India's Top 100 Digital Stars 2023

Clients love agencies that love and live their brands: Rediffusion's Sandeep Goyal

"We are relaunching Everest later this year as a digital-first agency," says Goyal in an exclusive interview with Storyboard18. As the agency enters its 50th year of operation, Goyal is looking to revamp and upgrade services, launch new divisions and hire the right talent

Published: May 5, 2022 05:50:29 PM IST

Clients love agencies that love and live their brands: Rediffusion's Sandeep GoyalAs Rediffusion enters its 50th year of operation, Sandeep Goyal is looking to revamp and upgrade services, launch new divisions, and hire talent. Image: Umesh Goswami/The The India Today Group via Getty Images

A year ago adman Sandeep Goyal acquired Rediffusion, India’s oldest surviving advertising agency and one of the largest independent ones, from co-founders Diwan Arun Nanda and Ajit Balakrishnan in a deal which was pegged at about Rs 100 crore. The transaction includes three other brands under Rediffusion — Everest Advertising, Rediff Health, and Rediff Direct.
As the agency enters its 50th year of operation, Goyal is looking to revamp and upgrade services, launch new divisions, and hire talent. In an exclusive interview with Storyboard18, he talks about building a ‘Made in India’ agency, competing with global ad networks, and investing in future tech.
Edited excerpts
Q. How have the months since you took over Rediffusion been for you and the company? What are the goals you set for yourself and are you happy with where you've reached?
It has been a full year. I came back to mainline advertising after 10 years, and to be honest, I was a bit tentative (if not scared!) about how much the business may have changed in the interim decade. It just took me a few days to realise that nothing had really changed: The same old clients, the same old deadlines, the same old tantrums in creative. I just felt comfortable and at home from the very word ‘go’.
Yet there was change—most clients have begun to think digital-first, mobile-first. In the past 10 years, that is all I had evangelised and done. So that gave me even more confidence to give more to clients from my vast experience of handling 800 of just digital and mobile clients across the board at Mogae every month while partnering with Airtel and the other telcos.
But re-tooling an agency that has been around 48 years, with its share of ups and downs, is not easy. The mindset, people, pace of work, orientation to clients and service—all of it needed to be revisited. I told myself that we would be back to being our best in 24 months. Now, at the end of 12 months, we are happily more than half the way there. Lots of good talent, lots of new business, lots of good creative work, lots of new and innovative offerings… it’s been a roller-coaster ride but a really fun one.
Q. How are you looking at building the network? What are you bringing to the creation of the new Rediffusion from your previous experiences, including Dentsu?
We are relaunching Everest later this year as a digital-first agency—a completely new avatar in its 75th year. A top-quality, well-respected leader whose digital credentials are well known will be joining us in a month to take charge at Everest. We already have onboarded five to six clients for Everest, and about 20 new recruits will be on board soon. The official relaunch is set for 15 August. Everest is set to sizzle as a cutting-edge digital-first agency.
We are launching a new division of Rediffusion (currently labelled Rediffusion Nxt) which will focus on fintech, edutech, payments, startups, and other new-age businesses. Again, a high-calibre experienced leader has been hired, and lower cadres too are in the process of joining. This is a very big gap in the marketplace and Rediffusion is uniquely positioned to attain leadership in this space.
Our Red Lab (Rediffusion Consumer Lab) is today the smartest and sharpest consumer insights team in India. Our FutureTech team is doing some fabulous work in the metaverse.
We have tie-ups in the pipeline with a global strategic consultancy that is the world's best and will launch in India later this year. We are also working with Idomoo of Israel (AO1 marketing) and Holosuits of Singapore (augmented reality firm) on new projects.
Rediffusion Studios came alive last quarter. We plan to make a full-length theatrical movie this year to celebrate our 50th year. We have also started creating content for over-the-top (OTT) platforms. Rediffusion Studios will become one of India’s biggest producers of digital films for brands. We have hired a six-people team and they are doing some stunning work.  
Q. What gaps do you see in the offerings of other networks and holding companies? Who among them do you see as your biggest competition?
Rediffusion has always been an A-league agency. So, our competition always has been and will remain with other A-league agencies. Those are the ones we pitch against. Those are the ones we win against, and we are proud of that.  
