Ashish Bhasin, Chairman and CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network, South Asia decodes the network’s acquisition gameplan; latest addition of SVG Media strengthens DAN’s hold on digital business even as it spreads its footprint across PR, OOH, Social Media and Events
By Team IMPACT
Japan's biggest advertising agency Dentsu first entered India in 2003, through a partnership with media entrepreneur Sandeep Goyal. But, it was in 2012 that everybody sat up and took notice of Dentsu when it managed to outdo the big guys and acquire a 51% stake in the hottest independent creative agency Taproot. Since then, acquisitions have been an integral strategy for the agency to grow, more so since Ashish Bhasin took over as Chairman and CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN), South Asia, formed after Dentsu acquired UK’s Aegis Media. Since 2012, DAN has acquired 10 media companies in India (11 if you consider Grant Group in Sri Lanka and take into account South Asia). In numbers, DAN’s revenues have grown by 2200% in the last eight years; the business has grown by 2100% and the head count is now about 3,300, up from just 45-50 when Bhasin took over. Talking about revenues, Bhasin says, “We have crossed Rs 4,500 crore in billings and if all goes well, we will end this year with well over Rs 5,000 crore.”
Commenting on DAN’s slew of acquisitions, Bhasin says, “Acquisition is an integral part of my strategy. I would like to get to a scenario where 50% of my growth should be organic and 50% should come from acquisitions. We are not quite there, but not too far from it either.” He adds, “Acquisitions are really important because among other things, they bring in great talent into our group. We only do acquisitions for strategic reasons, not for turnover, profit or financial gain, but for critical, strategic inputs.” Though a relatively late entrant into the India market, acquisitions have helped DAN build up scale and Bhasin claims the most recent acquisition, SVG Media, will make DAN the Number 1 digital agency network in India.
CHALLENGES ALONG THE WAY
Drawing an analogy between acquiring a company and marriage, Bhasin says that both parties need to adjust for the partnership to be successful. Calling it “always work in progress”, Bhasin adds that there are five values – collaborative, ambitious, agile, responsible and pioneering – that DAN treasures and abides by, and these are articulated to the prospective partner, who in turn is also measured and judged by these very parameters.
According to Bhasin, “That’s what we measure the other party, partners, employees, acquisition targets by. The emphasis is how do we make sure that these values are similar and how do they get imbibed top to bottom in the organization.” Explaining this further, he says, “Anybody we are talking to should be collaborative as our whole process is geared to one P&L account. We have no place for prima donnas in our company. We are very ambitious and have come from virtually nowhere to become the second largest agency network in India. Our ambition is to grow much faster than the market for the next few years. We are quick in decision-making, much quicker in our movement and action and in the context of acquisition. We take fast decisions and close deals fast.” Bhasin also stresses on being responsible towards DAN’s shareholders, clients, employees and to society and environment. He adds, “Everything we do must be pioneering in nature. For example, Carat was the world’s first independent media buying and planning agency. Dentsu too has several innovations to its name.”
FOCUS ON ONE P&L
The group’s focus on one P&L has paid rich dividends and an example of this has been the ability to move around talent to be able to provide the client a solution. And, this is something which the competition has taken note of. Bhasin says, “Most of our competitors have now seen the one P&L and are desperately trying to get that but they are so structured in silos. The different wings – media, creative, digital – do not interact with each other. The legacy agencies in particular are finding it very difficult.” He continues, “This is one instance where we have a first mover advantage and we learnt from the mistakes of others. We made sure that the impact of silos was minimized in our business. Everybody will love to move to a one P&L scenario. Sooner than later they will also get there but at the moment we are well ahead and most of them are finding it very difficult.”
AN ENTREPRENEURS’ GROUP
Most of DAN’s acquisitions have been companies started by entrepreneurs and on its part DAN prides itself in giving all the companies which are part of the group “utmost freedom including retention of branding in many cases”. However, each M&A brings about its own unique set of challenges particularly when it comes to systems and processes. Bhasin says, “I won’t say it’s a challenge but the integration exercise and process is very important and we pay a lot of attention to integration. It’s very easy to carry out an acquisition, the harder thing is to make sure that that acquisition is successful and it gets integrated and works together, particularly for us where one P&L is the most important aspect.”
