Mindshare turned 25 this November, but the milestone isn’t the only reason that has made the year special for the media agency. The GroupM-owned company, despite all odds, has put up a good show in 2022, and is riding high on the success. The agency has already clocked business worth Rs 1600 crore, and has been ranked number one in COMvergence rankings for H1 of 2022.
Amin Lakhani, who took charge of the agency as CEO-South Asia in January 2022, is relishing the moment. “Mindshare would have been at Rs 1600 crore-plus in the last four quarters. And from a Mindshare Group perspective, which is Mindshare, M/six and Neo, maybe nearly Rs 1800 crore-plus,” he says.
Lakhani’s boss Helen McRae, who flew in from Singapore to join the 25th anniversary celebrations, calls Mindshare India the “beating heart of the network.”
“India is where we see high growth; we’re seeing high innovation in creative, content, data, and tech. It’s a great little microcosm of everything, of the future of our industry. So, I had to see it. Mindshare, and particularly India, has always been the beating heart of our network,” says Rae, CEO, Mindshare APAC.
Way back in 1997, Mindshare was the first media agency created within WPP—initially from sister agencies like JWT and Ogilvy—and then from across the industry.
“Twenty five years ago, we started off being the start-up of WPP, and we have not let that start-up mind-set go, despite being leaders today. We keep innovating, we keep disrupting, and that is what helps us win more and more clients, and continue to strengthen our relationship with the existing clients,” shares Lakhani.
Over the years, Mindshare has consistently been adjudged ‘Agency of the Year’ at various global and Indian industry events. Lakhani firmly believes that it’s the restlessness at the heart of the organisation that makes it stand out as an agency. “Disruption and innovation have been at the heart of whatever we do, and that’s the reason we are seeing success. Also, there is no sense of complacency in our DNA that allows us to take things for granted. This scale is just an outcome of our mindset. It is not something to be complacent about. I think that’s where we are.”
Mindshare’s client list is definitely one that can make any agency in India envious. The agency has regularly won, served, and retained clients as big and precious as HUL, Britannia, Kelloggs, The Walt Disney Company, Castrol, Aditya Birla Group, and ICICI Group, to name a few.
Moreover, it has clients across categories and eras. Besides catering to legacy brands, it also manages new-age tech-led companies like BYJU’s, Spinny, Meesho, TikTok Skill Games, ZebPay etc.
Both Rae and Lakhani believe that having client heterogeneity helps an agency improve its own understanding of the industry, and makes it better at serving the clients.
“I think one of the strengths that we have is that our network, not only globally, but also within the region and particularly within India, gives us that breadth of understanding not just certain types of consumer groups, but all consumer groups in India. Because growth isn’t going to come from one segment or two segments, but it’s going to come from different consumer groups. Also, the diversity, and the spectrum of consumers that you have in India is tremendous. So, it’s really important that our clients understand that we are focused on growth, and we have the ability to drive that growth across the full range of their consumers,” says Rae.
The APAC head also emphasised on the need to deliver growth numbers while carrying out work that redefines the future of media agencies. “I have high growth expectations, but it’s not actually just about the number per se. It’s about what is actually sitting behind those numbers. What type of work are we doing? We as a group look at all the work we do and have discussions about the work done for the client and how can it be better. I’m after something that is going to reiterate that Mindshare is the leading agency in this market,” says Rae.
She is confident that Mindshare India’s style of working will redefine what great work means. “Our work is about what the future means for the media industry and the media services industry. And that’s quite exciting.”
‘Mindshare India is the beating heart of our network,’ says Helen McRae
As Mindshare turns 25, the media agency’s APAC CEO Helen McRae, and South Asia CEO Amin Lakhani, in an exclusive conversation with IMPACT, talk about what it means to be the agency of scale, having client heterogeneity, and a lot more.
Q] As one of the leading media agencies in India, scale is believed to be your strength. Going forward, would you want to be seen not just as a legacy agency of scale, but also as one that is future-ready?
Helen: Scale is merely a descriptor. What really makes the difference is what you do with that scale, how you invest that scale, and where you direct that scale. For us, the scale has translated into great work and innovation in new areas around performance, ecommerce, data, and consulting.
So, while scale is sometimes used as a euphemism for legacy, I believe what you do with it and how you leverage it is important.
Q] What makes you one of the favourite agencies in the world? What is it that you do differently?
Amin: The hunger to win clients and winning for clients is part of our culture, and it doesn’t seem to die. The day we feel it’s dying, we will stop coming to work.
Secondly, we make sure that we don’t lose sight of two things: client’s business and consumer. We want to know where the consumer is moving, and try and be where they are, or maybe, predict where they will be. The constant learning and unlearning have kept us more agile. We do all these to make sure that our clients win in business. So, for us, performance marketing is not about adding one division or about lower funnel, it’s about the DNA of Mindshare, which is that everything we do in media is about delivering client’s business.
Therefore, we will never be only about lower funnel or upper funnel. We will continue to be a full-funnel accountable agency that will deliver for clients across the entire consumer funnel and help them win in their business.
