Industry POV

WATConsult has seen 60-80% growth YoY in the last 5-6 years: Rajiv Dingra

10 Jan 2017

WATConsult, a leading digital and social media agency which is now part of the Dentsu Aegis Network, completes a decade today. To celebrate its journey, the agency launched a digital campaign – #WATturns10. The campaign featured a series of activities across social media platforms highlighting the key moments and people who have been instrumental in the success of the agency. 

On Facebook, the agency featured 10 of their best campaigns. A 360-degree photo with a gratitude note featuring all employees who have worked with the company in the past decade. The crazy, funny and whacky memories of agency life were recalled on Snapchat – 10 days, 10 stories. Current and ex-employees shared their memorable moments and cherished memories at WATConsult on Twitter. 

Speaking about the 10-year journey, Rajiv Dingra, Founder and CEO, WATConsult, said, “It has been a great journey for us and we have truly enjoyed every moment of being a part of the social and digital media industry in India. To mark this day and make it a memorable one, we have launched two new initiatives. The first is a CSR campaign – #ThatsMyGirl, to support the education of a girl child. The second, we will now hire differently-abled people to be a part of our company.” 

He further added, “We look forward to create ripples in the coming years not only in India but at the global stage with integrated digital work as well as effective campaigns.” 

Sharing his views, Ashish Bhasin, Chairman and CEO - South Asia, Dentsu Aegis Network, said, “It is good to see an agency complete 10 years in a highly competitive market. We congratulate the entire team at WATConsult on this milestone and wish them the very best for the future.” 

WATConsult was started in 2007 by Rajiv Dingra with only three services and a team of four people. Today, the agency offers 22 boutique services with a team strength of more than 280 people across India. Headquartered in Mumbai with branch offices in Delhi and Bangalore, the agency has worked with more than 150 brands across sectors and received more than 100 awards and recognitions in the field of digital marketing. 

In this interaction with Adgully, Rajiv Dingra speaks at length about WATConsult’s journey in the last 10 years, the growth drivers, developments post the acquisition by Dentsu Aegis Network, the road ahead in 2017 and more. Excerpts: 

How would you describe WATConsult’s decade-long journey in India?
It has been a very satisfying journey. We are probably the only agency that has survived 10 years purely because we have evolved with the market. It’s tough enough to run a company for 10 years and even tougher when the space is digital, where everything is transforming. 

When we started 10 years ago, there was no Facebook, in fact YouTube just launched in the US in 2006, so the game has changed many times over last 10 years. Our journey has been one that is filled with rapid growth, constant adaptation with the changing environment as well as one of hard learning, if I may say so. 

We didn’t have any global track record, we didn’t have any way to get borrowed experience and the way I look at it is we’ve survived eight years independently because of our ability to learn on the fly and that has been possibly been the only reason why we exist today. 

I think these are the things that define who we are. The initial work we did was around blogging, so we would execute it smartly and learn fast. We made mistakes, we made many mistakes. When you do so many things and learn fast, so mistakes are not that big. In fact, there is a saying on our website which I still believe ‘We are an agency that thinks big, executes smart and learns fast’. 

What do you consider is the major turning point for WATConsult in the last 10 years?
There’s not just one turning point, but quite a few. In 10 years if you had just one turning major point then I think you get very less to do. I think the first major turning point would be our first client. The first client that we worked with was Rediff. We did a consulting project way back in January 2007 and it was a project that thankfully paid us some advance. I was just 21 years old, I had zero resources and even zero knowledge, but lots of enthusiasm. 

I think the second turning point was the slowdown of 2008. We grew rapidly from January 2007 to 2008, but the last quarter was slow. Today, it may be just demonetisation, but at that point of time it was a total freeze on budgets because of the slowdown. Nobody was paying anyone, so the client payments totally stopped. That was a very hard learning on cash flow management with hard learning on business. While I and my team were creative, enthusiastic and hardworking, business is not run only by these things, business is mainly run by financial discipline. 

I think the third turning point is not a turning point but a learning, where we ended up working with really large clients. So, we ended up working with Godrej and P&G and managed their entire social mandate starting from 2010 to 2013-14 and that really made us grow up because when you work with brands that are that large, especially in the FMCG category, you learn a lot from them. We started working with other mainline agencies and we got exposure. So, I think large accounts, large mandates allowed us to really understand what really large global clients look like. 

And I think the fourth turning point was definitely the partnership with Dentsu Aegis Network and the fact to agree to an acquisition after eight years. I think it has added more, many times acquisitions take away a lot, including freedom and I am in all sincerity of the opinion that the Dentsu Aegis Network acquisition added a lot more than it took away.  