Remarking on the continuing role of the entrepreneurs within the group, Bhasin says, “The beauty of our group is that we have an impeccable track record with most of our entrepreneurs whose companies we acquired. We are a company that is built on entrepreneurs. They stay on even after their stipulated time with the company is over. We know what entrepreneurs feel and therefore are very proud that they stay on with us.” He proudly cites the example of Vivek Bhargava - whose company Communicate 2, now called iProspect, was acquired by DAN in 2012. Bhargava chose to continue with DAN even after his time was over and has in fact taken on a larger role as CEO of DAN Performance Group.
SERVICING CLIENTS’ NEEDS
So what decides which company would be on DAN’s radar next? Bhasin says that he just follows his clients’ needs and also anticipates their needs. “I should be able to get the maximum share of wallet of my clients’ marketing and communication spends,” he declares. This rationale led to the acquisition of the Perfect Relations Group in September 2016, as lack of a PR offering meant that clients’ spends were going elsewhere. Similarly, anticipation that social media and search would become big led to the acquisition of Communicate 2 and WATConsult. The acquisition of Milestone Brandcom gave the group size and scale in the OOH space and with group firm Posterscope, has come the much-needed consolidation that has resulted in DAN cornering 35%-40% of market-share.
Looking ahead, Bhasin sees virtual reality, artificial intelligence, augmented reality as the future trends. He says, “We are doing some of it organically but if any good company develops and becomes big, we will be very happy to partner with them.” He continues, “We are overweight on Digital and get almost 35% of our revenues from Digital. We are also overweight on New Age Media, Out of Home, Activations… all areas which we feel are fast growing. We will always keep looking out for any area which will interest our clients.”
According to RECMA 2016 qualitative rankings for Indian media agencies, DAN stood at No 6 with 6.7% market-share. However, DAN recorded the highest growth rate of 76% (YoY), with Carat growing by 145%, Dentsu Media by 36% and Vizeum by 8%. In addition to the acquisitions last year that will add to the group’s topline. DAN has also won some big media mandates such as General Motors, Mondelez and Maruti Suzuki India Limited.
SAGA OF DAN’S Acquisitions
Acquisitions have been an integral part of the Dentsu Aegis Network’s expansion strategy in India; the key factors behind every acquisition being skill and strategic fit. Notably, in one of the advertising industry's biggest acquisitions ever, Japan's Dentsu Inc. agreed to buy UK media-buying firm Aegis Group Plc for about $5 billion in July 2012, seeking to expand into more dynamic economies than its sluggish home market. Here is a timeline of all the acquisitions by the network after that:
When: August 2012
Estimated deal price: Rs 140 crore
The acquisition of 51% stake in Taproot in 2012 was a game-changer for Dentsu, adding creative might to the Japanese advertising giant in India. Taproot, started in 2009 by Agnello Dias and Santosh Padhi, was already recognized as one of the 20 top creative agencies in the world, with creative hotshots Dias and Padhi touted to be people to watch out for. Additionally, it had blue chip clients like Airtel, The Times of India Group and PepsiCo. What worked at Taproot’s end was the quality of its creative services which won global critical acclaim, scale, reputation and more high profile clients the agency acquired in the short time of its operations. Taproot was later rebranded as Taproot Dentsu. Now, Dias and Padhi head Taproot Dentsu, along with CEO Umesh Shrikhande.
