It was just about a year ago when Kartik Sharma took on the Group CEO mandate at Omnicom Media Group (OMG), at a time when the economy and the industry was reeling from the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the timing was challenging and the experience extraordinary, Sharma tells us that the time he had between his previous role at Wavemaker and the new one allowed him to observe changes in the industry before being thrown right into the action. “I realised then, that we are amidst a sea of both challenges and opportunities,” he says, adding that it wasn’t easy to adapt to a remote working arrangement immediately. “We’ve all inevitably become used to working in a certain way over time - meeting people and clients, being in an office space, making decisions together. Everyone has had to evolve rapidly, adapt to the newness, and actively learn new ways of working remotely. Most important, it was a lesson in managing teams remotely. One of the best things however, has been the team, that welcomed me and been extremely supportive and energised about the vision for the future across OMG,” he remarks. While the past year has been about being more innovative, curiosity-driven and solution-oriented, it has also been about the health and well-being of the teams. “We are all learning to communicate differently, with a lot more transparency in the way we operate,” Sharma observes.
Of new businesses and new capabilities
The pandemic posed new challenges for leadership teams across agencies, and Sharma found himself in a new role and faced with unforeseen challenges. “The pandemic accelerated digital amalgamation in business processes and systems. But it also awakened leaders to address mental and emotional well-being of their people and teams. We have been focused on ensuring that our teams are healthy and have everything they need to navigate through this unprecedented situation. From ensuring a conducive environment at home or a break to rejuvenate, we have stood by our teams. In the same breath, I am also thankful to our partners and clients for understanding how pressing the current situation is and operating from a position of empathy,” says Sharma.
On the new business front, the organisation has been quick to get on board new talent and build new capabilities to address changing client needs and consumer behaviour. “Even through the pandemic, we have been actively pitching to clients to enable business growth. We started seeing efforts bear fruit in the last quarter of the year, and that was definitely a big moment. Multitasking was a big challenge through it all, but the team did a fabulous job! We also launched Transact, our e-commerce unit, seizing a new opportunity to innovate rather than waiting for COVID-19 to be completely at bay. Additionally, we got on board a set of diverse and versatile talent. Some top-notch new leaders have joined the group – something that has truly worked in favour of team morale and strength, alongside business output,” explains Sharma. The agency has also been innovative in learning & development initiatives through regular podcasts, he adds. “We’ve ensured that data and insights have led to better decisions whether it’s for our people or our clients. Regular and consistent communication was important and so we made sure we organised regular town halls within OMG, OMD and PHD,” he elaborates.
He gives full marks to the team that has stepped up during the crisis and that has kept their spirits and energy up and stayed positive despite the challenging situation. Speaking of OMG’s performance on new business wins, Kartik Sharma emphasises, “We have brought home some amazing brands like Philips, AU Bank, Cuemath, Tread, Country Delight, The Pink Foundry (ConfiraLab), Parrys, Bel Group and Lead School, cumulatively adding to over Rs 400 crore to business. This to me is an indication of the trust our clients have placed in OMG and we are confident about building for the future.” He admits the challenge has been in communicating and pitching to brands through the screen rather than in person. “Considering that attention spans continue to diminish, it’s important to practice and embrace the art of crisp storytelling,” he remarks.
Priti Murthy, CEO, OMD India shares Sharma’s views, and adds that the past year has seen OMD India move forward with renewed strength as it expands into new verticals. “In the midst of all the troubling COVID news, it’s been such an encouraging and fantastic business growth journey for us at OMD. There have been many wins in Q1 2021, with the biggest success lying in our digital capability expansion, our e-comm wins, and of course a significant content deep dive. The last one year has allowed us to go aggressively forward on these verticals, expanding our remit across many clients,” she states. With Murthy at the helm, the agency has bagged new businesses like AU Bank, The Pink Foundry and Cuemath over the few months.
Kartik Sharma wasn’t the only leader at the organisation to move into his new role during the pandemic. Monaz Todywalla, CEO, PHD India also moved into her new role bang in the middle of the pandemic at a time when the organisation and the industry were confronted with massive disruption and just as lockdown restrictions were slowly being lifted.
