Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Media Mavens: Work-life balance is passé, what one does today is work-life integration, says Carat India's Anita Kotwani

Anita Kotwani, CEO of Carat India, talks about the big trends of 2023, leadership mantras, work culture and more

Published: Jan 13, 2023 06:24:04 PM IST
Updated: Jan 13, 2023 06:49:41 PM IST

Media Mavens: Work-life balance is passé, what one does today is work-life integration, says Carat India's Anita KotwaniAnita Kotwani, CEO, Carat 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 agencies. Storyboard18’s special series brings to you an exclusive behind-the-scenes view of the media agencies led by women.

Deeply influenced by the book '4 Disciplines of Execution', Anita Kotwani, CEO, Carat India believes that strategy without execution is hallucination. In an exclusive conversation with Storyboard18, Kotwani talks about the mega trends that will shape the industry in 2023, work life balance and the skill sets that are going to be in demand at agencies across the board. In fact, Kotwani shares that the best skill to have in the present times is to be an integrated client leader who can talk full-funnel marketing. Speaking about the potential of the India market, she says, “India will be the fastest-growing market in APAC, we will continue to see a double-digit growth of 14.7% and will reach US $12.6 billion. Digital will continue to be the key driver of the Indian ad market with 32% growth and 40% share of spend in 2023 when it is forecasted to take over TV spends for the first time.”

Edited excerpts.

Q. What are some of your personal milestones since you took charge of the network?

When it comes to milestones, my prime focus was on the stability that I needed to drive the existing set of clients. As their partners, it is imperative for us to ensure that their brand and business outcomes are being delivered. Secondly, I always make sure that our TRR (the referral rating) scores move in the right direction and further get our existing clients to expand their scope of service with us.

Apart from offline mandates, we now also look after digital mandates like SEO, SEM, performance marketing and e-commerce. We were quick to build expertise and ensure that we are able to add momentum to the client’s business.

With influencer marketing and the rise in OTT viewership, we enhanced our content practice. Content as currency became a new area to build our expertise on and we had successes with clients like Havells, Phillips DA, Intel, H&M and many others.

The biggest game plan was of course aiming for growth to drive towards our new business developments. We gained inspiration from the book '4 Disciplines of Execution' and crafted our strategy to drive the audacious goal of reaching 5X our numbers by bringing in new logos into our fold. We were able to win brands like Tata Neu, Tata Croma, Hero Vida, Times Pro and many others in 2022.

Q. What past experiences help you handle challenging situations in your current role?

As far as past experiences are concerned, they have always helped me tremendously in handling situations in my current role. To begin with, I had to unlearn how I operated in an established organization and re-learn and learn to be nimble and agile as a challenger brand in this market. The core principle that I had to work with was that challenger brands have to work hard and we did. We ensured that our clients saw that the best talent pool is servicing their business. We were proficient in taking constructive feedback from our clients and as a team were/are always in a beta mode. Constantly improving.

As a team were/are always in a beta mode. Constantly improving.

Q. What are your leadership mantras?

My core belief is that strategy without execution is hallucination. Additionally, I garner inspiration from the book ‘4 Disciplines of Execution’.

I also believe that between stimulus and response there is a space. That space gives us the power to choose our response and in our response lies our growth and our freedom. I keep re-iterating this to myself so that I do not react but respond and that has helped me grow as an empathetic leader.

Also read: Media Mavens: The industry needs to start addressing the pay gap, says Monaz Todywalla of PHD India

Inspect what you expect - is one piece of advice I always share with the teams when they groom talent. You need to ensure that you do not drop the ball when you are training teams, you need to oversee them till they succeed and then empower and motivate them to grow.

Q. In a hyper-active business like advertising, how do you find work-life balance?

The concept of work-life balance is passé and what one does today is work-life integration. One needs to find a level of equilibrium. This concept is centered on the belief that there is no distinction between work and life and both must coexist in harmony. Rather than viewing them as separate entities, I do try to find areas of compromise. The largest advantage of work-life integration for me is flexibility.

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

Let it start with you. I think it's very imperative as a leader that you imbibe the change that you want to see. Be upfront and commit to the number and then put an action plan to deliver that goal.

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

Yes, I do see a lot of my female peers leading other operating companies, and I personally feel very proud that the media industry has been able to drive this change. It’s the belief of the leaders at those operating companies where they have rewarded meritocracy and have chosen leaders that are able to drive the organization’s goal.

