Agencies ramping up ops despite Covid-19

GroupM Malaysia CEO Chanchal Chakrabarty

PETALING JAYA: At a time when businesses are bearing the brunt of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, agencies are ramping up their operations to maintain market share and ride on the competition.

According to agencies’ top executives, the main thrusts for businesses to be sustainable amid the movement control order (MCO) would be, among others, to bank on talent, client enhancement and cost optimisation.

GroupM Malaysia CEO Chanchal Chakrabarty told StarBiz that it would focus on these critical areas amid the Covid-19 outbreak.

“Our people are our only asset and therefore their safety, wellness and welfare has been our primary focus. We are fortunate that being part of a global organisation, we are ahead of the curve, learning from China and hence could plan ahead with our WFH (work from home) approach without any disruption to business.

“All our talents have rallied together to adapt and collaborate, so it is business as usual for our clients. The need of the hour has been to be agile in responding to the evolving situation, learn from markets like China, which has already embarked on a recovery phase, and use this crisis period as an opportunity to be creative and innovative, ” he said.

Chanchal said clients have been very open and adaptive to the agency’s recommendations in this era of new normal and that had helped to connect with their consumers and in some categories, in growing their business.

Besides this, clients have also participated in the agency’s virtual chief marketing officers roundtable sessions to share and learn on the current situation.

Science and data

IPG Mediabrands Malaysia CEO Bala Pomaleh (pic, above) said its business approach had been to lead through science and data for careful tracking and to identify opportunities amidst the pandemic.

“To ensure long-term sustainability of the business, our focus remains on prioritising the well-being of our talents. Numerous measures have been taken to prepare our talents for remote working through the MCO period.

“These include work-from-home support tools, training and enhanced IT capabilities. Adapting to these challenges and uncovering new ways of working is key to our survival, and we have been able to tap into the numerous connectivity tools and resources at our disposal to boost and support virtual engagement.

“These include social engagement, internal townhalls and meet-ups through our digital ecosystem. We have also introduced several productivity tools as a result of remote working, ” he noted.

Bala said these tools helped in collaborative brainstorms, project management and data sharing to allow teams to function on digital platforms as though they were working from the office.

Through these changes, he said the agency had shaped and uncovered its new normal. “Although there are some limitations, there is little that we can’t do. Despite shoots having ceased, there are still ads being produced, with teams consciously crafting the execution in different ways to allow for remote collaboration.

“At the same time, efficiency is boosted in different ways as meetings are all conducted on time, with more focused outcomes for delivery. These improvement will translate into our new working culture, even once the MCO is lifted, ” he said.

Another important goal for the agency, he said, is its long-term resilience. This combines business resilience with ensuring the mental well-being of talents.

Through this MCO period, Bala said IPG Mediabrands had ramped up initiatives across its “LiveWell” programme, which supports talents’ emotional well-being with free counselling sessions alongside other internal initiatives including talent catch ups, mentoring sessions and webinars by accredited counsellors.

Industry stalwart and Entropia senior partner Prashant Kumar (pic, above) said it has taken steps to control costs. All discretionary costs had been put on hold and the firm is focusing on optimising the essential ones to remain financially strong, he said.

“Entropia’s zero debt, decent reserves and well-capitalised books provide us a strong foundation. However, we need to stay sharp on our collections and have tightened up the discipline around this area.

“The most heartening part is how the team has come together as one unified team to fight this crisis for our clients as well as for the company. We are ready to make sacrifices as a united community, ” he noted.

Focus on growth areas

Prashant said that in the last one year, the agency had accelerated investments in areas such as e-commerce, technology consulting and extended reality services.

If there is one certainty amidst all the turmoil, he said it is that all businesses would need to accelerate their digital transformation.

Towards this end, Entropia is well prepared to bring such transformation to clients beyond communications.

“Our e-commerce teams are rapidly setting up what we termed as direct-to-customer plays for our clients. We have added many more tech platform development jobs.

“Since the lockdown started, we have signed up several extended reality assignments, given that virtual experiences are replacing physical experiences, ” he noted.

Bala added that the agency is working across numerous initiatives to enhance business and support clients with solutions across its diversified services.

“Brands are looking for ways to stay relevant and resonate with audiences in this new climate. As a result, we are building more capabilities across areas like e-commerce, dynamic content, CRM (customer relationship management) and data management platforms, as well as looking deeper into SEO (search engine optimisation) on how brands can boost organic traffic via Google.

“There is also a greater need right now for brands to make investments in media analytics to make informed decisions on how to shift spends and make their advertising budget work better, ” Bala noted.

As to whether Covid-19 would impact the agency’s business this year, he said it is still too early to assess the full impact of a prolonged MCO but foresee an impact across the board.

Ultimately, he said the agency is putting more effort into building capabilities to support brands.

“These scientific approaches to marketing are put into place to help us grow the business for the future. Solving problems through physical limitations and emotional challenges have been a new experience for all of us at the agency. However, it is encouraging that it’s still business as usual despite the challenging landscape, ” Bala added.

Chanchal highlighted that there are certain consumer behaviors that had seen significant shifts like online shopping (e-commerce) and e-wallet usage, adding that he believed this would remain the new normal even after the pandemic is over.

While GroupM is already working in this space with some of its clients, he said this had now become a strategic priority for the majority of them.

“Hence, we’ve been able to pivot our e-commerce business to help clients right from strategic consulting, store management and fulfillment to on-site activation, depending on the stage of evolution they are at.

“The other area of our business which we are able to pivot and help more clients would be agile content development, as most clients now need to recalibrate their messaging to be more empathetic and provide authentic experience, ” Chanchal said.

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