Helen: That full-funnel approach is about ultimately driving growth for clients. We think about all our clients, whether they are global or local, particularly in this market where we expect a high growth rate. India is in growth. If you look at the economics for India versus other big markets, the expectations are quite high.
Growth is about becoming multidimensional. It’s becoming full funnel; it’s not just top of the funnel or bottom of the funnel. It’s not short-term, it’s not long-term. It’s both. That funnel is about taking onboard the full expanse of the consumer opportunities. And one of the strengths that we have is that our network, not only globally but even within the region, and particularly within India, gives us that breadth of understanding of not just certain types of consumer groups, but all consumer groups. Because growth is going to come from different consumer groups. And the diversity and the spectrum of consumers that you have in India is tremendous. So, it’s really important that our clients understand that we are focused on growth, and we have the ability to drive that growth across the full range of their consumers.
Q] You have led diverse markets across the globe. What are some of the best practices that Mindshare India can pick up from other developed markets?
Helen: Mindshare India certainly understands data and technology, and then content and culture, but how do we bring these together? We’re starting to see great work coming out of India, work that is very culturally relevant, but does that blend data, tech, and culture together?
Having said that, I always think the inverse: what can other markets can learn from India? My fundamental belief is that the future of marketing is going to come from this region. If you think around social commerce, influencer marketing, gaming, all of these areas are being amplified in this region, and indeed in India.
India is where we see high growth; we’re seeing high innovation in creative, content, data and tech. It’s a great little microcosm of everything, of the future of our industry. Mindshare, and particularly India, has always been the beating heart of our network.
As a leader in the industry, we wrote the rulebook on media, and we are again going to rewrite the rule of what the future of marketing will be. We’ll be born here.
Amin: We have a dedicated capability on data analytics. Recently, Google recognized us as a pioneer agency to partner with for making sense of how Ads Data Hub (ADH) offering can be unlocked for clients. We are answering questions on the back of data analytics. How much of upper funnel is good enough? What’s the correlation between a good impression and an average impression? We’re trying to help clients write or rewrite the playbooks on how to interject and renew consumers in this entire digitalized world.
Q] Is this conversation about full-funnel approach an outcome of the pandemic or was it in demand earlier as well?
Helen: The tension between short, and long-term performance has always existed pre-pandemic. What changed in the pandemic is that you saw a lot more conversion to D2C. So, businesses had to enter the performance space faster than they had originally planned. Consequently, they not only had to get themselves upskilled in terms of understanding, but also figure out how all of those pieces fit together? And it’s not an either or, because the whole point of a funnel is that it connects all the way through. And if one part of the funnel is not working, you’re not going to maximize the return.
Amin: This is a timeless principle. For years, we’ve been the proponents of the philosophy that investment in brand building over a longer period of time is sustainable and drives businesses. Mindshare’s position on this is absolutely clear, and now we are getting support to back this claim even in the digital world.
Q] How difficult were the pandemic years for you as an agency?
Helen: The first year was obviously a challenge for all of us. But we significantly recovered last year. And if you remove 2020, Mindshare has been showcasing very healthy growth, thanks to the portfolio of clients that we have, and the kind of work that we do with them. So, I don’t think growth has been a challenge for us.
Amin: The first three months were absolutely shocking, and like any other company in the country, all of us faced challenges right from personal level to business level. From a business perspective, we were mindful of two things. First, how our clients are dealing with something like this, and how could we be of support during that period and help them navigate this challenge. The second biggest challenge was taking care of our own people. I am glad that we are sitting over here post-pandemic, in the physical world, and remembering those very tough times.
Q] We are barely out of the pandemic, and economists are already talking about recession. Even the festive season was dull. Will it impact your growth and numbers?
Helen: Last three years have been tough, not just because of COVID, but also because of the war in Ukraine impacting the supply chain. It’s been a confluence of a lot of different things, which is unprecedented.
Talking of growth, the first half of 2022 was spectacular as we had a very healthy double-digit growth. Yes the challenges of the world have affected most of our clients, and we’ve been the ones to advise the clients to use caution in the second half. Therefore, the second half has been slower than the first.
However, look at the CPG space. I think the inflationary pressures are not holding them back. They’re all planning for launches, they’re all investing cautiously behind sustainable campaigns and nobody is holding back promos. So, I think CPG will come back and it’s always ready to come back.
Also, we are seeing a lot of traction in fashion. There’s been a structural upsurge in the fashion category post Covid. That’s a category that is helping others with the growth. We will see BFSI also coming back very shortly and so on.
However, will this be a super duper next six months? The answer is, maybe no. But I think we have plans cut out. We know what exactly is required in a market situation like this. And we are working very closely with most of our clients to make sure that they come out of these challenges sooner.
Q] With all these constraints, how has it been in terms of winning new businesses?
