Forbes India Showstoppers 2022-23

Media Mavens: Embracing advertising in a privacy-first world will become critical, says OMD India's Anisha Iyer

Anisha Iyer, CEO of OMD India on changing ways of doing business at media agencies are more than just talent agents

Published: Jan 2, 2023 06:01:26 PM IST
Updated: Jan 2, 2023 06:39:11 PM IST

Media Mavens: Embracing advertising in a privacy-first world will become critical, says OMD India's Anisha IyerAnisha Iyer, CEO, OMD India

Note to readers: Media agencies have seen a 360-degree change when it comes to measurement metrics, strategies and services offered to the clients. What has also changed drastically is the gender gap. Thanks to the women leaders in the space who are showing the way for more and more media experts to aim for top leadership roles at these agenciesStoryboard18’s special series brings to you an exclusive behind-the-scenes view of the media agencies led by women.

Anisha Iyer, CEO of OMD India says there is soon going to be a resurgence of the era of the brand. Brand marketing that had taken a back seat during the pandemic will be back and media agencies are preparing themselves for it.

In an exclusive chat with Storyboard18 she also says that advertisers are going to need to radically rethink their strategy for a privacy-first web world and find solutions keeping ethics in mind, given cookies might soon become obsolete.

“Experimenting with one’s approach will be vital to a sustainable and future-ready data strategy and building a strong, trust-based relationship with customers,” she says.

Iyer talks about challenges, changing role of media agencies, the new crop of employees at the agencies and more.

Edited excerpts.

Q. What according to you are personal milestones since you have taken charge of the network? What past experiences helped you to handle situations in your current role?

A year ago, we were looking at a radical overhaul in talent management and transformation at OMD India, which required us to completely reassemble and redesign the organization in a way that's better suited to our evolving needs. Since then, we've made some big strides in the first year and are inching closer to making our vision a reality. I consider this transformation a big win as it ultimately is the product of my passion, and there's nothing more heartening than seeing one's fruits of labour coming into their own.

What's been a driving force in achieving this rather ambitious goal is having a deep-rooted sense of empathy towards both our people and the organization and giving value to accountability. Learning to hold myself and others accountable and leading with compassion has helped put things in perspective and of course, has made what seemed like a daunting process an effortless transition.

Q. What are your leadership mantras? In a hyper-active business-like advertising, how do you find work-life balance?

The three mantras I swear by are ‘live and let live’, ‘respect individuality’ and let people be themselves, and ‘individual accountability’, which empowers people across all levels to bring their A-game to the table. Ultimately, it all comes down to the end goal that we are all working towards, no matter what the means or the journey looks like for each person committed to achieving it.

The power of the collective truly transforms through harnessing individuality, and it is essential to let people shine through their integrity and distinctiveness.

Also read: Diageo India CEO Hina Nagarajan: We are cash positive and have the money to invest where the opportunities are

As someone who has been in the ad business for a long time now, how do you think the industry can fix the gender gap, especially at senior leadership levels?

A grave concern, in my opinion, that we ought to address as an industry at large today is the sheen that the advertising business at large seems to have lost over time. There was an era when a career in advertising was synonymous with words like exciting or glamorous. Over the years, it has been relegated to the league of ‘just another job’ rather than an industry that holds the key to bringing about change with the power of ideas and creativity. There is a need of the hour to focus on quality over quantity.

And of course, not digressing from the question at hand, undoubtedly, there are measures agencies and businesses can take to address pertinent issues regarding the gender gap – right from removing implicit biases to moving away from discriminatory stereotyping while hiring. What the leaders of today bring to the table here will speak volumes for the frontrunners of tomorrow.

Q. Compared to creative agencies, media agencies in India have a lot of women leaders. What are your observations on this?

Media agencies have predominantly held a niche status in the advertising world and have always placed a greater emphasis on the true value of meritocracy in hiring and honing individuals who bring their spark of brilliance to the table. Over time, playing to these strengths has seen some of the best minds emerge in the ecosystem.

The business of media requires gravitas, passion and a multitasking ‘can-do’ attitude that women inherently bring to the table. It is hence no surprise that we have more women leaders across the industry.

Our own agencies, right from OMD to Omnicom Media Group, are a testament to this – with an incredible force of women leaders across every level of the organization, winning, succeeding and building on momentum every single day.

Q. Coming to the evolving role of agencies at the moment- How have the skills required to do the job well changed over the years? What are the key skills required now - at entry and mid-levels?

