidate its media services under the OMD brand. As per the agreement, the existing media business of DDB (TV, Print, Radio, and Cinema & Digital) got rebranded as OMD MudraMax. The consolidation is expected to heighten operational synergy, resulting in enhanced client service. Commenting on the partnership, Jasmin Sohrabji says, “The combined power of the consolidation will add significant scale to our operations in India and help us strengthen our offering for the benefit of our clients. DDB Mudra, being a part of the Omnicom family, is aligned to OMD’s culture, which makes for a seamless transition. We will navigate the complexity of the Indian market with ease, efficiency and solidify the presence of our network here.”
‘India has a role in taking global and regional decisions at OMD’
Mainardo de Nardis, CEO of OMD Worldwide, bets big on India and sees it among the agency’s Top 5 revenue markets by 2020
Q] How have the India operations of OMD delivered on your expectations?
India is always a great market. They are bright, they grow, they challenge, they play a big role inside the group. They have got a culture. They are not just a market, they want to have a role in taking global and regional decisions. They have an opinion. They are part of the decision-making infrastructure of the group. The point of view of India and also China, another major market in the world, is constantly heard. I have always been very satisfied with India. We were not the first agency in the market, but I am particularly happy that we have been able to catch up very quickly, avoiding mistakes done by others. We were one of the first digital-minded agencies in the marketplace. And by skipping a generation, it has helped us to be more modern, more relevant and more real-time than many of our competitors, and that has shown in the business performance of the past few years.
Q] What is the assessment of the current leadership in India? Given the tough competition in the space, what is the mandate for Jasmin Sohrabji?
Jasmin now has many roles. I still see her as a big leader for OMD India, because that’s where she started. That’s where her blood and DNA is. But, of course she also runs OMG in India and OMG in South East Asia, so she has got a big role. What I always discuss with Jas every time we talk is two things: Our clients, what more can we do, what opportunities have we missed, is there anything we can do better? And the second one is talent - are our people happy, are we retaining the talent we have, are we attracting new talent, how are we doing that, what are the lessons learnt? And perhaps the third one is integration - are we able to deliver all our services at the same standard through one person owning the strategy and direction to the client? Otherwise, it becomes very difficult for our clients to follow us in a world which is overspecialized. We got to make it simple for clients.
Q] Where do you place India as a market in the global scheme of things for OMD?
In terms of ranking and number, it’s always among Top 10, it may even be Top 5. It’s one of the important markets, always been part of the decisions that we take for the future together with China and Australia, together with the big 5 or the big 7 in Europe, and together with the US and Canada, of course. So those Top 10 make a big difference to the network if they are made of people willing to invest their time, not just in managing their markets but really being part of the infrastructure, participating and taking global decisions.
Q] Talking to us about five years ago, you had said that India will be in OMD’s Top 5 revenue markets by 2020, if not earlier. Are we closer to that goal, or would you want to recalibrate it?
We are not there yet, but we will aspire to that. It should be, for a market of that size. Perhaps I was overambitious five years ago. But it certainly remains our ambition, and something that we are gearing up to deliver over time.
Q] How do you see OMD in India contributing to OMD at the global level? And what is the kind of support that OMD global gives India?
Global to India is easier for me, of course, because it’s how I see it more every day, in two specific areas. One is clients - always encouraging India to align to consistency in the way we manage our global clients and always bringing the benefit of lessons learnt, test and learn, new technique, new services, new products coming from the rest of the world. So that’s our major contribution to the market. OMD India’s contribution to the rest of the world, I have to say, is very related to Jas as a person. She is always asking questions, always challenging, always asking for confirmation if that is the best. This culture of questions helps us to become better. Jas is always challenging all of us at the global level - are we doing the right thing, is that right for me, is that right for the market, and it’s very healthy because it makes us better. In a specific area, India is also becoming very important for us in terms of data management and mining, where we are building stronger and stronger resources in this market for the benefit of the entire world. Our data and analytics specialist in the group employs more and more people in India to support and manage the global platform.