The agency’s CEO on how he is aligning Unexpected Works for an Indian audience and why diversity and inclusion is important, writes LBB’s Natasha Patel
For Aditya Kanthy, CEO and managing director at DDB Mudra Group, life has been a series of ‘happy accidents’ and being a part of the agency when it announced its refocus on ‘Unexpected Works’ is just one more. “I didn't really have any well scripted plans on what I'd be doing with my life,” he says, though he does have some for how he’s going to apply his experience with leading the team to this new phase in the company’s history.
“The two parts of the equation which are unexpected and works being brought together, is that to get noticed, to be relevant, to help our clients achieve the objectives they've set out to achieve, to ensure that our people do the best work of their lives with us and that we are applying our time and talent to making a genuine difference to the world, it's critical to recognise the power of the unexpected in its broadest possible sense.”
For Aditya this means to take creativity in its raw form and keep evolving as contexts and time change. The second part of the two-part equation he explains is to “know that the work that we do, the creativity that we celebrate is not an end in itself but a means to an end. The ultimate tribute to creativity or to the unexpected is that impact in the various aspects of our life.” In India, there is plenty of scope for this – and any - impact to be seen. A country with a population of a billion means a melting pot of different languages, cultures, religions and various ways of living and growing. In particular, he is keen to highlight that the pandemic has seen a shift in technology and what can be done to aid and change the lives of locals. “Millions and millions of people are challenging the old ways and discovering new ways of doing things; whether it is the way they shop, the way they entertain themselves, the way they learn or the way they make sense of the world. It is time for constant change and flux and it makes the promise of Unexpected Works even richer in the Indian context because we are navigating this change constantly.”
To stay on top of those changes and keep up with the many adjustments it brings, Aditya believes that it is important to not just stay concerned with the changing, but also the unchanging. “The things that drive us as human beings: love, fear, greed, jealousy, those kinds of things endure. So how do you apply those kinds of eternal enduring values to an ever-changing context, in a meaningful way to help put out powerful work that changes things?”
This may be a bold question to even begin contemplating answering but for the leadership team at DDB, when global CEO Marty O’Halloran announced the new global brand positioning, Aditya took a step back and looked at the Mudra office to figure out what he loves about it, what must endure, and what’s helped make it to the success it is today. “There were many things that we were doing in India that were very much consistent with the promise of Unexpected Works, but there are many things that we have to do much more and do much, much better. If you look at our history as a company in India, we've been consistent with the work and the client partnerships but there are aspects of our focus on culture and diversity for example, that require a different lens.”
As an advertising agency, Aditya believes DDB Mudra Group has a responsibility to its people as much as clients and so, one of the most important measures of this is talent that works there. For an agency that is constantly learning, reinventing and challenging the ways in which they work, the first way he wants to look at this is through the talent and what they are exposed to. Not only is this key for creating diverse works – it also represents all that encompasses what India is. “Making a deliberate effort in how we are composing that talent and all forms of diversity. Not just gender and sexuality, but also the backgrounds in terms of geography, socioeconomic strata, other kinds of community representation in the country, or even skill sets.”
In a way to ensure that they tackle this head on DDB Mudra Group have made agreements with Free the Bid and clients such as Diageo to pledge a certain number of women creatives being a part of campaigns. He adds: “I think we could do more and those aspects of culture and change I think have certainly been put back at the centre of our agenda.”
Aditya believes that the idea of ‘Unexpected Works’ is deeply rooted in DDB’s history though in India ‘that history is different’. Ironically, his own career history ties in with DDB Mudra Group’s in a serendipitous way. As a child he would travel the country with his father who worked in the Air Force, moving region every three or so years, until he graduated with a degree in economics in Delhi and decided what to do next. “I stumbled upon this school in Ahmedabad, which sounded like an interesting place to go to school called MICA which at that point I didn't know was created by Mudra, which is now of course DDB Mudra Group.” The now renamed MICA, stands for Mudra Institute of Communications Ahmedabad.
Upon graduating from there, Aditya worked in market research before heading to Mudra in 2002. He jokes that he’s made up for his travelling lifestyle by staying at the agency for the past 20 years working his way up from a planner. Though his personal motivation comes from challenging himself every three years from growing and building a data capability, digital marketing capability, out of home activation and experiential marketing part of the business. “I have enjoyed being a part of the success of this company. I think we're far from the finished article and have still got a lot to do and I think that challenge of pushing harder to be the best version of ourselves as a company is what's keeping me going.”
As the company now refocuses and works through the pandemic which has caused havoc in India in more ways than one, Aditya outlines his plans for the future starting with pivoting to realign with what the Indians of today are looking for. One such is the utilisation of digital marketing company 22feet Tribal Worldwide – which DDB Mudra Group acquired eight years ago - to its full potential in the creativity and technology sectors. Plus, there are 50 technologists in the Bangalore office along with a team of strategists in Mumbai keeping abreast of trends. “Going forward it's a little bit of recommitting to the things that have made us successful and reminding ourselves of why those continue to endure and practising them every single day at work, but also recognising the fact that there are some things that have to be done differently, and making a serious commitment as a team to walk the talk of those.”
His raw reaction to the second wave of the pandemic in India is that this time around it “felt more like a humanitarian problem rather than one that affected the economy or had to do with workers”. He adds: “I think that was the shift, the change point in the first round of Covid. This time around, it was much more to do with recognising our place in the community and in society and doing what we had to do.”
During this time the clients and their way of working has been key to ensuring the smooth process of the brand and agency’s partnership is a success. “If you looked at our client roster today it's a good mix of big successful global multinational companies, large well established Indian companies that are dynamic and progressive, but also a bunch of consumer tech companies,” says Aditya. He mentions working with online shopping platform Meesho which has seen such success in its ability to help women in small towns in India to become entrepreneurs. “I think it helps us evolve and develop a certain amount of learning as well, and helps us stay on top of the change that we see, or are seeing in this country so I guess it's in all of these ways that we are trying to ensure that we are continually learning and improving on our own ways of working, being open to new kind of ways of creating.”
Aditya boils down DDB Mudra Group’s plan for the future of the agency to three points: a commitment to creativity, reflecting diversity and inclusion in the agency and working with a certain level of fluidity within the company and with external partners. “The more open we are and the more we welcome these new ways of working, the more likely I think we are to be able to do our best work. All of this, I think, is keeping us on our toes and helping us stay on top of change.”
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