We are challenging the norm of what a media agency is supposed to do, says Mausumi Kar, Managing Director at Motivator as she explains the organisation’s evolution into a go-to-market agency. She walks us through the agency’s journey since the pandemic struck, adding that its focus on emerging brands has helped Motivator see possibly its best year yet with over 20 account wins
Q] Take us through the past year for Motivator – what were some of the big highlights and learnings for you?
The realisation early on that despite the adversity around, we had an opportunity on our hands to shape Motivator’s future purposefully, evolving from being a media agency to a go-to-market agency, was key to orchestrating our subsequent efforts. The Motivator leadership set about laying the foundation and building brick by brick on our vision to be ‘the growth motivator for emerging brands, awakening potential, building connections and changing trajectories.’ We used the past year to develop and deliver our full-funnel e-commerce offering, launched Aftr Elvtr our specialised full service go-to-market consultancy for empowering early-stage start-ups and informing our content practice through what we call ‘thoda data, thoda dil’ – self-explanatory! The lesson is one of learning to focus on fewer, but relevant diversified services for emerging brands, irrespective of size.
2020 was tough from a business standpoint. Hence, de-risking our portfolio and making ourselves anti-fragile has been a focus for us. Balancing our existing clientele with the choice for new business has been deliberate. On the back of our existing and new capabilities, cross-functional pollination, and application, we have won more than 20 clients, the bulk of which are emerging brands with a few well-known established ones too.
I can’t stress enough that without our people we wouldn’t have been up to the pressures and challenges of the past year. It is a testament to passion, commitment, and grit that each individual showed up for Motivator every day. Without meaning to, work-life balance got severely affected and we have invaded personal spaces. We are five offices, but we became one big family that has gone beyond the call of duty to stand by each other during the pandemic. We are thankful that we could lean on GroupM’s initiatives around wellness and mental well-being, medical programmes and assistance for ourselves and our families – a reassurance that we belong to a larger family that stands by us during these troubled times.
Lastly, I wish to talk a little bit about agility which is not only a key aspect of one of our values but a cornerstone for an agency like ours which embarked on a change journey. We have been invested for a while now in re-skilling, upskilling and cross-functional learning for our people as we move into a very different future.
Q] Looking back, the agency seems to have picked up quite a few new businesses like Acer, RummyCulture, Radico Khaitan, MilkLane, Bumble and Slice over the past 12 months or so. Give us a sense of how the past year has been in terms of new business and revenue growth.
All these and more! Though business recovery pre-festive has been uneven across categories, we have been tracking well on our existing portfolio with healthy augmentation to our previous mandates.
We refresh and prioritise periodically basis certain principles, but one piece of equipment we let go was the lens of the media mandate while assessing business opportunities. Our success trajectory with emerging brands makes us bullish about betting big on specialised mandates. It is by design that we pace businesses, and client media spends size has not been a deciding factor. It might have been, had we been solely after media mandates, but we are not! There have also been certain opportunities that came our way to explore, both from internal stakeholders within WPP, GroupM and from external partners.
New business in 2021 has been at an all-time high for us with 20 plus wins this far and counting. We have added global brands, established names and a plethora of start-ups to our kitty with full-media service platters. Interestingly, the specialisations that we have been developing also helped us sign on new kinds of mandates, beyond media. Mandates in diverse and symbiotic areas – content and influencer marketing, performance marketing, end-to-end e-commerce, projects in analytics and consultancy, to name a few.
Q] Things have definitely gotten a bit competitive in the media and advertising space since the pandemic broke. What are the kind of targets you’ve set for Motivator and what kind of growth do you expect to see by the end of this year?
The competition for the big clients that comprise a large chunk of the advertising spends is tough, but it is usually limited to few global agency brands. A handful of these large brands go on a pitch any given year. That makes the competition in the balance of the market extremely aggressive. It is this one pool in which the large agencies as well as mid-sized agencies such as Motivator are fishing in for the past few years. Since the pandemic there has been a dialling up of the intensity, prodded on perhaps by the fact that many clients in existing agency portfolios went silent.
2020 was tough for all agencies. Come 2021 at Motivator, we had the choice of continuing to fish in the same pool or put our vision on acceleration mode to carve a viable niche for ourselves. We chose to do the latter strategy of increasing focus on the needs of emerging brands and thus building relevant specialisations. Now, we are fishing not just in the ‘media mandate’ pool but a bunch of specialised go-to-market pools. What gives us a certain edge is that we are not like any of the regular players in these other cohorts. Our appeal to a client comes from either providing media with one or multiple specialised go-to-market services or a variety of specialised go-to-market mandates to choose from and media, if required. Let me give some real-life examples from Motivator – for a personal health and hygiene brand we started by providing media services and then on-boarded them as our first full funnel e-commerce client. We took upon ourselves the qualitative target of delivering to a new vision, as well as a target in terms of hard numbers. If externalities don’t come in to spoil the party, we will end 2021 with our highest revenue numbers yet in the history of Motivator and by quite a fair margin.
