In January this year, when Ajay Gupte took on the CEO mandate for Wavemaker South Asia, he couldn’t possibly have envisioned what a rollercoaster year it would turn out to be. He, however, steered the agency through its second year, fighting tough market conditions and clocking in new business wins worth more than Rs 700 crore. “And we still have two months left,” he states while summing up his first year in the CEO position, one that has also seen the agency sport a new leadership team, build up Wavemaker’s value proposition in a competitive industry and also execute the media mandate for possibly the world’s largest telecom integration with the launch of Vi’s brand new identity.
As the agency marks its second anniversary today, Gupte takes us through its ‘positive provocation’ philosophy, the big wins and more.
You took on the CEO mandate at the start of this year, a year that turned out to be truly extraordinary and challenging. Tell us a bit about the transition into the CEO role at such a tumultuous time.
The year has been very different, difficult and challenging in many aspects. COVID-19 has changed the way we work and our beliefs about working from home. The last seven months have been extremely tough for all of us in terms of business, clients, and more than anything, for the people. But I am extremely proud of the team the way they have handled things since day one of lockdown. Our clients were leaning on us for information and guidance as all were grappling during the initial phase of lockdown. We had regular calls, updates, industry reports and global experts throwing light on the bigger picture, which helped us and our clients to plan better. The year hasn’t been easy on us but every new challenge has taught us a new lesson, a new learning and we have emerged stronger than before from it. The biggest highlight of 2020 for us is that despite being such a rough year, we have bagged new business of over Rs 700 crore, and this wouldn’t have been possible without the support of our extraordinary team.
Wavemaker also has a whole new leadership team this year. Tell us a bit about the new team and your expectations from them.
The mandate is very simple – Keep growing by positively provoking our clients, business and teams. With Kishan (Kumar MS) taking over the role of Chief Growth Officer along with heading our South Operations, Vishal Jacob making a comeback to Wavemaker as Chief Digital Officer, Premjeet Sodhi and Mac Machaiah joining us from Mindshare as Chief Strategy Officer and Head – ITC business respectively, I couldn’t have asked for a better team than this. Everyone is equally passionate and dedicated towards their roles and responsibilities.
One of the headliner campaigns that Wavemaker executed this year was the Vi launch and integration of Vodafone and Idea. What were the challenges and learnings from pulling that off, especially with teams working remotely?
The launch of Vi has been a high point for us in this year and I’m extremely proud that the team managed to pull off such a large-scale campaign successfully. The challenge was how to make sure the entire nation knows about Vi on day one of its launch. It was a mammoth exercise for us and this wouldn’t have been possible without the support of our partners – Zee Network, other leading news channels and leading digital platforms.
The teams burned the midnight oil for almost over a month and made it possible despite working remotely from their homes. We had some crazy fun while working on the campaign despite so many challenges at hand and that’s what makes such campaigns memorable. This is a campaign that will be spoken about for years and it is a huge honour to have been associated with it!
Content has played a big role in some of the campaigns Wavemaker has rolled out this year like the ones for Mondelez and Mother Dairy. How important is the content side of things for the agency, and are you ramping up capabilities in that space?
Content is integral to the Wavemaker value proposition. We view it as a very critical tool in influencing the consumer’s purchase journey. The content team at Wavemaker India is a diverse set of talent that includes creators, communication planners, media agnostic thinkers and data analysts. It is a diverse team with a vibrant sub-culture and we will surely continue to invest in it. We are extremely proud of the hugely engaging work that the team has done across a large section of our clients across the country.
Take us through the big wins for Wavemaker this year. The agency won some big accounts like Sun Pharma and the Mondelez e-commerce mandate. How would you sum up the agency’s growth in 2020?
Fortunately, the year has been very good for us in terms of new wins. Despite tough market conditions, we have managed to clock in new business worth over Rs 700 crore, and we still have two months left. We bagged new clients like Sun Pharma, Chumbak, E-commerce business of Mondelez, Lido Learning, Supr Daily, Licious, Ustraa, Glance, Religare Health Insurance (which is now CARE Health insurance) and some more. It’s not easy to sit in different cities and pull off pitch presentations virtually. I am grateful to all our existing clients as well as new clients who have chosen us as their trusted partners.
Going forward, what will your key focus areas be? How has Wavemaker’s vision evolved against the current landscape?
The focus areas will always be our clients and our people. However, in such dynamic times, things are rapidly changing. Therefore, our focus will be towards continuous investments to enhance our capabilities, particularly within e-commerce, content, data, analytics, technology and measurement. In early 2020, we announced ‘positive provocation’ as our proposition and backed it with our operating system which consists of three major aspects – unlock, transform and maximise. Our focus is to make sure that each and every Wavemaker is equipped to ‘positively provoke’ our clients to maximise growth.
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