The future is about reinventing and recasting: Rohit Ohri

Dentsu created waves early this year when the Indian National Congress chose the agency to handle its creative mandate for the 16th Lok Sabha elections. The country?s oldest party might have lost in the elections but the communication was the talking point among industry as well as people.

Rohit Ohri?s nearly twenty-four year journey in advertising communications, began with the Tata Son?s Marg Publications, but he soon moved to JWT, first Kolkata and then Delhi. Under his leadership and strategic direction, JWT Delhi?s top-line doubled, making it the largest branch office of any advertising agency in India, the largest and most profitable JWT office in Asia Pacific and the third largest JWT office in the world.

In August 2011, Ohri, a golfer at heart with a seasoned sense of humour, joined Dentsu India Group as executive chairman. Today, he has additional responsibilities on his shoulders as its CEO in APAC (south). Meghna Sharma caught up with the man to know more on how his term has been with the agency so far and what can be expected from it in the coming months.


The year started with the great Indian political tamasha. How was the experience especially when the party blamed the agency for the debacle?

The congress party had organised a pitch wherein 16 agencies were pitching, which included JWT and McCann and another six to seven top agencies. We won the business on the basis of our merit. We made over 16 pitches before we actually won the business, so everybody saw the quality of work and what we could deliver before being chosen.

We had absolutely no problems with the congress party at all. None, whatsoever. And this blame game is a media created story. We have got letters from the party?s head of the communication cell that they are very happy with us especially for the quality of work that we delivered and the professionalism with which we worked. Congress party is not blaming us at all, it is an absolute lie.

The first phase of campaign that we had created was really strong and worked really well. The fact is everybody we talked about the campaign, told us that it was strong and strategically correct.

I think the issues are much larger and advertising campaigns are at best support but there has to be an overall positivity behind a candidate or the party. Unfortunately, it was a tough election.

I would say the year started off pretty well for us. As an agency, and it was on the basis of merit and I am quite proud of it. Most of the bigwigs in politics believe that election campaigns are won on the ground. What a party does at the ground-level with the party workers makes a great primary for a win.

We did not do the Delhi campaign; it was done by JWT and McCann. But see what happened to Sheila Dixit government.

The real thing is what the need of the nation is.

And then came the debate over the new Airtel ad?

I think it is fantastic. The Airtel ad is about connectively and if the ad itself creates conservations then what more do you want?

Everything generates two or more different point of views. So, if the ad shows new dynamics of relationships, it is bound to generate buzz. Change is not accepted easily. Today, we all are creating content that everyone wants to talk about and viralise. So, here it did the same. We had Barkha Dutt doing a show on it and people were logging on to just see the advertisement. So, which client will be unhappy with it?

You will complete three years in the agency, soon, how has the journey been so far? What have been the high and the low points?

I haven?t had any low points. When you look at cultural transformation in an organisation, I think when I look back and then see today?s Dentsu, it is in a much stronger place than when I had joined. I think that is an enormously gratifying feeling.

So, I do feel that agency works very well in terms of where it wants to go in the future. Lot of things in terms of our acquisitions, not just of the company, the talent, and how we build within the Dentsu agencies and how we have integrated well with Taproot and WebChutney matters. And now on a larger level, with the entire Dentsu Aegies Network how we are leveraging the strength across the entire network. We have come a long way and I think we are very happy about that.

It wasn?t very difficult for you to merge the cultural differences between the various Indian and international agencies?

No not at all. If you fundamentally look at a few values of the network, it is about the focus on the quality of creative, integration and on collaborative model of working together. These are things that Dentsu Inc holds very close to its core in Japan.

Example, today everybody talks about integration. It has really turned a new paradigm for advertising and communication agency. Almost 12 years back, Martin Sorrel started the whole thing of unbundling. It created individual interest versus brand interest dominations. In many ways what happened was that fragmentation was created between advertising and marketing and the agency structure was going somewhere else.

That is the reason Dentsu never unbundled itself. It always stayed as an integrated agency firm from day one. The network saw this happening internationally and as the world?s largest advertising agency, could pretty well have gone the same way but decided not to do.

Agencies within the Dentsu Aegis Network collaborate around a particular client saying that if a particular client needs x, then we will work around that particular client. So that the client?s interest is served before anything else. There is certain liquidity in the network and the network is dependent on the basis of client?s needs.

With four creative agencies under the belt, how do you make sure that there isn?t any overlapping?

The fact is that from a philosophy perspective it is one Dentsu; each one of the agency with the exception of Taproot. We have three Dentsu branded agencies and then Taproot which is our acquisition. There is one thinking around all of them. Physically three separate entities have been created so that there is absolutely 100 per cent confidentiality with each and every client.