As more and more digital natives join the workforce, the skills that one looks for in entry-level and mid-level talent have certainly changed over the years. The new breed of advertising and media professionals are fundamentally born into the digital space, and therefore, having a keen understanding of new-age platforms and ecosystems is of the essence.

Also read: Digital Marketing Mavericks: Publicis Groupe's Digitas India looks at marketing from a fresh lens

With transformations and new frontiers of tech being the order of the day, skills pertinent to bringing about innovation through creativity are another priority one looks for today. A creative mind with a data-driven disposition is something one cannot overlook today, especially in the media business.

Q. Brands are taking to digital platforms like never before. How has that impacted spending? Are brands accommodating digital in their earmarked media budget or are they ready to push their budget for digital marketing?

Digital is a critical tool in a marketer’s arsenal today, especially in the post-pandemic world where a massive shift has forced businesses to rethink their strategy. With the rise of multiple touchpoints, fragmented consumer journeys and people embracing new frontiers of consumer experience, brands are adopting new metrics and making digital the linchpin to gain leverage in an increasingly competitive world. Needless to say, digital marketing is here to stay, and the future looks bold and audacious for those placing digital at the heart of strategy.

Talking of budgets and new trends, what are clients looking for mostly when they come to the agencies, is it just reach or ROI? How are you responding to their changing needs?

With a shifting focus for businesses, at Omnicom Media Group, we are advancing strategic conversations upstream for all our clients. As partners on the journey of driving brand value and transformation, we begin and end conversations with a focus on the big picture and a macro view of the business - something no future-leaning agencies or brands can afford to overlook today.

Media is simply the vehicle that carries forth the desired communication in varied formats, be it reach, ROI or any other metric. The pivot clients are looking for today is on a much larger scale and this is the space that agencies are stepping into and owning the narrative side-by-side with clients.

Lots of leaders across industries have been sharing their experiences on the new skills they’ve acquired in the past few years. Have you had similar experiences? Be it on a personal or professional level.

Learning the intricacies of e-commerce was a challenge I took on. It was no doubt a steep learning curve but ultimately a rather rewarding one.

Understanding how to deliver proper end-to-end consumer journey solutions required hours of rigorous learning, including but not limited to understanding terminology, ways of working and understanding key players in the ecosystem.

There is a certain sense of misconception that likens being a digital expert to being an e-commerce expert, but the truth is that the two are worlds apart. While it may seem similar on the surface but as a business, it is radically different from the nuances of advertising.

In a world where digital, tech and media are shaping the future of e-commerce, having sound knowledge of its ins and outs is table stakes and one that cannot be ignored. It's given me more than a sense of accomplishment by empowering me to navigate the ecosystem more effectively.

Q. What do you look for in the new generation of media planners and buyers?

The two things I believe that matter most are a sense of accountability and a muted sense of entitlement. Having a humble attitude and being able to see the larger picture are essential qualities and it makes collective action a real possibility, which at the end of the day, is essential to building a thriving community of media professionals.

Q. Lastly, what are the big media trends to watch out for and what is your business and media outlook for 2023?

Embracing advertising in a privacy-first world will become rather critical. With cookies set to soon become obsolete, advertisers are going to need to radically rethink their strategy for a privacy-first web world and find solutions keeping ethics in mind. Experimenting with one’s approach will be vital to a sustainable and future-ready data strategy and building a strong, trust-based relationship with customers.

The second would be the resurgence of the era of the brand. Following the onset of the pandemic, the age-old battle of brand-led versus performance-driven marketing was once again brought to the fore - as businesses became conscious about their marketing spends, with a higher focus on ROI and the impact of spends on the bottom line. Brand marketing, in the interim, took a backseat. However, as we return to normalcy, there is a shift back to the larger brand story and brand marketing will take precedence over performance.

I also foresee businesses being more bullish with their approach in the coming year and taking more chances again. While lately, businesses have been on an upward trajectory when it comes to investments and growth, the pace at which we expect this to scale will accelerate considerably.

Lastly, our outlook for 2023 is to deepen our focus in the domains of digital, data, and tech, and subsequently win new businesses across e-commerce, content, data partnerships, and consulting. There's an enhanced focus on innovation for us at OMD and it is poised to play an even more vital role in the work we do with our clients in 2023 and be the linchpin that inspires and excites with emotive brand experiences and deeper consumer connections.

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