DIGITAS INDIA, EXTENSIVELY HELPING BRANDS CONNECT BETTER WITH PEOPLE
Purpose-built to serve the myriad needs of modern marketing, Digitas India is acingit; they are excelling at a deliberate diversity of people and capabilities, witnessed at scale transversely in markets, with an inimitable culture that plays well together.
4000 employees, 30 countries, 40 offices, globally Digitas is corporate home to many and the leading digital agency in India. Under the hegemony of AmareshGodbole, CEO, Digitas India is leading by its net worth and 450 plus experts spread across Mumbai, New Delhi, Bengaluru, and Ahmedabad.
ABOUT THE MAN LEADING ‘DIGITAS INDIA’
AmareshGodbole is managing a multimillion-dollar P&L at Digitas India and leading a team of 400 people across 4 cities. He is a champion of ideas and particular about ensuring that the brand and consumer context is never lost in the chase for digital innovation. He is known for the ability to groom young talent into valuable industry resources. Amaresh has spent over 14 years with network agencies. Since 2009 he has been instrumental in building up Digitas (a PublicisGroupe company), from a startup into one of India’s largest digital agencies with 450 plus people spread across 4 cities.
In the course of the agency’s growth, Amaresh has set the digital agenda for several leading Indian and MNC brands across sectors.He is an avid trend watcher and known for his thought leadership in the industry, contributing in print, discussions, lectures, award juries, and has even been a TedX speaker on the topic of ‘change’. His thoughts have been featured in leading publications such as Business Standard, Brand Equity, Firstpost amongst several others. He has been recognized for his leadership and over the years featured in prominent lists such as Campaign Asia’s ‘Most Admired Agency Leaders’, World Marketing Congress’ 50 most influential digital media professionals, and Campaign APAC’s 40 under 40.
The company stands on 5 core capabilities -Data, Strategy, Creative, Media and Technology forming connected offerings and recognizes that no one company can do-it-all in this complex environment. The CEO Magazine bagged an opportunity of an intellectually stimulating session with Amaresh and gained access to his familiarity and vision about Digitas India;
The CEO: Enlighten us on the concept of “Truth-Connection-Wonder”.
Amaresh: At the heart of all our offerings lies data. Digitas is the only agency brand that features amidst consultancies and technology majors in the highly regarded IDC report, as leaders in data consulting capabilities. Data helps us with insight, hindsight, and foresight and thus uncovers unassailable insights, or ‘the truth’ about the person that we are trying to reach.
This truth allows us to create wonder for the consumer in the form of personalized connections and experiences, and for our clients in the form of measurable impact. Hence, “The Connected Marketing Agency,” committed to helping brands ‘connect better’ with people through ‘Truth. Connection. Wonder.’
The CEO:Talking about being in the digital age, what gives you an edge over your competitors?
Amaresh:Strangely, but then again, I suppose expectedly, it boils down to something people related – our culture. It’s our secret sauce. Everything else can eventually be copied. But our unique culture allows us to consistently attract the best left-brain and right-brain talent, and breed hybrid skills and offerings at scale. Once you have the right people for any given context and era, the tools, knowledge, and capabilities are simply a byproduct.
The CEO:How do you ensure connecting people better with the clients?
Amaresh:We focus on creating a simple user interface for clients, which keeps the complexity within the agency but allows them to easily tap into deep specialization from different capabilities based on their requirements. Think of it in terms of how an app allows us, as users, to access complex functions and utilities without dealing with the underlying code.
The CEO:Digital marketing is a booming industry, do you like the competition?
Amaresh:We love it. It’s easy to like competition when most of it is in the rear-view mirror.
But seriously, competition is critical to keep you on your toes and keep innovating. Fresh thinking often dies a slow death in monopolies, sparsely competitive fields, or industries that are set in their way and aren’t facing any disruption. The good news in the digital industry is that while we have a fierce spirit of competition, at the moment there’s enough to go around so that we can all grow.
The CEO:Do you think this is the appropriate time to be working in the digital marketing industry?
Amaresh:Whether you are in the digital marketing industry or not, the reality is that if you haven’t upskilled yourself to feel comfortable with digital thinking in your industry, it’s already too late. Get moving! And for those in the digital marketing profession, of course, it’s an exciting, though very exhausting time to be here. The trick is staying abreast with what’s coming and remain ahead of the curve.
The CEO:On the weighing scale, what’s more significant, innovation or creativity?
Amaresh:Give weight to finding the best possible solution that solves the problem or leverages the opportunity in front of you. This may be a communication idea, service design, experience, invention or a mix of it all. Now call it creativity or innovation, I’ll leave that up to you.
The CEO:The trends keep changing in the market, how do you keep up?
Amaresh:At an organization level, we are lucky to be part of a very tightly connected (yes, that word again) global network. There is ample amount of knowledge transfer and sharing which ensures that we are constantly exposed to emerging trends, best of work and ideas from Silicon Valley to Tel Aviv. Besides that, we have formal upskilling programs such as Digitas School wherein our key talent travels to different countries for training. We also have short term mobility programs for our talent where they gain experience in other markets.
The CEO:How do you ensure a smooth infusion of technology with your business?
Amaresh:‘T-shaped personalities’, these are critical not just for infusing technology but to ensure the connection between all capabilities. We let specialists focus on going deep in their craft. And the ‘T shapers’ ensure that they are brought in at the right times, or at least their perspective is. For instance, we might have a large technology team for development projects, and a few creative technologists who can bring the technology possibilities on the table in a creative brainstorm.
The CEO:How important do you feel is R&D for the growth of the company?
