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It has been a little more than a year since Raji Ramaswamy took over as the CEO of Contract India, a year that she describes as packed with action and consolidation of businesses. She takes us through her journey as the CEO of the agency, the big wins and highlights, and tells us that she hopes to pave the way for more women leaders at the top.

Q] Take us through the journey over the past year, since you took over as the CEO of Contract India.
The past year has been full of action, and all about consolidation of current clients, understanding their needs, expectations, concerns and priorities. The year has been spent in participating in new business pitches and putting the new business leadership team in place and scaling up our current new offerings like our Digital division, iContract, the design division Design Sutra and Core, our consulting division. There has been an upswing and momentum in terms of work and business, and we are well on our way to the next level.

Q] The creative domain traditionally has been dominated by male CEOs. As a woman CEO of a creative agency, how do you hope to pave the way for more women leaders?
In advertising, we have had an equal participation of women and men. That is true for our agency as well. At Contract, we ensure that we give women equal opportunity to compete for all new hires across creative, strategic planning and business leadership positions. This is beneficial for the agency also because the moment you take women away from the consideration for these roles, you’re missing out on half the talent that is available in the country. Women also need to have more faith in their own abilities. At Contract, we do whatever it takes to encourage talent among women and reward them with new roles and responsibilities when we see potential and commitment to excel. We have a number of initiatives like speed mentoring, Bounce, SheHour and HIPClub that recognizes and nurtures their talent. These are two sides of the coin that are both equally important – the agencies have a responsibility to consider women, and the women must stand up and step up to take on the responsibility. At the end of the day though, it is all about the ecosystem, and I am confident that the ecosystem that we put in place will continue to evolve. We are witnessing that across domains like finance, media and entertainment. It is hopefully a matter of time before we see things change in the creative agency space as well.

Q] What were some of the big highlights of the year?
We are proud of every business – big and small. We are also very proud to have moved the needle on our clients’ businesses. So far, we have won 10 new businesses, seven new projects and four organic business wins from our existing clients. The new wins include Bata, Sony Entertainment (SAB TV) and a couple of brands from Wipro. The reason we have reached where we are is largely thanks to our fantastic talent and an excellent senior leadership team, including our Chief Creative Officer, Ashish Chakravarty and his team of ECDs, our Chief Strategy Officer, Rohit Srivastava, and his planning team and a strong business leadership team.

Q] What were some of your top priorities when you took over at Contract?
My priorities were very clear when I took over – to create momentum and growth. We had the right culture, but we needed to focus on strengthening our client relationships, and on creating momentum and growth in a hyper competitive market. Also, we wanted to look at how we could collaborate within the group and create new capabilities as a team. A year down the line, I believe that we have achieved the momentum we wanted. We have cemented our relationships with many of our current clients and have won quite a few new businesses. We are actively pitching across offices and hope to convert a few more soon. The other thing that we do on an ongoing basis is focusing on creating and nurturing the right kind of talent at Contract.

Q] What are some of the challenges you’ve faced at the agency and industry level?
At the agency level, it has actually been about ensuring that we have the best talent that can make a difference to our clients’ business, and in organising ourselves to adapt to our clients’ changing needs. For example, with the growing need for Digital innovations, we are exploring ways to create and execute campaigns in a platform agnostic manner. The other challenge has been in setting new benchmarks, understanding how we can better our offerings to build clients’ businesses. At the industry level, there is one main concern. The procurement teams for the clients are sometimes not briefed on the complexities of an agreement. They look at it as a cost-fee structure instead of viewing it in terms of an investment towards brand building. At the end of the day, the teams must recognise it as a branding investment and not just added cost. Another challenge is this new trend of project-based association. This is not viable because the agency needs time to build understanding of the business and category the client operates in, and that is not possible within the time frame of a project. We can deliver far greater value to the client with a longer association and understanding of their business issues.

Q] What is your vision for Contract India in today’s rapidly evolving ecosystem?
My vision is to create the most integrated agency model for the future, a seamless multi-dimensional structure where there are no silos. Imagine an agency where there are art directors, content writers, creative artists, data experts, app developers, digital strategists and bloggers sitting together, working and collaborating seamlessly. To my mind, this is the agency of the future and this is something we have started working towards. We have to be future ready, and that is the way we must work and shape ourselves. Client needs have changed and their priorities are different, so we must work towards an agency model that can keep us ahead at all times.

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