Earlier this year, Anita Kotwani took on the role as CEO, Carat India, at a time when the entire industry was grappling with the COVID-induced upheaval. In a career spanning more than two decades, Kotwani has been instrumental in leading client relationships for brands such as the ABG, Kellogg, ICICI Group, Facebook, BYJU’S and The Walt Disney Company amongst others.
She has also helped build diversified offerings across data, digital and content, driving exponential growth for Mindshare India over the last two years.
In this interview with IMPACT, Kotwani talks at length about her new role, the big focus areas in the current economic climate, Carat’s deep understanding of consumers and brands, and her focus on driving growth in these challenging times.
Q] Congratulations, Anita! It’s great to see a new CEO among the agency ranks. What were your first thoughts when you knew that the position had been sealed?
The agency ecosystem has seen a transformative shift in the data, digital, content and technology space. Agencies that have an expertise from brand to demand and can manage the full-funnel path to purchase journey are the ones that will succeed in today’s time.
They need to have a deep human understanding of consumers and brands, and that is what Carat specialises in. It has a strong pedigree of being the world’s first media agency, and its new positioning that you will hear from us shortly is superlative.
Additionally, it is also well supported by the specialist units of Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN). They are front runners in the race and their specialisation services are tailor-made for the marketers to keep them future ready. To work with the fastest growing and future driven network, which provides services ideal for today’s marketers is what excited me to join DAN.
Q] What is it about your new role that excites you the most?
The key differentiator for me is working with the benefits of specialisation without the challenges of ‘siloization’. We are visionary enough to know that the marketers will look for specialisation / domain expertise going forward. Additionally, we have positioned DAN as a group of specialist agencies that will work in closely with the agency brands to service the clients. We are the only agency network where you will see certain agencies with domain expertise in multiple domains like Creative, Media, CRM, Performance Marketing, OOH and Events.
The rich learnings for the leader here are tremendous as the width and depth of service understanding is outstanding. In the end, it is about stimulation and learning new things that will keep you going as a professional and that is what I am assured about at DAN.
Q] What are some of the first few things that you plan to do?
As a leader, you start with first absorbing how the agency is presently functioning, what is working for it and identify areas that need improvement. You also need to spend time understanding the talent pool, their strengths and weaknesses and the enablers that you need to put together for them to succeed. Furthermore, I am also looking at client immersions on the brands that we service, so that we can then add value back to ensure their success in the marketplace.
We have a great repertoire of brands like Intel, Microsoft, Mastercard, Standard Chartered, Total, H&M, DS Group, Havells and others to whom we intend to provide top-notch servicing. Thus, initially the focus will be learning on the newer categories and their business, our clients and the talent that manages them.
At DAN, I spent my initial two months getting introduced to our clients and immersing myself into their businesses. The teams at Carat have been doing a fabulous job of servicing the clients during these tough times. As a team, we will only further strengthen our relationship with our clients.
With the changes in the ecosystem, clients are challenged with driving business outcomes and growth, and so are we as an agency. Our clients expect the agency to be nimble-footed and be available for them during these tough times. They look up to us as an extended arm of their teams and we are certainly rising to the occasion to deliver on their expectations.
Q] How will you address business growth, especially as you come in at this challenging time?
There is no denying the fact that I have joined Carat during these challenging times. The market is obviously not conducive to really see movement of accounts, as one would want to stay with the agency that understands the client’s businesses.
We as an agency, ensure prioritising the growth from our existing businesses that we handle wherein we plan to expand our service offerings to our clients. Given the larger network group, we do see some areas of cross sell that we can capitalise on and that is what we are focusing on as a team.
Also, there are few newer categories that we are exploring for opportunities. Hence, we are hoping with all of these put together, we will be able to drive decent growth for our businesses.
Q] What according to you will be four or five top changes media agencies will undergo post- COVID 19?
According to me, the first and obvious one will be around WFH policies. So far, the data has proven that the team’s productivity has improved and not deteriorated. Therefore, there will be an acceptance to WFH culture as a new norm across agencies. The media landscape changes will enable the agencies to review their talent pool.
There will be a drastic shift to bring in talent for new age services like data and analytics, digital, content, consulting, e-commerce, and performance. In a span of the next few years, one will witness a complete shift in the kind of talent that agencies will hire. The inflection points for Digital will be observed during this time with a shift in spends seen in the newer areas mentioned above.
I genuinely feel the role of specialists will play a larger part than the generalists. I believe, at DAN, we are in that sweet spot where we have specialisation without silos and are future ready for the needs of today’s marketers.
Q] What is your key learning from the lockdown period?
Ensuring virtual proximity has been of key importance. The learning during this period has been that it is extremely important to stay connected with your teams. They are under tremendous pressure and when you are there for them, they feel comforted and motivated.
They need to know that you are accessible to them always. Being self-disciplined has helped us improve our client satisfaction levels. One would have expected the employee productivity to drop, but I am glad to state that the teams have risen to the occasion and have been equally, if not more productive working from home.
Q] What will it take for the media and advertising industry to come back to normal? What are the three things that will speed up this process?
Normalcy in life and vaccine roll out is of paramount importance. We must find a cure to deal with COVID-19, else the situation will stay grim till the end of 2021.
The logistics, supply chain, and the labour market needs to be up and running in full strength. Production and distribution is vital for business growth and that is the first thing that needs to fall into place. No supply means no advertising, which is the brutal reality. It becomes challenging to convince the client to spend during this time.
With supply in place, you also need to have consumers’ share of wallet. They need to move back to non-essentials for the economy to survive.
Entertainment and sports are the genres that attract the maximum eyeballs. We need to establish a way for both creation of content and execution of sports properties. We have seen a start towards fresh content like The Kapil Sharma Show and other televised properties.
The big one on the anvil is IPL and it will be interesting to observe how that plays out, and the demand it generates with the marketing fraternity.
Q] What would be your top three priorities in leading Carat over the next couple of years?
• Drive growth for the agency.
• Retain and expand the services for our existing clients.
• Empower our talent pool to be ready for the changing landscape.