“With virtual working, aligning people to the larger vision of our products and services was difficult but we managed to develop a seamless connection with our employees, both existing and new,” she recounts, adding that the agency has bagged some great wins during the past year too. “Start-up accounts have been central to our digital expansion. We have also had quite a lot of engagement and learning, working on new pitches which landed us some fantastic new age businesses like Lead School. We also got on board Diageo and LG, which have been a tremendous experience for PHD Media and me personally as well,” says Todywalla.
Looking ahead, Sharma is clear that OMG will continue to embody its principle of ‘being limitless’ as it develops its future-ready capabilities for a post-pandemic world.
‘OMG EMBODIES THE PRINCIPLE OF BEING LIMITLESS’
Kartik Sharma, Group CEO, Omnicom Media Group walks us through the organisation’s key highlights over the past year, the big wins, the challenges and its key principle of ‘being limitless’
Q] Almost a year into this role, what have some of the big moments been for you at OMG? What were some of the big takeaways and learnings for you in this first year?
Even through the pandemic, we have been actively pitching to clients to enable business growth, and have started seeing efforts bear fruit in the last quarter of the year, and that was definitely a big moment. Multitasking was a big challenge through it all, but the team did a fabulous job! We also launched Transact, our e-commerce unit, seizing a new opportunity to innovate rather than waiting for COVID-19 to be completely at bay. Additionally, we brought on board a set of diverse and versatile talent. Some top-notch new leaders have joined the group - something that has truly worked in favour of team morale and strength, alongside business output.
We have also stepped up our efforts to be innovative in learning and development initiatives through regular podcasts. We’ve ensured that data and insights have led to better decisions whether it’s for our people or our clients. Regular and consistent communication was important and so we made sure we organised regular town halls within OMG, OMD and PHD. We’ve been actively emphasising the need for resilience, offering support through mini-sessions, regular check-ins, offering breaks and other measures. One learning that has stuck to me personally, is one that I took from the team. It was the sheer ability to view circumstances through a positive lens. We saw getting things done collaboratively, leading to building both stellar teams and organisational resilience.
Q] How challenging has it been to pitch and win new businesses in this past year? What are some of the key account wins you’ve had so far?
The major challenge has definitely been to communicate everything through the screen. Considering that attention spans continue to diminish, it’s important to practice and embrace the art of crisp storytelling. As for new wins, across agencies, we have brought home some amazing brands like Philips, AU Bank, Cuemath, Tread One, Country Delight, The Pink Foundry (ConfiraLab), Parrys, Bel Group and Lead School, cumulatively adding to over Rs 400 crore to business. This to me is an indication of the trust our clients have placed in OMG and we are confident about building for the future.
Q] After the initial setback from the pandemic last year, how tough was it to get billings and business back to normal? How would you evaluate the Group’s performance from last year in terms of growth and revenue?
Last year, after the pandemic began, AdEx declined for the industry in general, and so a dip in billings was understandable. However, we saw an exceptional surge in digital, e-commerce, and trading. So, I’d say specific verticals have definitely seen growth and continue to do so.
Q] OMG has consistently seen a good representation of women at the leadership level. What is your vision for the organisation when it comes to ensuring inclusivity and equal opportunities for all?
OMG India is probably the only agency in the country where women make up 80% of the C-suite / leadership team. We’re merit-driven and so it’s possible that what the world considers a bias, we think of as a competency. If you are competent, you make the cut. Having been in the industry for 25 years I have witnessed some great strides when it comes to inclusion, across the board. The media industry has definitely been quite progressive in this realm. I am proud of the leadership team across OMG.
Q] What are the differentiators for both PHD and OMD as well as Omnicom Media Group in a very competitive industry? What are the capabilities you are building in this volatile pandemic scenario?
OMG embodies the principle of being limitless to strive for bigger, better and bolder accomplishments every day. The cohesiveness of the group lies in creating a resilient workforce across agencies. All our agencies are defined by the same ethos in their niche. OMD and PHD, as world-class agencies, are unified under our commitment to remain agile and futuristic. OMD India is the leader in benchmarking deep data-driven solutions, resulting in better and faster decisions for clients. This is essentially achieved because OMD focuses on being adaptable, collaborative and open to learning every step of the way. PHD Media is a challenger brand / a disruptor, an idea hub that is constantly going above and beyond today to focus on constant creative disruptions for tomorrow. All of this, by challenging the status quo and making the leap, with smart, strategic, innovative business outcomes.