How has the partnership deal with Aegis Media helped Dentsu in escalating its position?

The partnership with Aegis Media has been perfect for us. Primarily, because Denstu?s core vision, philosophy and point of view on advertising has been about innovation and integration. If you look at that, to deliver integration we need the best in class services across the whole wide number of platforms.

We now have various offerings and all those capacities ready to take to the clients? saying that ?with all our entities, we can actually empower your brand.?

In many ways Denstu has completed Aegis and Aegis has completed Dentsu. Now we are a full service integrated brand solution company.

You have said that digital ad campaigns will drive Denstu's next big initiatives. So, in the future, do you see brands being lead by chief marketing officer or chief technology officer?

For Dentsu, the core of the brand is really about the intersection between creativity and technology. Technology is not just a lap over but technology is something we use as point of view. Technology is needed to reach out to new consumers and empowering them. Dentsu has a rich heritage of harnessing technology for brand communication in a creative and interesting manner.

Going forward, it is a marriage of the two - creativity and technology. It?s not that human beings have become robots. Human beings will be human beings. There will be hearts; emotions and softer side that you need to connect with. It is important for us to say that technology is the enabler. So, how can we make it seamless to form connect with the consumers. It should be able to connect across multiple screens. Seamless connectivity is the idea and technology is letting it happen.

Now that you are talking about seamless connectivity, there has been an increase in penetration of smartphones and tablets. But do you think brands know utilising that medium effectively especially in the rural India?

As smartphones penetrate deeper and deeper into the socio-economic gratification, we will see a phenomenal rise of it.

When mobile phones came, they changed the way we connected. Smartphones are the next level of it in the transformation. The power is in our hands it is only multiplying. One can watch videos, work, buy products etc all by a click on the device in my hand.

However, one of the biggest challenge in front of the brands is that how to use that powerful device. Mobile is a great way to pole-vault over the lack of infrastructure. Where roads can?t reach, voice can reach. So, there is a huge opportunity for brands especially e-commerce because a large part of commerce comes from small towns where premium brands don?t have stores. The whole democratisation of luxury has happened so everyone has access to every brand. And this is what technology is doing.

Also, there is a democratisation of creativity. Competitor of a creative agency is not another creative agency but it is the consumer. Today, individuals create content and upload it which sometimes become viral. As a brand/marketer, I will have to create something which people want to share and watch.

One of your favourite digital campaign is?

We saw many wonderfully crafted campaigns at Cannes Lion, this year. One campaign where Sweetie, a 3D CGI created child, from the Philippines working in the online sex industry was the perfect honey trap. It proves that how technology can be used to innovate for the betterment of the society.

Dentsu has made a number of acquisitions in the country. So, will we see a lot more in the near future? Is that the way forward?

India is a very important market for us and hence, we will look at more acquisitions here. We have a long-term strategic plan for the country and globally also. For us, it is all about a constant process of excellence, so we keep looking out for companies and opportunities. We want to build the Dentsu Aegis Network?s vision that is to build a complementary network - a network of complementary services rather than a network of competitive services. So, we want to have a collaborative culture within a network and it is very important to be complementary to each other. Because when two competing brands come together, brands don?t benefit from it but in a complementary set up clients benefit.

Seeing that digital is the way forward, is acquiring digital agencies on priority list or creative?

Currently, we have a very strong digital presence in India. We have iProspect, Isobar, Webchutney, which are complementary in the way they work but each has its own core competence. So when the three come together we have a powerful offering for the clients to leverage.

We always look at bringing services ? creative, digital, OOH, activation or any other ? that are cutting-edge. That is how we look at organic and inorganic growth.

How has the performance been on the financial and people front?

Last year, for instance, our creative network grew at 65 per cent which made us the fastest growing Dentsu-branded agency anywhere in the world.

It is a fantastic testimony of the fact that we have really come a long way and that Dentsu?s evolution and cultural changes bought in internally and externally have really worked for us. We may want to be anything but what you want to be, has that been bought by clients? That has been a very clear case for us.

Touchwood, in the last three years the senior management lost nobody. Talent has always been my first and foremost agenda. We are a talent business so one has to bring in talent through collaborations, direct hiring or partnership.

What can we expect from Denstu in the coming years?

One of the things which we are really forward to bringing in for our clients is some of the technology platforms we have in Denstu Inc to India. We are already in a very advanced stage of conversation with one of our clients.

We want to fundamentally change the paradigm of engagement with the consumer and when you interphase creativity with technology then you have a whole new paradigm of engaging with consumers at a deeper, meaningful and intimate communication. That?s what I?m excited about.

As we go forward, it is about reinventing and recasting which advertising promised to do but has not really done for a long time.

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