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Ten commandments for agencies to stay in business: GroupM's CVL Srinivas

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MUMBAI: It was hard hitting, the way CVL Srinivas began his address at Zee MELT 2016. With a satirical audio-visual titled ‘The Last Agency On Earth’ (2010), the GroupM south Asia CEO laid down the fundamentals of the ‘change or perish’ ecosystem today’s agencies exist in; bringing down the media behemoths from their high horses and urging them to face the reality.

If an agency needs a reality check on where it stands in this era of disruption it needs a clear understanding of where its client stands. It needs to ask itself ‘What keeps my clients up at night?’ Srinivas insisted.

“Clients are being witness to this disruption all across – be it the value chain, the consumer chain, supply chain. This introduces a lot more cost pressure on the advertisers, and pressure on procurement as well. Not to mention the planning cycle is getting shorter as well. From an annual plan, the clients are moving to quarterly evaluations,” Srinivas shared, adding that managing multiple partners could be the most challenging issue for these clients.

While the agency has to deal with newer business for clients, the same disruption within the clients adds more pressure on it. Positioned between the client and the consumer the agency has to stay updated with every new development that might translate into an insight.

“Therefore the contents of the ‘agency survival kit’ consist of the will to contemporising traditional or existing models, building speed and adaptability and staying relevant and farsighted,” Srinivas said.

In spite of all this talk of data, digital insight, tools and technical support, the clients still judge an agency on an excel spread sheet and ask ‘at what rate can you buy media for me?’ : Srinivas painted the sad picture.

So what are agencies to do to be relevant to its clients and ensure a revenue generating future? Follow these ten rules, of course.

1. Turning one’s weakness to strength is a first step in overcoming any major challenge and the media management world is no exception. Touting ‘tech’ to be the industry’s Achilles’ heel, Srinivas advised all to brainstorm into aggressively adapting new technology. No going forward until this is achieved.

2. Tracing media agencies back to the roots, the business was mostly trade centric. "Those days are gone, now you have to be data centric, in whatever form you acquire it," Srinivas simply put.

3. Agencies must constantly question themselves on their relevance to client and the market, as a lot of the grunt work that was part of the daily chore has been automated. So how else can an agency add value to stay relevant?

4. Adaptive marketing: There is no room for settlement and creating routines if you ask Srinivas. Giving an example of PepsiCo’s ‘Pressure is good’ campaign using real-time data, he showcased what wonders a truly nimble and adaptive agency can create.

And let’s not forget the holy trinity of timing, content and authenticity.

5. Srinivas encouraged agencies to keep an ‘open source’ mindset that lends itself to various partnerships and collaborations. The Cannes Lions 2016 Grand Prix winner ‘Six Pack band’ initiative by Brooke Bond Red Label was the result of that.

6. Keeping a fluid structure within the organisation can help internal processes from becoming bottle necks sometimes.

7. Talent diversity is the key, Srinivas said. “Earlier you either had math men or mad men in the organisation. Now the skills sets are more diversified.”

8. Breaking hierarchies within the organisation can help an agency from becoming rusty as fresh ideas are encouraged. “We must ensure contribution from the junior level as they may be better placed to take calls in certain issues in this digital world."

9. All the above points would fall flat if not for an’ Integrated system,' which keeps an agency tied to its data center while connecting it to several other touch points like pricing platform etc.

10. All that jazz about data still can’t displace ‘creativity’ from being the key focus of any agency. "Ultimately we are in the creative business,” Srinivas concluded.

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