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Planners are taking on C-suite roles at ad agencies. Here’s why

Coupled with financial and operational acumen, strategists are trained to gauge the future needs of a client and look for solutions which make them future ready. That makes them solid leaders in a fast-changing marketing world.

By  Saumya TewariDec 2, 2022 12:45 PM
Planners are taking on C-suite roles at ad agencies. Here’s why
There is a resounding belief that strategists tend to look at the bigger picture when it comes to building brands, they are often more familiar with market value and data related intricacies of companies and moreover they have learnt to work in a collaborative way with creative folks.

MullenLowe Group recently announced the appointment of S.Subramanyeswar, aka Subbu, as the group chief executive officer of MullenLowe Lintas Group India, effective immediately. Subbu will lead Lowe Lintas, Mullen Lintas and other marketing services for the legacy agency group.

In addition, Subbu will continue to directly lead the strategy function for the Group in India and maintain his role as chief strategy officer for the MullenLowe APAC region. He joins the ranks of senior planners and strategy resources who went on to take on C-suite roles at their ad agencies.

Globally, advertising and marketing behemoth Ogilvy appointed Devika Bulchandani as the Global Chief Executive Officer, making her the first-ever woman of colour to run the global agency network. She comes from a planning background.

Back home, leaders such as Dheeraj Sinha (Leo Burnett), Jitender Dabas (McCann Worldgroup India) and Aditya Kanthy (DDB Mudra Group) are also heading big advertising firms having been in the strategy function for quite a while.

Storyboard18 reached out to key industry executives about why planners and strategists are being handpicked for leading agencies. There is a resounding belief that strategists tend to look at the bigger picture when it comes to building brands, they are often more familiar with market value and data related intricacies of companies and moreover they have learnt to work in a collaborative way with creative folks.

Marketing landscape is fast changing right now and so is the nature of agency-client relationships. Being a strategist, you often are at a vantage point to understand the clients problems upstream as well downstream. That perhaps allows for a better appreciation of clients present and future needs.

Future ready, problem solvers

There is a unison amongst the industry leaders that strategists are trained to gauge the future needs of a client and look for solutions which make them future ready. In a cluttered marketing environment, this seems to be the winning formula for agencies.

Long-time strategist who has also taken over the reins at Leo Burnett, Dheeraj Sinha, CEO, Leo Burnett, South Asia, and chairman BBH India believes as strategist people are always taught to focus on the future, to look at how the future is going to shape up, to build brands and sometimes organisations and put them on the trajectory for future.

“So, when you begin to run an agency, you take all of that ability, and you use it for your own organisation. You position your organisation to take on the future. You invest in strategies such as talent, people, resources, which take you to tomorrow. That comes in handy,” he adds.

He also notes that as a strategist, people are always looking at market shares and sales for the clients so handling an agency P&L as its leaders is not that hard to understand.

Jitender Dabas, former chief strategy officer who has taken over as chief operating officer (COO), McCann Worldgroup India in 2020, gives us an interesting perspective.

He says that what excites a good strategist is a good problem to solve. The marketing services industry is grappling with a multitude of challenges - the digital transformation of marketing, the talent issue to even the profitability of the business model .

“When you move to general management you have the opportunity to shift your problem-solving gaze inwards to apply what you have learnt all the years. I suppose that’s what excites strategists to don the management hat,” he notes.

Although he is quick to add that the competitive edge that makes the agencies win against their competitors will continue to be ‘creativity’.

“How we use that to add value to client businesses and charge the right premium for it is where strategists can play a role,” he opines.

Building culture, organisational knowledge

Aditya Kanthy, CEO & MD, DDB Mudra Group also notes many strategists who have taken over key leadership roles have also been in the agency for long enough to understand its culture quite deeply. Kanthy started leading the Group in 2017 after serving the agency as chief strategy officer.

According to him, there’s an acknowledgement of the shifts that are happening in the marketing environment.

“There is a lot of fragmentation in the entire marketing services chain with specialisations across creative, digital and media agencies. Leaders should be able to connect these dots and see the big picture to build brands and create work that helps clients grow in this kind of an environment. Leaders with this technical background and organisational knowledge are well-suited to carry their people along in this journey of transformation and change,” he sums up.

Client speak

Brand and marketing strategist Ajay Kakar who recently retired as Aditya Birla Capital’s long-serving chief marketing officer, notes that every brand needs to benefit from the left and right brain, but speaking in one voice. And that’s where and when the agency partner adds the most value.

“With strategy-backed creatives that work in the marketplace, for the brand and business. Therefore, as a client, it is very important to have the best creative and planning minds, shepherded by a passionate servicing person, to partner your brand. All aligned to the brief and outcome,” he adds.

Kakar opines that who leads the agency may not have a direct impact on a client. But it does tend to cue the slant that an agency may have, towards creative versus strategy versus servicing.

He adds, “It is paramount that an agency head, whatever be his background, creates a culture and practice where the three-pronged trishul work together, to strike the target for the client. Every time."

First Published on Dec 1, 2022 12:04 PM