MUMBAI: While countries across the planet were battling it out to be second in the world after Donald Trump's America, Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN) went two steps ahead. Not only did the group stake its claim as the No.2 advertising network in India, it also released a campaign comprising a digital film and outdoor hoardings to celebrate the achievement and created the hashtag #2ndPlaceGreatPlace because the best is yet to come.
In 2015, chairman and CEO Ashish Bhasin had set the target and in an interview with Brand Equity, he had said: "It's not an ambition (to be No 2); it's going to happen! WPP is the largest at present, IPG (Interpublic Group) is the second largest and No 3 could be us, Omnicom or Publicis. Two and a half years from now we will be the distinct No 2. We are by far the fastest growing agency group." The company says it achieved its goal on the back of "strategic acquisitions", continued business buoyancy, and overall growth propelled by the single P&L model, which provides clients with a more integrated offering.
A couple of days after the announcement, the company won Maruti's business, which according to one insider was the "Rs 1000 crore swing" that its business needed to thrust the network up the ranks.
Now, Bhasin tells us, it's a two horse race in the industry and "because we've hit our goal early, I want to use the rest of 2017 to consolidate this position and, by end of this year, be so far ahead that there is no dispute."
The dispute Bhasin speaks of arises from the fact that competition strongly contends DAN's claims. Something Bhasin is accustomed to; "Whenever I would say it (DAN will be No 2) there would be controversy. Now, it's happened and it's going to be difficult for some people to accept it."
In an industry not short on subjects to quibble over Dentsu Aegis' #2ndPlaceGreatPlace got myriad reactions, naturally, from guffaws to *pats back* (note: sarcasm) to 'what rot', we're paraphrasing here. (We have a selection of reactions from competition and clients here.)
Not directly addressing DAN, Publicis Communications India's CEO, Saurabh Verma tells us, Publicis Groupe is the largest network in the country "by far". He says, "We employ more than 15,000 people in India. We know that the second network is less than half our size." Which throws wide open another can of uncertainties.
Former Dentsu hand and IPG-owned FCB's current CEO, Rohit Ohri says, "We (IPG) are unquestionably the second largest network by revenue in the country." As per Shashi Sinha, CEO, IPG Mediabrands India, "As far as media billings go, third party reports clearly show DAN is not even No 3 leave alone being No 2. This is just a claim without any validation." Bhasin's response, "I never said we were the No 2 in media: we are the No 2 overall."
Not any closer to a definitive answer, this ambiguity prompts Bhasin to come up with a way to sort out the ranks. And he's more than willing to oblige anybody who challenges DAN's claim.
He says, "Because these are privately held companies nobody has access to numbers. But there are core parameters on which you can judge any agency group: 1) Number of people, because this is a people business, at the end of the day 2) Billings 3) Revenues 4) Profits. I'm willing to be judged on all parameters. I will bring my numbers, internally audited, certified by CFO, and I trust my competition, whoever is opposing can bring their numbers. I'm happy to sit in The Economic Times' office and have that chat whenever you want to have it as long somebody will be there with their (other holding groups) figures. And it's a lame excuse to say but 'we are five different companies'. Let them bring five different numbers. It takes five minutes to total up. I'll also bring the calculator."