Prasanth Kumar, GroupM South Asia CEO, shares how the agency is embracing the digital disruption, what are the challenges that this transformation has thrown up and more
The Covid pandemic has changed the way the advertising & marketing industry functions. The sector has undergone a huge transformation over the last two years, with there being a massive acceleration in digital growth. The medium has now taken centre stage, nudging companies to rework their strategies. We caught up with Prasanth Kumar, GroupM South Asia CEO, to understand how one of the biggest media agencies in the world is embracing the digital disruption, what are the challenges that this transformation has thrown up, how else has the pandemic changed the industry, and more.
While the discussion around digital taking over TV has been on for many years, it’s for the first time that a report has made a definitive claim of ad spends on digital overtaking that on TV to become the largest medium in 2022. How are you at GroupM adapting to this change?
While everyone had expected digital to overtake TV in the near future, the pandemic, and the resultant shift of consumers to online channels, forced organisations to accelerate their digital transformation. Not only did the sales channels evolve but the entire supply chain of companies effectively underwent a transformation. This was accompanied by buoyant funding in the tech space that led to more start-ups and many unicorns. The small & medium businesses embraced digital. We have been witnessing the consumer and ecosystem trends and we are leading the change. We too had to pivot to digital to serve our clients and stay relevant in today’s world. This has been done with accelerated learning for our teams on e-commerce, data & martech, and attracting the right talent.
GroupM has transformed significantly over the last few years. The first transformation is structural. We have created a COE for digital implementation and expertise through GroupM Services (GMS). On one hand, this COE brings significant expertise through specialists in platforms digital practices. On the other, it incorporates a streamlined process of implementation and analytics. The second transformation is in the area of products and partnerships. We have built industry-leading products in areas like Connected TV, Influencer Management, Data Management – Finecast, INCA, & MPlatform – and Attribution. We have also built leading-edge solutions using AI/ML for Optimization (Copilot) and DCO (Xaxis Content Studio). The third transformation is in upskilling, where we have significantly increased the width & depth of courses and certifications across the company.
What are some of the challenges that digital advertising brings upon brands and consumers?
From the brand perspective, the challenges are in effectively managing the streams of data generated through digital marketing in a responsible manner. Firstly, it is to break down the silos of data across the organization and move towards one comprehensive view of the consumer. Second is the need to establish clear metrics for all marketing actions and have a consistent feedback loop. The third challenge is the need to attribute actions through the funnel rather than focus on bottom-funnel alone. Finally, the imperative to do all this in a brand-safe manner upholding data ethics in a rapidly shifting landscape.
There has been a lot of attrition across all media companies in the last two years, particularly in the digital space. Do you think there is lack of innovation in digital due to shortage of talent? How are you addressing this issue at GroupM?
Attrition is a universal problem and is related to capacity building and not capability. We have skilled talent, and we are delivering world-class work. We now have a global capability and are managing multiple assignments out of India. We are working with the WPP family, partners, and the start-up ecosystem to drive innovations and we have a structured approach to drive this. We have strengthened our entry-level program as well to build a strong talent funnel. Our talent mix is very diverse, and we also recruit talent from different industries.
Going by the numbers predicted this year, there is a marginal dip of 1 % in the predictions of estimated Indian ad spends from 23.2% in 2021 to 22% for 2022. What factors led to this decline?
2021 was an exception in that it was growing on a contracted base of 2020, so the growth rate would have to be higher. On that near normalised base, 2022 is estimated to see a strong 22% growth. There is no decline here. If you see 2021 vs 2019, all media growth is at 3%, and 2022 vs 2019 is at 25%, that signals healthy growth.
There was a mention of growing gig economy globally and in India too during the launch of report. How does it impact the media and marketing industry?
Gig economy is not a new trend as far as this industry is concerned. There are several sectors that work on assignment basis, but the pandemic has accelerated this trend. There will be modified ways of working within the ad and marketing industry. We have also seen the rise of Distributed Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) in areas like content creation. We see this as an opportunity, as we will have access to a wider pool of specialist talent. However, this also comes with a need to establish stronger processes of collaboration and data security.
In what ways has the pandemic fundamentally changed the advertising and marketing ecosystem?
The dramatic change has obviously been in the media consumption and buying behaviour of consumers. The path to purchase has fundamentally transformed for most categories, and the influencers of brand selection have also changed. This has led to a dramatic rise in e-commerce, D2C and data-driven targeting of consumers. All these trends were present before the pandemic, but have been accelerated many folds now.
Apart from digital, which are some of the key areas where agencies must focus to be future-ready for their clients?
Digital is all pervasive. It is making in-roads into how companies manage their supply chain, people, processes, etc. Technology is playing a key role across industries, from agriculture to banks to manufacturing to advertising. In this dynamic space, a company must be constantly willing to change to adapt itself to newer ways of collecting/ managing/ analysing data using AI/ML. It should enable innovation for clients using latest technologies like blockchain, metaverse, etc., and find newer ways of enabling sales for their clients. It should find newer ways of reaching the client’s customers in an engaging manner, and establishing/tracing online-offline consumer journey. All of this can be done only with technology and the right talent. So, that is where agencies must focus to stay relevant in this ever-changing world.