The pandemic has transformed the way brands and agencies work together, with more focus now on driving concrete business outcomes. Dheeraj Sinha, CEO and chief strategy officer, South Asia at Leo Burnett and chairman, BBH India, tells Christina Moniz about what helped the agency grab plum new-age accounts and more. Excerpts:

Leo Burnett India got off to a good start in 2022, winning businesses such as Meta and LinkedIn. Are you consciously wooing more of what they call new-age brands?

We set a vision for ourselves about four years ago to become the country’s leading new-age agency and the great start we have gotten off to in 2022 has been the result of these efforts. We have had over 20 account wins in the first quarter alone. This new positioning has made us the go-to agency for new-age, digital economy brands, which is clear from the mandates we have won recently. About 30% of our revenues today are from new-age brands. Some of our big wins have been Meta, LinkedIn, Etsy, Force Motors and Sleepyhead. Additionally, we work with several other digital-first brands such as Spotify, PhonePe and CarDekho. Given the great start we have had, we expect CY22 to be a year of good, double digit growth. Despite the pandemic, we crossed our 2019 numbers and saw double digit growth in CY21.

How has the client mandate evolved in the post-pandemic world? 

Most clients are coming to us today with a business opportunity or problem, or to understand how best they can achieve a defined business objective. Brands are no longer coming to us purely for a campaign or a communication task but rather seek integrated solutions to drive a business outcome. That’s why almost 70% of the mandates we are winning are integrated mandates. As an agency, we now offer expertise spanning content, e-commerce, design, influencer marketing, celebrity management, media, data, etc. We are also doing strategic consulting work for several brands. Further, we are in the process of rolling out Leo Burnett Regional, where we do extensive research across specific markets in India to understand consumer behaviour and accordingly customise solutions. For instance, we recently rolled out a campaign for Spotify, which has been shot not only in Hindi but also in Telugu and Tamil. In the past, brands would simply translate the lead creative into a local language, but our approach is now more localised. We are seeing a growing need from brands for region-specific communication. 

Since the pandemic, several brands have shifted from the retainer model to projects. Does that impact your bottomline?

A lot of our relationships are in fact project-based and we embrace them wholeheartedly. Projects are like instant combustion— you do focussed work, deliver the work and then get out. Such businesses account for a good 30-40% of our revenues, and we are happy to regularly work with several brands like Netflix on a project basis.

You recently took on the additional role of chairman at BBH (Bartle Bogle Hegarty) India. What are your key priorities for it?

The priority for any agency is growth and glory, and that is clearly our priority for BBH India. We have incredible talent and great clients at BBH, and my idea is not to integrate it with Leo Burnett, but rather allow both companies to operate as distinctive agencies in their own right. I expect that growth for the two agencies will come from both traditional and digital companies.

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