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“Content is a key pillar to provide breakthrough solutions for clients”: Kartik Sharma

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He took charge in January this year and since then there has been no looking back.

The humble and calm, Kartik Sharma, the managing director south Asia of Maxus, has had a great year, so far. Maxus India began 2014 on a high note with several breakthrough campaigns like “Power of 49” for Tata Tea, winning business worth Rs 300 crore, new senior management appointments. The ‘agency of the year’ title at Emvies 2014 was the cherry on the cake.

Sharma has been with the company for seven years and has contributed to shaping the Maxus brand, creating client delight and helping Maxus dominate industry awards along with Ajit Varghese who has been appointed CEO Asia Pacific.

The agency was named as the fastest growing media agency by RECMA and retained the title of the most “dominant” agency profile for the fourth year in a row in 2013.

 Indiantelevison.com’s Meghna Sharma spoke to the man, who specialises in communication planning, behavioural economics, media research, analytics and technology, to know what Sharma attributes these achievements to; his blueprint for the agency in the coming months, and industry’s forecast.

Excerpts…

How does it feel to be the ‘Media Agency of the Year’? What made you differ from the competition?

It’s a fantastic feeling to be ‘The’ media agency of the year, something which we have been dreaming for over seven years. Emvies being the most coveted and respected forums in India, winning here gives us tremendous satisfaction as the award is a reflection of effective work done for clients. The difference over competition is our focus across all clients (we won a metal for 10 clients) and across various categories suggest Maxus’s focus across various disciplines which we have been building over the years. Some of our competitors have won only on a few clients.

Your client Tata Beverages won the ‘Client of the Year’ for ‘Power of 49’ campaign. Were you expecting it? According to you, what made the campaign a success?

We were expecting good wins for the ‘Power of 49’ campaign. The client of the year was a bonus. The reason for the success of the campaign was that it was based on some fantastic insights and impeccable execution. Also, the entire timing of the campaign enhanced the effectiveness of the campaign.

It’s not even been a year since you took charge as MD, how has the journey been so far?

The journey so far has been fantastic. I couldn’t have asked for more. Apart from winning the Emvies ‘agency of the year,’ Maxus has been winning consistently over the last few months. Consistent wins across award forum which includes Asian Marketing effectiveness awards for data analytics innovation, win at the WPP Atticus on analytics, recent wins at the MMA, Smarties (1 gold, 2 silver, 2 bronze), again Agency of the year at the Big Bang held by Ad club Bangalore, highest award at the WPPED cream awards clearly indicates the focus that Maxus has on doing effective work across clients.

Apart from the wins, we have added several senior leaders to Maxus who have rich experience in building brands. This helps us do cutting edge work for our clients. Overall, it has been an extremely satisfying journey so far, with many more exciting projects for the rest of the year.

The year 2014 has started on a good note for Maxus with over Rs 300 crore businesses. What would you attribute it to?

Our record at pitches is at the back of integrated thinking that we bring to the table backed by great insight. Every pitch we work very hard irrespective of the size of the business. We spend a lot of time understanding the brand challenge which helps us craft integrated communication solutions and not media plans.

Apart from this, a lot of emphasis is also on delivering ROI and measurement.

You also bought in new people to strengthen the team. What will they be looking and what more can we expect from Maxus in the coming months?

All our senior leadership’s single line mandate is to provide client delight. Till now they have done a fantastic job and even in the future the mandate won’t change. Our goal is always to be the trusted partner for all our clients.

The agency recently launched Resolve. What was the idea behind launching it and what has been the response from the clients on it?

In today’s complex and dynamic media environment the shift from media plan to communication plan was imminent. We saw this coming and started work nearly three years ago where Maxus India worked with the global leadership team to develop a proprietary framework called “Relationship Media” (RM). The heart of RM is the ever evolving and non-linear purchase pathway & media has a critical role to play in this pathway. Also the pathway changes dramatically by the category type.  All the standard industry tools cover very limited touch points and also do not factor the brand/category challenge. For example whether you are selling a financial product or auto, which are typically targeted towards say men, the standard industry tools will throw similar media choices. This is because they don’t address consumer pathways. They just look at plain demographics. Resolve was our answer to address this challenge where more than 60 touch points are captured, the pathway for each category is mapped and a multi touchpoint optimisation now made possible at the hands of our planners. It’s a revolutionary tool which uses primary research done by Point logic for 25 categories with a sample size of more than 2000 individuals.

The beauty of the tool is that it recommends the media task for the brand (beyond just building salience) and shows the most influential touch points (beyond just reach) to achieve a particular task. We have received extremely positive feedback across clients as such a tool doesn’t exist and is able to add terrific value to their communication plans. 

Digital, data and technology were identified as the key growth drivers for Maxus. What are the key areas for you?

I mentioned earlier in the year that Maxus will focus on digital, data and technology and there is no change in that. Additionally, I would say content is a key pillar, which can provide breakthrough solutions for clients. The ‘Power of 49’ campaign is a good example of the same. Over the next few months you will hear many more case studies from Maxus.

Today digital is no longer just another medium but has become an integral part of a marketer’s plan. What digital strategies do clients expect from Maxus?

The digital landscape is an ever evolving area and most of our clients expect integrated full service solutions from us. In fact we currently do many things beyond digital planning & buying. We work in other areas such as owned media management, social, creative development, website development and even CRM.

Name some of your best digital campaigns.

The list is pretty large. In no particular order a few examples are our search work for Fiat which was appreciated and won many awards. Our campaigns for Tata Sky where we demonstrated the product features across various websites using the remote and not the status bar, Vodafone Selfie is a great example of meshing digital with activation and many many more.

GroupM revised annual advertising expenditure (AdEx) estimates for 2014 to 12.5 per cent from 11.6 per cent. What are the reasons for it? Which sectors are spending and how is the year looking?

The sentiment post elections have been positive with a new and stable government. One of the key sectors adding to growth is retail and more specifically e-commerce brands. They are aggressively investing in building brands in both traditional and digital media. Other industries like auto, telecom, financial services & FMCG are expected to increase spends.

What are the challenges ahead for you and Maxus?

Currently, one of the key ingredients of our past few years’ success has been the culture and that’s critical for us to maintain at all times. The key challenge is to maintain the culture of Maxus at all times. At the end of the day ours is a people business and if we can keep the culture intact which we define as PACE (Passion, Agile, Collaborative & Entrepreneurial) then we will be in a good place. 

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