The past 20 months plus have been tough for agencies. With marketing budgets dipping and workforce limited to remote functioning largely, some agencies have not only sailed through this tough time, but flourished too.
One such story is of the DDB Mudra Group. The agency has scripted many turnaround stories, managed client expectations and even shown that it is possible to grow through pandemic scenarios and a recession time.
Some of the factors that have helped DDB Mudra grow by 20 percent during this time is its people-centric approach, pre-empting changed client expectations and adapting to this scenario quickly. As some of the employees who spoke to us said, “The culture focuses always on People, Product, Profit in that order.”
What agencies typically do is to look at what advertisers are looking for and accordingly decide the next steps. However, DDB Mudra proactively reversed the whole order and readjusted its product offerings. Apart from changing product offerings, in digital it was clear what to focus on and they adopted a three pronged approach, which looked at ecommerce, OTT and ORM.
Its all about Leadership
During the second Covid wave, the agency had 200 people, out of 600, who were suffering from Covid or had their immediate family suffering from Covid. The leadership responded to this crisis swiftly, going to great lengths to take care of its people during that tough time.
“Everyone in the company came together and carried the extra load when 30 to 40 percent of the staff was not available. We also learnt about a few things which we were not paying attention to—whether it is gender and diversity or mental health, we did things at a policy level. We moved to a four-day workweek at the peak of the second wave because we felt our people needed time and our clients supported us in that,” shared Aditya Kanthy, Managing Director and CEO, DDB Mudra Group.
Also, DDB Mudra’s growth can be traced to its focus on an integrated solutions approach. All the strategies that the agency has put in place have worked very well and it has benefited everyone who has been associated with it, including its people and clients.
Scripting New Success- The DDB
Mudra Group Story
There are few instances where Covid-19 spurred growth for agencies and DDB Mudra is one of them. Be it on the people front or at the client front, the agency has taken on the challenge and risen to script a success story that is worth telling. In this interview with IMPACT, Aditya Kanthy, Managing Director and CEO, DDB Mudra Group, speaks about the factors that have helped the agency to stay ahead of the curve.
Q] How have the last 20 plus months been from an organisational standpoint?
It has been 20 plus months of change in every aspect of work. Whether it’s people and culture, the way we create our products or work with our clients. It has been a time for reflection, for working together as a team with our clients and partners to try to overcome barriers. As time passed, it turned into opportunities to make things better. It was not about just survival, as it was in the first phase, when we had serious challenges facing the economy. The second part of that journey was about embracing that change and looking at it as an inspiration to do things differently at the company. As a result of what we have experienced, we have made changes to our policies, the way we think about people and the way they come together and shape culture. I would say it has been a humbling journey and extraordinary story of resilience and teamwork. During the second Covid wave, we unfortunately lost five colleagues at the agency. We had 200 people, out of 600, who were suffering from Covid or had their immediate family suffering from Covid, and we saw people going to great lengths to take care of each other during that tough time.
Q] How did you manage to keep the teams together during such a crisis?
It’s difficult to even imagine the kind of pain people have been through due to this pandemic. For us as a company, we tried to do whatever was possible, whether it was in terms of medical care or financial support. We also lost two long-standing colleagues who had served at DDB Mudra Group for decades. Everyone in the company came together and carried the extra load when 30 to 40 percent of the staff was not available. We also learnt about a few things which we were not paying attention to—whether it was gender and diversity or mental health, we did things at a policy level. We moved to a four-day workweek at the peak of the second wave because we felt our people needed time and our clients supported us in that.
Q] There was a dip in marketing spends in this time, did that impact your equation with clients?
As far as the agency-client equation is concerned, we have to be able to move quickly as we see new things emerge. That is what happened over the last 20 plus months as well. The first response to Covid involved shrinking marketing budgets. Even with clients that we have worked with for the longest, we had to come together and tide through a difficult time.
We have now got back to pre-Covid level volumes, thanks to our long-standing partners. We work with over 100 clients across design and strategy, advertising, digital marketing and media. Across the board, an overwhelming majority of clients are more optimistic today than they were 15 months ago. The fact that we walked to them half way during this crisis is something they appreciate and value. There were also a bunch of clients who were investing more and saw this phase with real optimism. We also had some extraordinary stories of clients who grew exponentially in the last 20 months as well, since we were forced to adopt habits that would have otherwise taken 5 to 10 years.
Q] We have also seen the marketing mix change and the focus on digital has become more pronounced, how has that changed the narrative at agencies?