Actually, competition has never bothered me. I’m known to be a new-biz conqueror, and that has not changed. My professional fortunes changed 25 years ago with the winning of Airtel and Maruti businesses at Rediffusion Delhi. It taught me a valuable lesson: Clients love agencies that love their brands. It seems deceptively simple but loving a client’s brand is not easy. It means living the brand every minute. This is why Sunil B Mittal and Jagdish Khattar loved me. I have carried that spirit with me back to Rediffusion.  
Q. We've heard that you plan to launch a media practice at Rediffusion? Can you tell us more about that and what's the game plan?
Yes, media is on the cards. The first of the releases will start soon. First for our own clients. Soon external AoRs.
I'm known from my previous innings at Dentsu to be fond of big deals (which led to skirmishes in the past with the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI)). At Rediffusion, we will look at some interesting, dramatic new stuff in the days to come.
I pioneered last-minute inventory buying with Last Minute Inventory (LMI) during my Dentsu years. That learning has not been lost. Expect more.
Q. In what way will it be different from what your competition is already offering to clients?
We will not be satisfied by the current status quo. I have shaken the existing order in the past and would not hesitate to do it again.
Q. What's your talent and leadership strategy now and in the next few months? And what kind of leaders does the business want?
We are aggressively scouting for top talent. We have just hired a new head for Everest. Also, a new head for Rediffusion Nxt. We have recruited nearly a dozen creative directors in the last year. That has increased our talent pool considerably.
I have also brought back some trusted colleagues from the past. Ruchira Raina, who ran Dentsu Communications and before that spent over a decade at Rediffusion, now heads South & East for us. Rajendra Gupta, who was the new biz head at Rediffusion two decades ago, is back in the same role after many years at Reliance. Jai Talwar, an industry veteran, now heads our HR.
A mix of young turks and golden oldies is my HR mantra for Rediffusion. The older ones are a safe pair of hands. The younger ones understand technology and trends.  
Q. Given the fact that the industry is facing a talent crisis, what's your sense of what's happening to the industry from the talent point of view? And how do you fix it?
The talent crisis, thankfully, is not an issue for us. Yes, we have had to say goodbye to some talent that was not fitting into the new Rediffusion. But then, such a churn is part of life and part of the change.
Q. What are the key technologies that will drive media business going forward?
I think advertising tomorrow will be as much about code and content as about copy. The agency of tomorrow will need skills in Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR), Blockchain (BC), Machine Learning (ML), digital twinning and lots more.
How to create for the metaverse will be a very big learning curve that will be needed but before that, even content creation for mobile and OTT will be a must.
Technology is really a mindset. I started dabbling with technology in creative in 2006 when we set up Mogae Digital. We then were the biggest producers of mobile comics in India. In 2008, I launched Indian Fantasy League much before Dream11 was born. In 2008 again, when I launched the Last Minute Inventory, Star TV, Zee TV, and Times of India (ToI) jumped in to co-invest. Suffice it to say, Rediffusion will lead the industry in leveraging technology in creativity.
Q. In terms of business, what percentage of your overall revenue are you targeting to derive from the new division?
Too early to say. But from this year our target will be to double every year. It looks tough, but Rediffusion has been known in the past to do it. My job is to ensure that the agency is constantly driven by innovation and passion. We are creating a new Rediffusion in our 50th year and I am confident of superlative success.
Q. Do you think Rediffusion is all set to take on much bigger global networks in India?
I think global networks are as much a liability as they are an asset. As a single decision-maker, I have to waste no time on approvals or sorting out cross-network issues. In the olden days, the networks brought in global business. Today, almost everyone who had to come to India is already there. Thankfully, today with decacorns, unicorns, and soonicorns being born every day locally, global networks are becoming lesser and lesser relevant. At Rediffusion, we have been approached by at least three large global networks in the past year. But for now, we should stay non-aligned. Our independence is an important ingredient in our success. We believe, as a made in India agency, that we understand both Bharat and India better than any foreign entities.

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