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We Want To Play With The Stronger: Prasanth Kumar, CEO, Mindshare South Asia

The kind of focus that we have put on data for instance, has led to the sharpening of all of our tools and products, says Prasanth Kumar, CEO, Mindshare South Asia

Photo Credit : Umesh Goswami

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Mindshare’s 20-year journey has witnessed the birth of the agency from the back-office of WPP creative agencies such as Ogilvy and J. Walter Thompson. It saw the advent of competition coming in from newer media agencies as global brands continued to launch in India, challenging the leader. It saw competition come from new age technology companies. The rules of the game have changed more than once. In this conversation, Prasanth Kumar, CEO, Mindshare South Asia, tells Noor Fathima Warsia of some of the takeaways along the way. Edited excerpts:

Two decades is quite the landmark, making you the oldest in the media agency business. What has it meant for you?

Two decades is quite the landmark for any organisation, especially in our ecosystem. We see this as a great achievement that we have continued to be the leaders in the space for all this time — not only in our numbers but also in the quality of work that has come from the agency. But we don’t see ourselves as the oldest. In fact, we see ourselves as the youngest. I say that because culturally every year has been different for us. We have constantly worked towards creating a newer and exciting year, every year.

One must also acknowledge the role that leaders of the agency have played in this, such as Ashutosh Srivastava, Vikram Sakhuja, R. Gowthaman and Ravi Rao, who have all led the agency in the last two decades. It has also meant celebrating all the employees who have been here with us for these 20 years, and our clients — both long term and newer ones — who have helped us in reaching this landmark.

Some of the challenges of the business — such as the media agency business model or concerns such as undercutting — also have not changed. Why is that?

I would say there has been evolution on each business model. We see what is more relevant for each client or brand to win or address challenges, and we follow that. Our adaptive marketing framework suits this purpose in being relevant. Rates, scale and volume are important, and we have leveraged all to benefit clients, but we have also leveraged it for knowledge.

The kind of focus that we have put on data for instance, has led to the sharpening of all of our tools and products. From a content perspective, we have worked on different brands and we have worked on genres such as music and sports. It is important that we do all this and infuse technology in that. FAST was created with this in mind, and to address all aspects of brand engagement to produce best results. Everything we do now strives to produce better outcomes for our clients.

Do you disagree that agencies with scale are considered the strongest even today?

It would be inappropriate to say scale is not a great tool, but it is not the only thing. The context of scale still has to connect back with the value we bring to our clients. But in our pursuit to create more value, we cannot rely only on scale. There is a partner ecosystem to consider. Ideas can come from anywhere; co-creation is a great asset today. We have LOOP for instance, where all partners of a brand come together to understand the consumer and serve the client better.

The media agency business has been challenged more than once by the likes of consultancies such as Accenture or McKenzie. Do you see companies such as these, that are not necessarily part of the advertising ecosystem, as competition?

Consultancies have multiple skills and facets, much like we do. It is important to understand what a skill is, and what  comprehensive thinking do people bring. We have to play with people who are stronger because that is how we will grow. Firms such as these, consult in different verticals, and there is much to learn from them as they have from us. It is a complementary relationship. I don’t see it as a complete competition. At the same time, both sides must evolve together to see how they can each be strengthened further. Whenever we collaborate, clients get more value. Collaboration, and knowing who brings what, is essential for newer and inventive models.  

Finally, what do you see as the biggest game changer in the years ahead?

At the cost of repeating myself, I would have to say talent. Winning will come from the combination of getting newer solutions, getting strategies right, executing them well, and making sure that everything that you have to offer to clients comes together and works. At the centre of all this, is the talent. In the past two decades, Mindshare has created some of the strongest leaders within the system, and also in the industry. Our biggest strength will always be our people.


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