Q] In September last year, Motivator launched its full funnel e-commerce solution. How has that worked out for the agency in terms of meeting client requirements in today’s times?
You already know that at Motivator we are focused on catering to the go to market needs of emerging brands. Established brands have been built on the back of traditional media with digital joining the party later, and in turn becoming another media vehicle. Digital has increased in importance over time, but without lessening of the grip of traditional media. Emerging brands approach digital as a business channel rather than just a media vehicle. It is bread and butter for them. Often, they don’t start with the width in terms of geographical distribution, hence e-com presence becomes critical. Many large established brands handle much of their e-com mandates in-house and when they do employ external parties, they usually have multiple partners handling different parts of the funnel. It would be a mighty expensive affair if emerging brands were to adopt the route of multiple partners. They need one agency that can bring all pieces together. Our full funnel e-com solution was launched to cater to this unmet market need and has resonated extremely well with new age clients. We already have a bunch of clients looking at us as a business partner for scaling up on e-com rather than just as a media agency. We are helping brands across categories and at different stages in the journey, crack the e-commerce enigma. Currently, we handle end-to-end e-commerce mandates for few brands, specific portions of the funnel like strategy, category management and content creation for some, and pure-play media commerce for others. This is an opportunity to impact till the last mile so when a client hands us over their e-com mandate they are putting their trust in our hands and believing that we have our skin in the game and are invested in their success.
Q] The industry has spent close to two years now in a pandemic scenario. Going by last year’s learnings, what are your expectations from this festive quarter? Are you seeing things back on track in terms of business and billings?
Indications are that this festive season is going well and will be better than last year. It is a window of opportunity for clients and consumers alike. The scepticism of the past year has made way for more buoyant sentiments. As per a recent industry estimate, 3 in 5 Indian consumers are positive about the festive season and 9 in 10 are planning to make a purchase.
From a media advertising spends standpoint it is a triple bonanza with IPL and T20 World Cup also falling in the festive period, making Q4 2021 significantly higher than Q4 2020. TV channels are running on full inventory with demand outpacing supply. Relatively newer categories like ed-tech and fin-tech are gaining popularity, and in turn investing significantly on media. In the CPG space as well, the spends are almost similar to 2019 levels if not more. Consumer spending, in specific categories, has already increased and will continue to grow. A few categories will however mitigate that effect. Hence, Q4 2021 in consumer spending terms can be expected to be closer to Q4 2019.
For Motivator, businesses that are cyclical in nature have been doing extremely well, which wasn’t the case immediately after the pandemic. The rebound has been heartening. In revenue terms it has been more than a three-fold increase when I compare the festive quarters of 2019 and 2021.
Q] As the leader of Motivator, what are the core focus areas for you as you move forward?
We are trying our hands at reinvention, challenging the norm with respect to what a media agency is supposed to do and who they work for. It’s about clients, competency, and culture.
Client delight is the reason we are in the business. We have our skin in the game and our clients know that. Many have trusted us to be their partner for a long time. It’s a privilege that we want to keep earning every day. Addressing the gaps in the market has helped us increase our clientele, and innovative interventions have allowed us to add to existing mandates. We are experimenting with partnership models to reach out to new age, digital first brands that are underserviced by agencies.
Rather than spreading ourselves thin we decided to focus our energies in building our competency in three areas: end-to-end e-commerce, content creation, and delivery backed by a measurement and effectiveness suite, pivoted to addressing the needs of emerging brands. Readying the market for change allows us to fine-tune and carve out specialised hubs focussed on high potential areas like D2C brands and through our Aftr Elvtr end-to-end consultancy for early-stage start-ups. For all other services, we keep sharpening existing proficiency through regular re-skilling and upskilling so that we deliver client delight. Being an integral part of the WPP and GroupM family also means that somewhere in this well-knit ecosystem we have the wherewithal to cater to specific needs of clients that we ourselves may not have. We leverage basis the need of the client.
We are building a culture that is distinct and inclusive. It reflects our shared vision and resonates with our people. Attached to this vision is our value system that makes Motivator a great place for people to thrive and where people win as one. We hope the potent mix of our culture, competency, clientele, and vision will help to attract the right kind of talent in general, and diverse skill sets in specific key focus areas.