There is no dispute that the marketing mix has changed. Marketers used to talk about digital transformation, now they have started to walk that talk and shifted money within their media mix. On the creative agency side, there are a bunch of portfolios whose businesses are built on digital. On the media side it follows the consumption behaviour, and that has moved to digital platforms. I still believe there is a place for mass media advertising and this year that part of our business has also grown. There is appreciation across the board. The model of the future needs a healthy balance of the long-term and short-term of brand building and performance.
Q] Now that business is back, how will the advertising landscape look from here on?
We have learnt not to celebrate too quickly. Before the second wave it looked like we were inching back to normalcy, no one had expected the devastation it caused. While the economy was not as badly hit as in the first wave, from a people and humanitarian perspective it was devastating. We must remember that it is difficult to build business without a social, cultural and human context for lasting success.
In my view, the companies that responded to changes in 2020 quickly, and those that were more open to changing things and perhaps benefitted from those decisions are in a better position today than they would have been if they had failed to adapt to the obvious stimulants that we had for change. Now there is cautious optimism, and it’s wise to hold back on any major predictions and long-term bets on what the hybrid kind of model will look like.
Some industries have had a better experience with hybrid models, the tech companies in particular. For companies like us, the challenge is how to create a culture without people coming together.
Q] DDB has done well despite tough market conditions and Covid induced challenges, how would you explain this?
The most important part of any company is its people and culture, and I think that is what did it. We are blessed to have an amazing team and a culture, which I believe is special and sets us apart. It helped us endure and fight through a difficult time. In addition, we have produced some of the best work in the country and our people have come together in ways that recognises the fact that we were dealing with a difficult time. At the end of the day, it’s a hungry team and we believe we have an opportunity to do more.
We grew by 20 percent last year:
The agency-client relationship is a tight rope to walk. This equation got even more complex during the Covid crisis. However, DDB Mudra Group, which has clients across sectors, managed to not only keep the trust intact but also made headlines for many turnaround stories, ensuring that its business witnessed continuous growth despite a tough market scenario.
In a freewheeling chat with IMPACT, Rammohan Sundaram, Country Head & Managing Partner, Integrated Media, DDB Mudra Group, spoke about the many turn-around stories that the agency scripted for its clients and factors that make DDB different from its counterparts.
Q] How would you explain DDB Mudra doing exceedingly well despite the Covid induced crisis?
It is important to realise that the world is changing, we sensed it quite early in June 2020 and changed our product offerings, predicting the things that would impact business. What media agencies typically do is to look at what advertisers are looking for and accordingly decide the next steps. However, we proactively reversed the whole order.
Apart from changing product offerings, in digital we were clear what to focus on. So, we had a three-pronged approach, which focused on ecommerce, OTT and ORM. With the penetration of digital, thanks to Jio, we saw a big opportunity in the home viewing segment. We looked at how many fire sticks were getting sold and how smart TV penetration was increasing. It all pointed at how digital is going to enhance the viewership, and that was the premise we used to change our product offering on digital, and it worked very well for us.
On TV we realised that India’s demography was one of the youngest in the world. We looked at consumer behaviour there and tried to understand what these people consume. When we got the data we were very clear where we wanted to be. All this helped us witness good growth and we grew by 20 percent last year.
Q] Covid was also a test of client-agency relationship. How did it pan out for you?
We must be available to clients at all times. They need to feel that you are their extension. In fact, all advertising agencies are marketing extensions of brands. We have to show that empathy and show them we can hold hands in such situations.
It’s public knowledge that there were cuts in marketing spends and retainer fee and commission-based models. But if you show that you can turn around business during a crisis then clients are also ready to match previous remuneration terms. This happened in our case.
Q] How has the advertising landscape changed over the last two years?
Now that the economy is bouncing back, it is definitely growing. Let us look at the opportunity at hand. If you analyse the numbers, TV consumption still has a huge opportunity to grow. Nowadays clients do not want to look at multiple touch points. It is becoming a hassle for them; they are looking for integrated solutions.
For us that has been a big differential factor. Ours is the only complete, marketing communications agency in the country which has got all touch points covered. That integrated offering helps clients decide on their strategy faster. All the strategies that we have put in place have worked very well and it has benefited everyone who has been associated with us.
Q] Success is not just about product offerings but leadership too, what is the DDB Mudra leadership story like?
What we realised during Covid was that we are all facing this situation for the first time. The one thing that resonated with all of us was the need to be empathetic, and that empathy translated into commitment for people who knew that the organisation was backing them in all ways.
We also believe in investing in people. We have tied up with third party organisations and are sending some people to ISB this year, so all of this helps them realise the extent to which they get recognised by this organisation and that’s why our attrition rates are lower than the rest.