Being limitless in our efforts to deal with any challenges has been the key to creating a resilient, empathetic and collaborative workforce. We have adjusted ourselves to new ways of working and new methods of interacting with our clients. And through it all, we have been ensuring that our people have the time and opportunity to keep their physical and mental energies up. We are largely focussing on enabling seamless systems, processes and practices by leveraging digital transitions for agile decision making. Improving trading, financial policies and practices, HR processes, as well as opening and exploring new lines of business are at the crux of our long-term strategy. OMG India aims to become not just a market leader in precision marketing with its tool Omni, but also the frontrunner in being a responsible corporate citizen.
Q] Going forward, what will your key focus areas be? What is the organisation’s new vision given the current landscape?
The key focus is definitely to enhance offerings through our people-based precision marketing tool and insights platform – Omni. It is a forward-looking platform that can manoeuvre in a cookie-less environment, having ingested over 500 million device IDs, all from India. It is divided into five utilities – insight, planning, activation, optimisation and workflow. Providing data clean rooms with strict privacy controls in alignment with Ad Data Hub, the platform has evolved a great deal since inception. At the core of Omni is our robust people-based identity graph, which monitors consumer behaviours in real-time to reveal how people connect, engage and transact with brands. It connects people, data assets, and analytics into a common framework, providing our teams with deep insights for making better decisions, faster, and outcomes that drive business results. We want to interlink everything to optimised business metrics. Our vision is to scale more capabilities in content and e-commerce, in a holistic manner for sure, but also in order to meet the needs of the data-rich digitally-powered world we live in, today.
THRIVING ON WOMAN POWER
One quick glance at the senior leadership at Omnicom Media Group, and you cannot help but notice that women constitute a significant majority. The organisation has over the years gained recognition for the role that women have played in its growth. Today, with women accounting for 80% of its leadership, OMG is setting the tone for greater inclusivity across the industry. As Anju Kurien, Talent Head, Omnicom Media Group says, “Women here occupy designations and dispense functions through varied levels – from CEOs to CFOs! Irrespective of gender, the level of inclusiveness, diversity and empathy is much higher throughout OMG. With regard to women in leadership, we practice what we preach by putting our money where our mouth is. Our values don’t look at this as diversity hiring. We genuinely believe in being a competency led workplace and acknowledging that every individual comes with their unique set of qualities. We provide a platform to nurture them and grow as professionals. Whether it is OMG or another agency, it’s the leadership that sets the tone.”
Along with Kartik Sharma, CEO, Omnicom Media Group, here’s a look at the rest of the organisation’s leadership
Case in point – both OMD and PHD are headed by women CEOs. Priti Murthy, CEO, OMD India has been leading the agency for close to four years now and believes that the industry will truly thrive once it goes beyond barriers of gender or any other differences. “In advertising and media, we generally see a good representation of both genders, and it’s getting better. We also need to look beyond this and focus on authentic leaderships, look at coaching cultures within organisations, and consistently build leadership capabilities. These are the must-haves in today’s transition time that will help bring in necessary change in culture and outlook,” Murthy points out.
Additionally, OMG’s CFO position is handled by Nalini Lalvani, a role that she has been managing for over ten years. Lalvani’s role has perhaps never been more critical than in the past year since the pandemic struck. “As a CFO, I have always managed the cash flows. However, during this period the words – profit is sanity, and cash is reality made more sense than ever before,” she notes, as she explains how she and her team navigated the WFH arrangement and kept business going. “Challenges that would have taken years to overcome got resolved with a ‘can do’ attitude. And the biggest learning is we are all capable of achieving much more than we imagine - both individually and organisationally,” she adds.
Leadership is a gender-fluid concept, and we are based on a culture of meritocracy, emphasises Monaz Todywalla, CEO, PHD India. Todywalla took over the CEO mandate at PHD India in September last year, a mandate that was previously managed by a woman leader too – Jyoti Bansal. Todywalla explains that the agency looks beyond the purview and hires lateral thinkers, since that is what the future demands. “We encourage diverse groups to be part of our talent pool through our value propositions. We encourage women to take on positions across hierarchies, and this is quite apparent across OMG India. If you look at the talent additions over the past year and a half alone, you’ll observe a staggering number of women in middle and senior leadership positions. A large part of this is also that we offer women such high scope for growth through the ranks,” she remarks.