Leo Burnett CEO, Dheeraj Sinha, on returning to the Abby awards at the adfest, changes in the ad industry and more

The Leo Burnett group staged a dramatic comeback at the Abby Awards held at Goafest, emerging as the “Creative Agency of the Year”. BrandLine caught up with Dheeraj Sinha, CEO, Leo Burnett – South Asia and Chairman BBH India at Goafest 2022 to know more about the decision to return to the awards after staying away for years and the agency’s focus on building new-age brands.

What led Leo Burnett to make a comeback to the Abby Awards after an absence of nearly seven to eight years?

There are two aspects to the Goafest. One is the conclave and the participation in the festival and the second is the Abby awards. The way we looked at it is that if we have to bring about change — and we are going through unprecedented changes as an industry — it can only happen, even at the industry level , if we come in and participate rather than sit out.

The kind of agency we are building at Leo Burnett and at BBH is very cutting edge and very new age. So, we felt that in the larger interest, we had to come back with the objective and desire to come in and make change and be part of it.

On the awards front, I think there has been some comfort. The Abby awards tied-up with One Show and upped the quality of the judging. One of the reasons that we had stayed out was that at some point of time, the awards were getting synonymous with scam ads. We don’t do that, we do only real client work.

We pretty much decided at the last minute that we will participate. So, we entered whatever was in our arm’s length and participated at a modest level.

Could you dwell more on the unprecedented changes that the ad industry has witnessed?

Our point of view has been that this is the best time to be in the business because the whole palette of what advertising plays with has changed dramatically and how one can intervene and the way one can bring about change in society, culture for business is fantastic. And that’s what I’m excited about.

In terms of our positioning, we also work a lot with new-age companies. Such as Amazon, Spotify, CarDekho, among others. That’s almost 30-40 per cent of our revenue. So the internet economy continues to be a key focus because as an agency, I daresay we are good at building unicorn brands.

But we have seen a lot of these new-age D2C brands doing a lot of work in-house and not going to the big agencies?

I think the game has changed a lot. I think for the initial bit, a lot of these brands tried to do things on their own and did a good job of it, because largely, they were playing with performance and digital.

But then beyond a point, you realise the cost of performance goes up dramatically if you are not building the brand narrative. I mean, there have been instances where the moment we put a narrative on air, the cost of performance went down by 70 percent.

So brands,which are now at an inflection point and have turned a unicorn or are going for an IPO, come to us. We are working with companies such as boAT, PharmEasy , Healthians, and Zupee. We are also working with Meta, Amazon and Spotify. We are one of the agencies that is ahead of the curve on this piece.

Do you see this 30-40 per cent share getting bigger in the coming years?

Two things are happening. A lot of our traditional clients are also now wanting to do new-age work. So that rub-off is happening. Also, obviously the pie of the new-age brands is increasing significantly. If we look at the amount of funding and the staggering number of unicorns that will be built out of India, this pie will grow massively. So this story is yet to play out fully.

In terms of revenue, are you back to the pre-pandemic levels?

Our 2020 revenue was just five per cent less than 2019 revenue. We were higher on profit, we honoured all our increment cycles and we have hired 150 people in the past two years and have released the bonuses. We bagged some 30 to 40 new business clients during this period. So, we’ve managed to come out of the pandemic with minimum damage. In 2021, our revenue was higher than 2019 and we are seeing a healthy growth clip.

Published on May 15, 2022