Amin: Mindshare was ranked number one in the COMvergence ratings, H1 of 2022, it would have been at Rs 1600 crore-plus in the last four quarters. From a Mindshare Group perspective, which is Mindshare, M/six and Neon, it was around Rs 1800 crore-plus. So, I don’t think new business is a challenge. What we want to focus on is quality of work. How do we help clients? How can we help them unlock growth in these challenging times? How do we invest in state-of-the-art tools and technologies to be able to understand consumers better, and talk to them effectively? These are the places where we are putting in effort.
Helen: We have received a large number of consulting assignments. And these are not only from our clients, but clients working with other agencies too have come to us with specific requests in specific areas where they felt their current agency was not able to deliver.
The other area is around digital data performance, and how it marries into content. Also, there are start-ups and new-age clients. I find these clients interesting. Sometimes, as an industry we get obsessed with scale. These clients don’t necessarily have scale, but they do have new, interesting, and different business models that challenge agencies to think differently. And that has enabled us with the ability to look at our own processes and begin to rewire them. Because the future is about more data and more platforms, agencies will have to move faster and be more flexible and adaptable. These learnings from our new-age clients are not only benefiting us as an agency, but they’re also benefiting our larger clients because we are now giving them new ways of working that are more efficient, and more business and outcome driven, as opposed to being more commodity-driven.
Our aim is to drive good growth. We want to be talking to clients about growth, not just about cost saving. Of course cost is important, but it’s about growth.
Q] Retaining talent has become a challenge for even the best agencies in India. How is Mindshare coping with it?
Helen: Attrition has been an issue. It’s not only with the media industry, but across the industry. Our clients, some of them biggest names in the IT and software industry, too have been dealing with attrition.
These challenges are there but we’re trying to see how we can be more innovative and what we could do within our company to attract and retain talent. There is a list of initiatives or programmes that we have already institutionalized. We’ve always had great programmes, but we have enhanced them and made them more flexible because we know we need to do that to keep great people with us.
Also, I think one of the benefits of COVID, if you could call it that, is that the definition of work life has changed. We’ve had to adapt. You don’t need to be in the office all the time and you can be more flexible. That’s been good because that has required us, as managers, to rethink and adopt some of the old ways of thinking, and that is what employees are actually looking for. We can create a great working environment where not only can the employees progress, but also have a better work-life balance.
These are the things that we’re now adapting to as managers and companies. We are providing a much more holistic approach to people who come to work for us.
Q] Going forward, what are your expectations from Mindshare India?
Helen: I have high growth expectations, but it’s not actually just about the number per se. It’s also about what is actually sitting behind those numbers, the type of work that we are doing.
As a group, we look at all the work that we do, and have discussions on how it could be better. And that’s what we should be looking at, improving the work. Because cheap growth or short-term growth isn’t actually what I’m after. I’m after something that is going to reiterate that Mindshare is the leading agency in this market. I want to make sure that the team shows that the work we are doing is rewriting what great work means, and what the future means for the media industry and the media services industry. And that’s quite exciting.
I believe growth is going to be much healthier and long-term.
Amin: We continue to beat other markets. We will continue to grow heavily up until December 31, 2022.
Q] Helen, as someone who has spent almost two decades in this industry, how have you seen the industry change in the last few years? What changes do you see in the client-agency relationship?
Helen: I see a lot more discussions around agency and what the agency can do to drive business growth. There are questions like what can you do to help me achieve my business ambition? Also, a lot more clients are now asking about growth versus cost savings. So, that’s quite important.
I think that the work we do is becoming a lot more data-driven, and that requires us to, in some ways, unlearn some of the ways that we have been using before to become more consistent and efficient. But we also need to learn new skills, new disciplines, new ways of working and new techniques. Because the one thing that hasn’t changed about this industry is that it’s constantly evolving. And that’s from the day one, today, now, and every day; I learn something new, and it changes again. And that’s what makes it exciting. That’s the reason why I have stayed for 30 years.
EMPLOYEES WHO CLOCKED 25 YEARS WITH MINDSHARE
One that stands out to me right now, and every time we start annual planning, is the first Purple Head award our ampm team won - it was for Innovation, and our campaign was up against some bigger brands with bigger budgets. The win was a fun moment for the team, and as well as a testament to our belief that creativity and innovation don’t always have to come with high price tags. Mindshare has always had a strong curiosity culture, which has served as springboard to some exceptional work; I can’t wait to see what’s next.
My fondest memory was working on the Ford Global Anthem campaign in 1999 that made it into the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest global television roadblock (1 billion people) ever. I was also the media buyer that worked on a campaign for Bosch “Storm Chasers” in 2012 that won an Effie award. My advice for the next 25 years is to stay focused, flexible, and fearless!
Partner, Associate Director, Investment
I just celebrated 22 years at Mindshare Canada. It started as an agency of approximately 80 people, and we were an extended family. I remember helping the new business team work on pitches into the wee hours of the night, printing off decks, binding them together, with copious amounts of coffee and pizza. And when we won, everyone celebrated. Over the years, however, we grew. We saw a lot of changes within our network, our offerings expanded and we are now stronger. We may not know everyone’s name anymore, but there’s always a sense of belonging and of team and the goal to succeed.”