I think there is enough proof that whenever they have taken those decisions they have only prospered and delivered better as a group. Moreover, when you see such success you continue to be open minded and open up more opportunities for women leaders to excel.

Strategy without execution is hallucination.

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?

The media ecosystem evolution is going to remain constant. As agencies, we need to keep abreast of this changing ecosystem and then ensure we have practices, processes, tools and tech and talent that will be there within our fold to make a mark with our existing and new clients.

Skill sets that are going to be in demand are integrated client leaders who can talk full-funnel marketing. Integrated strategists who can pull together business, media, communication, content, social, digital, gaming, and eCommerce strategies. They have a lot on their plate to get upskilled to deliver to these new-age roles.

Domain specialists will be in demand across data, digital, content, tech, performance marketing and commerce.

Q. Brands are taking to digital platforms like never before. How has that impacted spending?

The delta shifts in digital has been very visible over the last year and we will also witness this increase in 2023. This medium will overtake television and for the first time become the channel with the largest advertising spends. We expect to see two things happening - either brands would be making a case for additional digital budgets and if they get approved it's great. If not, then they’d change their mix to drive efficiency. Given the cautious outlook for 2022, I see the latter taking prominence across brands.

Q. 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?

The mantra for clients is driving business outcomes and I foresee a shift towards performance marketing more than branding. As an agency, we realize the importance of ROI and have in place our practice areas like effectiveness and insights, and performance marketing to drive the client’s business goals. We have ensured that we are seen as front runners across the newer trends around content, ecommerce, and gaming, with our specialist practices that have seen huge traction in 2022 and will continue to drive momentum for the coming year as well.

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

Q. 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?

I think as leaders if you do not walk the talk then you cannot inspire your larger teammates to take the plunge and upskill themselves to drive our client’s business. I personally do spend time over weekends listening to podcasts, and doing courses on dentsu university, LinkedIn learning, Hubspot academy and have ensured that I stay relevant as a leader.

Within the agency, we take training seriously and have created a few initiatives around upskilling for our teams. Yes, we of course have our own virtual training university that has courses across soft/hard skills. We also have in place TAP (Talent Acceleration Plan) where a few of our talent pools are fast-tracked on certain specific certifications with top partners.

Our OTP (Opportunities with Tech partners) program ensures that the team is abreast of all the new players in the market that come up with innovative solutions that we love experimenting with for our clients. We also have recently conceptualized a program called ‘Mentor/ Mentee Open Hour’ which is a conversation with our domain specialists across all media channels.

Content, commerce and community are three megatrends that will shape the industry in 2023.

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

We have always looked for the right attitude with youngsters. If I see the passion, hunger and drive to learn, I take them on. They need to be curious about the ever changing ecosystem.

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

We see 3 megatrends that will shape the industry. They are content, commerce and community.

2023 will bring changes in the content people consume, the ways they consume it, and how brands can increase the attention their own content attracts. Ad-funded video platforms are set to overtake subscription channels with time, as major streaming platforms are adding ad-funded tiers.

Other than that, gaming is becoming mainstream and thus games are becoming increasingly prominent on content sites to drive repeat users.

Interest in attention is growing as brands look beyond metrics of reach and viewership to assess consumer engagement and make more effective decisions.

Digital commerce is evolving, including the growing importance of commerce sites in the advertising ecosystem, and the ways that brands can minimize the disruption caused by the deprecation of third-party cookies. Consumers can shop anywhere and anytime. As a result, retail sites are evolving into content sites and commerce sites are changing into media sites.

Retail platforms and sites are turning themselves into advertising platforms and becoming attractive propositions for brands due to retailers’ huge wealth of first-party data. Apps are evolving and continue to build ecosystems offering a wide range of services, to anticipate and cater for users’ needs.

As brands continue to navigate a cookie less future and advertisers will explore and test the solutions working best for their brands

Media can build a community like never before, but the way this works is changing. Brands need to be aware of these changes to optimize their own performance. Brands and platforms are increasingly using the ‘go live’ functions to build a community to create interest through live events. Not only to bring consumers together, but also to encourage live, active, engagement. Communities are emerging through a common emphasis on brand responsibility. Platforms are opportunities to share relevant content and increasingly measure the impacts of campaigns. It is not about who you follow as much as what social media platforms want you to see.