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"We plan to double staff in a year in pace with client growth": Vizeum India MD Shripad Kulkarni

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Shripad Kulkarni is man on a mission. The mission is to transform Vizeum India digitally, not with just an add-on digital arm but from within. Thereafter, establishing the agency as an indispensable AoR partner for clients seeking real measurable value addition from its media management. And the last few account wins including Warner Bro. and TCL show that he is on the right track.

The agency is believed to handle Rs 200 crore worth of media businesses spread across all its clients, of which the last quarter has been a significant contributor.

But these numbers are not fruits of labour of just the past few months. Its foundation was laid when Kulkarni had joined Vizeum India as the managing director in 2015 from Percept Allied Media (where he was the CEO), following Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN) Ashish Bhasin’s laying out of his vision for the agency.

It will be an understatement to say that the soft spoken professional had taken that vision seriously. It’s been a little over a year, and Kulkarni is already confident that the agency will double itself around the end of next financial year.

In a freewheeling conversation with indiantelevision.com’s Papri Das, Kulkarni delves into his grand plans to realise this target, and more.

Excerpts:

What were your personal benchmarks in the last one year of working for Vizeum?

I have kept a very ‘people first’ approach to my targets within the company since I joined almost a year back. The large team that operates in Delhi is undergoing its digital training  and familiarisation with the tools available within the agency and the group. The last quarter has given us a positive indication that the strategy is working. We have got Warner Bros, we have Panasonic as a client and just recently signed up as the media agency for TCL Corp.

Given the momentum, I see a significant increase in our client portfolio in the coming few years. We want to double our staff strength in 12 to 18 months to handle this increase in new businesses and our entire budget planning is being worked out to favour this development.

The one P&L structure that DAN follows is best in terms of getting integrated marcom planning done, and getting various specialists in verticals to work for a brand. The fact that a very high proportion of the revenue of the group comes from digital says a lot about DAN  as a future facing agency.

Every media agency is ramping up to be the ‘all rounder’ these days. How differently is Vizeum positioned in the market?

One has to understand that digital is changing your customers, and their linear behaviour in the purchase cycle; the classic AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) is no longer working. Now that is a fundamental shift that we must align everyone to, even if one is planning for television. Based on this, we are remodeling Vizeum, to keep our clients up to date.

At the core of the remodelled Vizeum, with its refreshed approach to traditional media with digital outlook, we believe that media can directly make a difference to business. Media can add value to businesses because of this entire disruption digital is doing across all media, and this significant value addition will be measurable.

Has this fundamental shift impacted how television planning and buying happens?

To start with, these days you have to look at video and not television, when doing planning for television, because there is a good chunk of the audience that watches TV on the Internet. There are youngsters who enjoy binge watching or as and when they want to. They are hardly watching television the way we know it. So that is changing the entire paradigm so that even the medium that was classically entirely outbound and spewing messages at its audiences is now changing.

Another interesting aspect of this paradigm shift is how technology has made TV media more target-oriented. Technology now allows advertisers  to target people who have viewed their ads on television. We have experimented with this technology with a few of our clients where we have embedded certain beacons on their TV ads, and identified which  of the consumers had their smartphones around. Now these consumers could be reached digitally as well, now that we have made sure they had seen the TVC.

We will soon see that technology and data is going to alter the way the entire marcom industry functions. It will require us agencies and clients as well to understand the complete customer decision journey, and accordingly reach out to them with specific messages at certain stages of the customer purchase journey.

Do most of your clients come to you keeping a specific media in mind or do they have a specific outcome in mind, regardless of where the spend goes?

Well of course a client has an outcome in mind to begin with. But the way the industry, and actually media itself, is getting more and more fragmented, advertisers too are seeking specialised use of media -- some are looking at digital agencies, some are looking at mainline agencies, some are looking at agencies that are good at search engine optimisation, some are preferring social media only agencies and some are even doing it in house. I think the missing piece is a strategic direction across all media vehicles towards the outcome.

Sounds like a massive level of unlearning and relearning on the part of the planners and buyers….

Absolutely. In fact we are currently training every single planner under Vizeum with digital knowledge and skill sets. A planner classically handles mainstream media, and he can plan for digital. But we are aiming to make each one of them experts in digital. Every planner must know digital strategy on a par with an agency squarely into digital marketing. We plan to achieve this within one year, and there will be continuous refresher courses to keep them up to date.

We have already initiated since a few months ago. It has picked up momentum and we should be able to see some of its results by the next quarter. The ultimate goal is to get all staff, irrespective of the department to be digital savvy. It is a DAN initiative.

How do you measure a certain campaign’s performance? Is there any yardstick that Vizeum follows?

Campaign performance must be measurable from day one, and it must be definitive and making a difference to the business. To achieve this, we look at performance in a three by three metric -- three minutes, three weeks and three months of the  time spent on a campaign, where each time period gives us specific and significant measure of the campaign’s effectiveness. Certain tools that  we have developed using Facebook data, or Youtube data, or Google data, give us instant feedback on how a campaign is fairing.

To start with, we can have this performance measure of all digital campaigns running for a few minutes to a day or, as we put it three  minutes to a day.. It will give an instant idea of what is working and what isn’t, which allows creatives to tweak a campaign. For example, if you have six campaigns or creatives running on Youtube, we can now tell which one is performing well, keeping a brand and campaign in mind.

We make a second assessment after a campaign runs for a week, when we have significant data on it. For certain categories, this time period can extend to a month to be able to gather reliable data.

The third assessment is made around the three month mark that leaves a planner with a lot of data to play with and analyse keeping quantitative results in mind. This assessment can give us insights on the brand health. In other words, we keep monitoring different measures at different entry points of a campaign within different parameters. We are heading towards an arrangement where we ask for compensations based on such performances.

Where do you think the media management industry is headed in the next few years and what factors will impact it?

We are doing a study called India 2020, where we are trying to understand the trends across the world and try and predict the entire media ecosystem of 2020 in India. We believe this disruption is going to stay for a while and lead to digital spends growing by leaps and bounds. As of now we are looking different simulations of different scenarios. We have narrowed down to three such scenarios for the time being based on how quickly high speed data will be available in our country. Whether it is brought about by Reliance Jio or the government, it doesn't matter, but high speed internet is a deciding factor in the simulations. It will also need to be affordable and services will be free is what I believe. Open wifis will also be a huge thing.

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