When: August 2012
Estimated deal price: Rs 55 crore
The Aegis Group acquired digital performance marketing and search agency Communicate 2 through its digital performance agency iProspect in mid-2012. The acquired agency was called iProspect Communicate 2 and strengthened Dentsu’s network in Indian cities and provided additional service capabilities to its clients. iProspectCommunicate 2 was headed by Vivek Bhargava, CEO of Communicate 2. In November 2015, iProspect Communicate 2 was rebranded as iProspect India, making it part of the global team under the Dentsu Aegis Network. Its clients include Pepperfry, HDFC Bank, Cleartrip, Citi Bank, YES Bank, Shopclues, etc. In December 2016, Bhargava was elevated to CEO, DAN Performance Group. He heads all the digital performance agencies of Dentsu Aegis Media. The size of the agency is now Rs 175-180 crore.
When: May 2013
Estimated deal price: Rs 40- Rs 60 crore
In May 2013, Dentsu India Group acquired an 80% stake in the digital agency Webchutney, founded by Sidharth Rao and Sudesh Samaria in 1999. Webchutney is credited with developing award winning digital campaigns for some of the biggest brands in the country, including Unilever, MasterCard, Coca-Cola, Bacardi Martini, Budweiser, ITC, Marico, Madura Garments, Titan, Bajaj, Reliance Retail and Saint Gobain. Network18 Media and Investments' venture capital arm, Capital18 had invested in Webchutney in 2007. The agency employs over 200 people across offices in Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru and boosts of having four of the 10 top advertisers among its clients. Webchutney was later renamed as Dentsu Webchutney. Some clients won by Dentsu WebChutney over the last year include Airtel, Flipkart, Swiggy, RedBull, HDFC, Hike and Payback. Its size now is Rs 150-175 crore.
When: July, 2014
Estimated deal price: Rs 300 crore
DAN acquired out-of-home (OOH) specialist agency Milestone Brandcom in July 2014. This acquisition provided DAN scale and clout in the OOH space and helped it to not only maintain leadership position but also dominance. The agency's OOH offering includes an event promotion activation division, a rural OOH activation, a retail and a digital OOH division. Headed by Nabendu Bhattacharyya, Milestone Brandcom has a team of 200 people, the OOH agency has 42 offices and 100 brands under its wing. Its clients include Tata Photon-Docomo, Colors, McDonalds, Binani Cement, Axis Bank, L'Oreal, HDFC Mutual Fund and Dish TV, and Milestone Brandcom earns annual revenues upwards of Rs 320 crore.
When: January, 2015
Estimated deal size: Rs 180-200 crore
DAN acquired homegrown Social and Digital Media Agency WATConsult in January 2015. Post acquisition, WATConsult became a part of Isobar, DAN's global digital marketing agency, and is now called 'WATConsult - Linked to Isobar'. Founded in 2007, the full service digital media agency employs 150 people spread across creative design, content, media planning, analytics and technology development. It has a client list including Godrej, Usha, Honda, DBS, Kotak Life insurance, DHFL, Fiama Di Wills, Mother Dairy amongst others. Recent account wins include global brands like Madame Tussauds and Brussels Airlines.
WATConsult is headed by CEO Rajiv Dingra, who is in the Digital Council of Dentsu Aegis Network India, that comprises CEO’s of Isobar, iProspect and WebChutney.
When: October 2015
Estimated deal size: Rs 300-400 crore
Scale and leadership was cited for the acquisition of event and experiential agency Fountainhead Entertainment by DAN. This signalled an aggressive move for the group towards being a full service offering of marketing services in India. Established in 1994, Fountainhead is headquartered in Mumbai and has offices in Delhi and Bengaluru with more than 200 employees. Post the acquisition, Fountainhead and psLIVE India were merged to form Fountainhead-MKTG. In addition to events and activation, the entity will also look at entertainment, branded entertainment, sports, etc. Fountainhead continues to be led by co-founder and CEO Brian Tellis.
