"Perception, not billings, is a better way to judge an agency" : O&M executive director, north India, Vibha Desai

The O&M Delhi office is on the ascendant and striking its claim to the ranked amongst the top agencies in the country! The WPP Group agency's branch in the capital city is riding the crest having won leading awards including the Cannes Gold and an entry into the Communication Arts design annual apart from clinching advertising accounts such as Rajasthan Tourism and Chhattisgarh Tourism.

The got in touch with O&M's executive director, north India, Vibha Desai for an interview. Desai was a media planner before she donned the mantle of a manager in 1995. Desai spoke to Ritesh Gupta on how the operations of Delhi office have shaped up during her stint as brand head; opportunities arising due to new categories such as insurance and healthcare; and transformation in television as a medium over the years.

"We have an evaluation at our AGM, in which creative office of the year is adjudged. You will be surprised to know in 2001, Delhi and Mumbai tied for `the best creative office of the year'." This is one of the surprising facts share by Desai.

For more insight about Delhi operations, read on:



How would you assess performance of Delhi office of O&M in the recent years?

Delhi has always been amongst the top Ogilvy offices close on the heels of the Mumbai office. In the last few years, we have definitely consolidated our position here. As per the recent zone-wise survey in the Economic Times, O&M Delhi was adjudged the number one agency in North India. Clients value our inputs, value our creative product and we enjoy a great relationship with them.



Do you think billings is an appropriate way of judging an agency?

I think perception, not billings, is a better way to judge an agency. There could be two agencies with similar billings. This surely won't differentiate the output or strategic thinking capabilities of an agency. The billing methodology won't tell you the difference between apples and peaches. Finally, it's all about how clients value their agency; what's their perception about agencies. We feel that it is extremely creditable to emerge as the top agency from the holistic survey, in which marketing directors, agencies amongst others were involved. Billings are an outdated way of looking at agencies or their performance.



What about O&M's strike rate against bigger agencies?

We have a pretty good strike rate. We recently got empanelled for Rajasthan Tourism and Chhattisgarh tourism accounts. So two accounts in one month is good going.



"Then there was the Business World direct mailer campaign, which won the Cannes Gold"



How has O&M operations shaped up during your tenure?

During my stint as head (for eight years), we have grown in terms of billings and confidence. Even if you look at our creative work, it has really evolved. Eight years back, we just used to have one or two campaigns that were brilliant. Our work today has managed to be more consistent in terms of delivery and in fact some of it is really outstanding.

This year, we worked on the Indian tourism campaign - which I think is one of the best pieces of creative work we have done. Then, there was the Business World direct mailer campaign, which won the Cannes Gold. The HOPE (Human Organ Procurement and Education Trust) campaign too was excellent, too. So the work is definitely high quality and surely better than other agencies.



How have you managed this consistency?

The emphasis is on getting quality creative people - those with endowed with natural talent and calibre. Over the years, we have raised the creative bar; improved the quality of personnel across functionalities; and everybody today strives to do better work and win awards. The appreciation that the team gets within the agency, from clients and industry peers also helps.

Besides this, we have regular inhouse evaluations during our AGMs (annual general meetings) - in fact the creative office of the year is adjudged on the basis of these evaluations. You will be surprised to know in 2001, Delhi and Mumbai tied for 'the best creative office of the year'.

Not many agencies in Delhi have won the international award of the highest order. We have won seven or eight this year; so the difference is chalk and cheese. Full credit to the creative team and V Sunil (creative director), which strives to work hard all the time.



How do you think television as a medium has changed over the years?

It has really seen a big transformation since the good old days when Doordarshan used to get 75 per cent of the TRPs and revenues from feature films and Chitrahaar. The present scenario is a marked improvement from those days as TRPs and revenues from these DD programme might merely account for one or two per cent currently. Also, the present fragmentation in the C&S sphere wasn't expected to happen at the pace at which it did. Till some years ago, when media database for countries such as the US was considered, TRP's of 0.1 per cent was considered to be an unlikely situation here. But, it somehow has happened and media planners and buyers are delivering results even in this scenario.

But, this fragmentation makes it really tough for small brands to capture the audience mindshare. Larger brands, too, have to spend more to create an impact. So, ad agencies have to work much harder to facilitate better media buying; the rates are also volatile and the rate card is not at all sacrosanct.

Also, the opportunity for innovation is much higher. There is a strong possibility of creating a link between the brand and content. For example, a programme on photography shown on a niche channel and a product like a camera sponsoring it. So the opportunities are much more in the present context.



Do you think there is enough innovation?

I think it's a good start. Surely, it's not enough but it is something which is surely going to pick up. After a point, what channels eventually offer will also determine the extent of innovation. Right now, there are several channels vying for same pie in one category or genre but this is not expected to last for too long. I believe that channels offerings will also lead to more room for innovation.



"Recently, a client categorically specified that 10 per cent should be marked for innovation and the rest for buying GRP's required as a routine"



How are the clients responding to low TRPs?

Two or three years back, clients were not open to experimentation. As more and more examples come to the forefront; and more and more success stories are created, clients will start accepting experimentation.

The important thing is not awareness but impact. It's not about remembering a brand but remembering that brand in the context of a certain content-led story. So, if you can create an impact in consumer's mind - which is long lasting and probably equivalent to 10 exposures - there will be a shift towards qualitative aspects. Clients will definitely appreciate this paradigm shift and agencies will also be inspired to take risks.

Recently, a client categorically specified that 10 per cent should be marked for innovation and the rest for buying GRPs required as a routine exercise. So clients are realising that there is need to do different things in order to stand out.



Has fragmentation also provided brands with small budgets to advertise on television?

Earlier, brand managers with Rs 10 or 20 million budgets felt that they couldn't get on to television. Today, appropriate consumer profiling enables one to choose channels and accordingly advertise. For instance, a combination of Star Movies and Star World would give a SEC A+ kind of a household.

So this combination which makes it possible to reach out to that particular segment despite budgetary constraints. Wastage levels will be lower and segments can be reached in a focused manner. A lot of segmentation is possible in the medium of television due to the existing fragmentation. Earlier, advertisers used to feel inhibited due to the preoccupation with mass-based programmes and planning was restricted. Now, we have moved much ahead from the previously restricted scenario.



How do you view opportunities in categories such as telecommunication, insurance and healthcare?

Definitely, the cellular phones category is on the verge of an explosion due to rapid expansion. It's already growing at a phenomenal pace. The kind of deals prevalent in the market - take for instance: new connections along with a phone for Rs 500 - is going to explode the cellular category.

The insurance sector is also coming up simply because it presents a big opportunity - the number of private players; the kind of packages which are being offered; the services or personalisation; everything is in a different league altogether.

The other sector to look out for is healthcare. The fitness phenomena is catching on. There is a whole range of products such as OTC (over the counter), herbal, Ayurveda, health-oriented clinics amongst others which are coming into the picture.



How do you assess emerging of new sectors and fragmentation in media?

I think it's exciting. As change occurs and pace of change differs, one needs to be more proactive. The challenge increases when you have think smart and different. I think it's a great phase to be in as it is extremely challenging.



Did you visualise yourself as a management person rather than the media person that you started off as? What's your attitude towards managing operations?

Basically, I was a media person and was involved in media for 10 years before this opportunity arose.

We have an open culture here. The team, here, is highly motivated and charged up. The motive is to come up with great work, constantly innovate and get the best value-added deals for the client. It's a fact that not many people leave after settling down in Ogilvy. It's challenging yet comfortable and an enjoyable place to work.



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