Amaresh:Critical to illustrate, back when data was yet to capture the industry’s collective imagination, Digitas had already developed a tool and a process to overlay multiple data signals such as location, channel and transaction data and make sense of them, all while ensuring anonymity and data privacy. That initiative helped us leapfrog ahead of many others around the world by the time data became a real task.
The CEO:How do you feel has the industry transformed over the years?
Amaresh:Well, they say fashion goes around in circles. If we talk about the advertising industry at large, we shot ourselves in the foot by cutting ourselves into pieces. And now the industry is desperately trying to stitch it all back together, each one trying a different pattern. In this regard, I believe PublicisGroupe has got it right with the Power of One strategy, which lets deep specialization thrive while creating P&L and KRA conditions conducive to natural collaboration. Because today our industry is no longer just advertising or even digital – it’s data, it’s consulting, its technology all colliding and intersecting.
The CEO:What digital marketing trends do you see dominating the landscape soon?
The CEO:What is your experience working with clients, outside agencies, freelancers or else?
Amaresh:We believe in long term client relationships rather than a leaky bucket. Hence, we diligently qualify all our opportunities, purse the ones which seem to have synergy and over the years have been fortunate to accumulate a phenomenal set of highly supportive clients, who are mature in their understanding of what it takes to deliver effective digital solutions.
Since we have all capabilities in house, we usually need freelance support only for managing unforeseen spikes and to bridge gaps while on-boarding new talent. We do have a pool of really talented folks thanks to the emerging gig economy.
The CEO:What challenges is the company facing at present?
Amaresh:The demand has grown much faster than the availability of trained talent. So we focus a lot on honing in home-grown talent, and we have one of the lowest attrition rates in the industry. That apart, since India has so many independents set up straight out of college, sometimes getting approvals on fair pricing can be a challenge. But I believe that mature clients recognize the value, and as long as you focus your efforts on those clients, you’ll be fine.
The CEO:What part of your success do you credit to your employees?
Amaresh:We are a people-driven business, so I’m tempted to say all of it. But I must also acknowledge that being a part of a strong network like PublicisGroupe and the ‘Power of One’ strategy has certainly given a strong platform to our people’s efforts in recent years. And our culture has attracted the right people or Unicorns as we call ourselves. But the success on ground boils down to the magic and wonder that all these Unicorns have created because otherwise, every agency under the aegis of a holding network would be doing well, and that’s far from the truth.
The CEO:What ethos is maintained for the employees in your company?
Amaresh:Having worked with other network agencies before, I can honestly say that we are possibly the most collaborative agency in the world. Because of our longstanding culture of cross capability connections, we also find it easy to play well with other PublicisGroupeagencies and clients, whereas for many other agencies the shift towards re-integrated solutions is a massive cultural adjustment. All of this is eloquently captured by our ethos – Be Bold. Be Curious. Be Mindful.
The CEO:What are the milestones and achievements to your credit? ‘
Amaresh:I would say that it’s the journey over the last decade with Digitas, as a whole. I got the chance to partner with several great leaders and colleagues to grow the company from a start-up into the 450 people juggernaut that it is today. I think our client list, which comprises of some of the best MNC and Indian conglomerates is a testament to our success.It has been a steep learning curve for me, as the mindset required for running start-ups and organizations is very different. So, while I’ve been in the same organization, it’s truly been a different job with every passing year.
We closed 2018 with a growth of over 65% on a massive revenue base and a very healthy double-digit margin. This included organic growth as well as successfully absorbing the erstwhile SapientRazorfish India teams and clients into the Digitas fold. We’re on track for a 35% organic growth this year as well. Along the way, I’ve been fortunate enough to cross some personal milestones in the form of awards, lists, juries, public speaking and writing. For me, the most special of these are making it on the Campaign ‘40 under 40’ Asia-Pacific lists and speaking at TedX on managing change.
The CEO:What’s on the cards for the company?
Amaresh:We have taken on the mantle of driving the new age capabilities for ‘Publicis Communications’ in India. Digitas has set up data and CX Centre of Excellences which will ensure that all the communications agencies in the Groupe are powered by data-led thinking and best in class CX design.
We are in the process of rolling out a unique strategic planning framework called ‘North’, which has been devised to help brands formulate their holistic marketing strategies in the context of today’s needs. We expanded and opened up an office in the Bengaluru market, and it has been growing at a scorching pace. And of course, we continue to evolve and mature our new age capabilities such as machine learning and emerging experience technologies.
The CEO:In 5 years from now, what do you believe Digitas would have accomplished?
Amaresh:I believe that 5 years from now, ‘modern marketing’ practices will get internalized as just everyday marketing. And consequently, brands such as Digitas which have been purpose-built for this world will be atop the food chain as marketing partners of choice, for clients around the world.
But more importantly, as the marketing remit widens to include martech, adtech, data to drive digital business transformation, we are heading back to an era where marketing companies such as Digitas are once again seen as true business partners and not just peddlers of communications solutions.
The CEO:Are you involved in any nature of corporate social responsibilities?
Amaresh:All our CSR initiatives are driven at a PublicisGroupe level, with each agency including Digitas contributing to it. This allows us to make meaningful contributions that truly make a difference to the beneficiaries. Over and above this, we also have reactive initiatives. For instance, we had a massive drive of both funds and material donations during the Kerala floods. We also have a CSR chapter as part of the Digitas Culture Club which is a ‘by, for and of’ the employees initiative. The chapter encourages and facilitates employees in donating their time towards causes ranging from pet adoption to teaching underprivileged children.
“In this ever-changing and disruptive world, where the only survival strategy is to keep adapting, I remind myself of a saying now and then ‘if you want to make the gods laugh, just tell them your plans’”