Perfect Relations Group
When: September 2016
Estimated deal size: Rs 250-400 crore
DAN acquired the PR company Perfect Relations Group, retaining its branding in mid 2016. This addition strengthened DAN’s overall communications offering in India. Perfect Relations Group's presence spans across 19 offices and 50 cities in India with over 500 associates, offering a full suite of core PR services including corporate reputation management, brand and marketing communications, media management and crisis management. Perfect Relations Group services Fortune 500 companies and industry leaders including Coca-Cola, Nokia, Airtel and Honda across diverse sectors. The Group comprises Perfect Relations, Accord Public Relations, Image Public Relations, Imprimis Life PR, India Media Monitor and Buzz. Joining the Dentsu Aegis leadership team are Group Managing Director Dilip Cherian and CEO of Perfect Relations Group Pradeep (Bobby) Kewalramani who will report to Ashish Bhasin.
Happy Creative Services
When: October, 2016
Estimated deal size: Rs 200-300 crore
Continuing its acquisition spree in 2016, DAN acquired creative marketing agency Happy Creative Services. Post the acquisition, Happy joined the global mcgarrybowen network of agencies and was rebranded as Happy mcgarrybowen. Established in 2007, the agency employs around 100 people across three disciplines - Brand Design, Integrated Brand Communication and Digital. Happy's co-founder and CEO Kartik Iyer, and co-founder and MD Praveen Das joined the Dentsu Aegis leadership team in India.
Fractal Ink Design Studio
When: December, 2016
Estimated deal size: Rs 215-300 crore
The year 2016 ended with another acquisition for DAN, this time the experiential design studio Fractal Ink Design Studio. Fractal joined DAN’s digital agency – Isobar, and was rebranded as “Fractal Ink Design Studio - Linked By Isobar”. The acquisition added significant scale to the agency’s expertise in mobility and user experience. In addition, it brought together a team of 1,000 digital experts including the combined Isobar team and the existing network digital brands iProspect, WATConsult and Dentsu Webchutney. Established in 2010, Fractal specializes in user experience and user interface design (UI/UX) and digital design strategy services for major clients including Aditya Birla Group, Raymond, Idea group, MetLife, Times Network and Axis Bank. Tanay Kumar, CEO, Co-founder and Creative Director of Fractal, joined the Dentsu Aegis leadership team in India while co-founders Geeta Suthar, Hemant Suthar and Priyanka Agrawal continue in their roles as part of the management team.
When: March 2017
Estimated deal size: Rs 175-250 crore
Moving beyond Indian shores, DAN acquired 59-yearold Grant Group - the largest independent integrated creative agency and the pioneer of advertising in Sri Lanka. The acquisition marked DAN’s first foray into the island nation. The Grant Group has 150 people spread across seven entities under two main groups: Grant Advertising – which comprises Grant Advertising and Grant Media, and Grant Agencies which is made up of Response Marketing, RN Media, an OOH agency, Grant Public Relations, Juice Productions, content creation studios and Magnetic, a growing digital business. Postacquisition, Grant Advertising is now known as Dentsu Grant while Grant Media joined Dentsu Aegis’ global media network brand, Carat. Steering Dentsu Grant is Neela Marikkar, Chairperson and Managing Director of the Dentsu Aegis Network Grant Group.
When: April 2017
Estimated deal size: Rs 732-832 crore
The latest addition to the DAN family in India is digital agency SVG Media. SVG Media will join the network’s Asia Pacific digital marketing agency Columbus and will become SVG Columbus. Dentsu Aegis Network is currently Google’s largest search partner in India, and the addition of SVG Media will further strengthen the Group’s leading search position in the market. SVG Media includes the flagship brands DGM, Komli and Seventynine. Founded in 2006, SVG Media comprises over 280 specialists across Gurgaon, Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore. It offers diverse digital media competencies including online performance marketing, mobile app distribution, representations, social and web services through its flagship brands. The group has one of the largest client bases in the Indian digital media sector with over 700 monthly active advertiser campaigns locally, as well as international clients in Dubai, Indonesia and China. Its new client wins include Max Life, Outbrain, Canara, HSBC, OBC Life Insurance, Max Bupa, UNICEF. Anurag Gupta will be CEO of SVG Columbus & DGM, and report to Ashish Bhasin, Chairman and CEO of Dentsu Aegis Network South Asia.