What according to you are WATConsult’s key strengths today?
The key strengths I think are core strengths that have been built over the last 10 years. Ours is, in one word, ‘Responsiveness’. Clients need quick action and you are in the digital space, you are not in the space of ‘We will take time’, ‘we’ll think about this’, ‘we’ll sleep over it’. Our responsiveness, whether it is trying to create an opportunity for topical content, which is very important these days with social or to react to a crisis situation or in terms of a quick creative turnaround for clients is our key strength. 

Unlike creative agencies, digital agencies need to come up with a creative for Dussehra and in four days they need to come up with a creative for Diwali. And these may just be creatives for everyone, but you would not believe the kind of importance our clients give to it because their brand is attached to it. 

You get three weeks to write and create a print ad, now if you look at it creatively there is no difference, they are more static. Why should a print ad be given three weeks of thinking while a post creative which is going on social be given hardly two days or three days? So, it’s the responsiveness that differentiates. 

Thus, this makes it challenging for mainline agencies to become more digital because the speed of working is very, very different and when you compress speed without compromising how do you compress time or compress speed it becomes more faster and yet stay better and not become worse. And that’s the challenge of digital today. 

When clients associate with WATConsult for business what do they expect from you, as with INNOWAT you are one of the key Indian agency that is virtual reality ready?
We are still trying to create awareness around this, it’s a new thing but I think when clients come to WATConsult, we now started seeing lot of clients expecting great creative, creative ideas and creative execution. I think three years ago, if you asked me this question it would be great social media strategy. But I think now people truly recognise us as an agency that comes up with great ideas and has robust execution. 

Beyond that I think where we want to create an awareness and where we are starting to see a lot of clients appreciate that we don’t come as an agency that does only one thing, so we are a hybrid agency, 51 per cent of our revenue comes from creative, social, tech, video, while 49 per cent of our revenue comes from media planning and media buying side of the business. 

So, while we lead with our creative mind, we are fairly evolved in media as well as half of our revenue is coming from media and that’s a place where we are doing very large buying and planning for clients.  

What have been the major growth drivers for WATConsult?
One is definitely the market. I think everybody is growing in this market, if you are not growing in this market then you probably have not put yourself out there. The other growth drivers are that we believe are that we’ve been at the right place at the right time, we started slightly early but not too early so there were some agencies that started in 2001-02 and they really struggled to the first three-four years. 

We started around 2007, which was still slightly early for social media but not that early as by 2009 social had started. So, we learned skills and financial discipline in those two years between 2007 and 2009. 

We always have invested in attitude and enthusiasm, so we invest in young people even if it means we become a training ground, we are alright with that. We invest in young people as we were back then young people. My top management in Mumbai and across Delhi and Bangalore also, most of them are under 30. 

So, the point I’m making is that the top management at WATConsult is not the classical MICA sort, he’s not someone who is from the advertising field, but he has grown in this space and he has worked with us for long enough. 

The adrenaline to do something to prove yourself comes naturally to young people and especially in this industry, where you are a granddaddy if you have spent 10-15 years. So, in this industry the ego is big because once you spent 10 years you’ll look at everybody else and feel that they haven’t utilised their time. Typically, when you are 35 or 40 in this industry, you are in the mode of giving sermons rather than learning. And that’s detrimental and can’t be ignored.  

You have launched four new verticals in the last five years. How has each vertical has performed in the last quarter?
I think our most prolific vertical is going to be social – SocialCRM24*7, which is our social media command centre, because clearly tracking conversations 24/7 is essential. It has tracked close to10 million conversations over the last one year. 

After that I think what has done exceedingly well, and continues to gain a lot of interest in terms of vertical, is eCommencify, which is our e-commerce vertical and our programmatic consulting practice called Audientise. 

How would you describe WATConsult’s growth?
It has been phenomenal! We were 160 people when we were acquired, we are now 280+, almost close to 300. So, it is almost a doubling of sort. Our gross revenues from the time we got acquired to today would be 5 times more. Our net revenue would be 4 times more. This shows that we really scaled up in that context.  

What’s the growth vision that you have charted for 2017? What are some of the activities undertaken by WATConsult in 2016 that you would like to repeat this year?
Every year we have sort of doubled or at least had the higher percentages of growth – 60-80 per cent growth every year since the last 5 or 6 years that I can remember. I think 2017 is going to be a bigger challenge because we scale on scale and we are already a sizable entity as a digital agency, you need to grow 50 per cent on that, which is a massive growth. Beyond that I think the second target is revenue and recognition. We look forward to global awards and are looking at all Indian awards. 

Definitely what we will repeat this year is our initiative called WAT’s Your Big Idea. It is a college contact programme and we want to try and make it bigger.