Rammohan Sundaram


2020 A Year Full of Anxiety, Turbulence and Stress but Wait There Is Light

…and it is not the train coming onwards, it is real light. There are several reasons that makes me believe that we are recovering fast. I will sight those reasons but before that let us understand human behavior and our resilience to fight through tough times and what that signifies.

It hasn’t been easy working from home, but I have started loving working from my home office and that is purely because with little choice left, I had to adapt myself to the nuances of the new normal. I don’t intend to go back to office in the near future. Productivity has increased but that definitely hasn’t translated into increased throughput, so clearly the effort to reward ratio isn’t matching up; but when you are leading a business and you can foresee that the situation is going to worsen, what do you do? You pivot, bring the teams together and rally around the real objectives and purpose for life.

What is our purpose? Our purpose is to bring that one moment of happiness every day in our lives and like many I also felt challenged. However, I quickly realized that if I didn’t find my way through the maze I am going to sulk and find reasons for not having found that one reason to smile and this made me think hard.

It dawned on me that one little happiness to bring that smile on our face comes from various facets of life. I quickly put a calendar down and plotted meticulously from March to May as to what those things are that will bring in a smile. Of the list let me connect the dots to what I have said above with regards to the new normal of working from home.

All of us know that when we defy all odds and come out victorious there is a sense of pride and achievement and this was the fuel that propelled me to do some larger good. Teams also rallied around this thought and we decided to give it our best and go all out on new business simply because the new normal did bring in a lot of abnormality, including a dip in revenues from existing clients, which is why I said that the effort versus reward ratio was not in sync; but this effort was important to bring the agency to where it needs to be. The thought of saving jobs, the thought of bringing in that smile and the thought of keeping the team together led me to believe that the new normal can only be successful if we see early wins in the endeavor that we decided to embark on.

At DDB the leadership teams did a fantastic job of working together to a common goal and that led to the belief that even the units under the group will do well. Can you believe that we had over 100 wins in the last 6 months? 100 wins in normal scenario would have doubled every count on metrics of performance but here we were winning to survive the onslaught Covid 19 had brought over. With transformation as the theme and the center of our strategy, we started taking and executing some very bold decisions for our existing clients to grow their business many folds. Our clients also pursued a similar strategy, and we worked together to bring the best possible outcome for all parties concerned, and I can’t be prouder.

Coming back to the little happiness we needed, the fuel for new business wins rested on the people who worked with us so passionately, for the agency and the clients, and every week we found happiness through the stellar work that was delivered tothese clients. There were a lot of firsts, but that is in the public domain so I wouldn’t need to spell that in here.

I did not need a calendar post May, the teams and I have adapted and accepted the new normal and now have a great way of working together,I must confess, did not exist before Covid 19. The oneness, the camaraderie and the commitment to excel as a team is what I take out from this pandemic that has struck the world hard.

Now coming to some real facts. I recently read RedSeer’s report on the festive season and the economy. I was taken by surprise by some of the growth numbers coming from Tier 2 towns like Asansol, Ludhiana, Aurangabad etc. We sold smartphones at the rate of 15M a minute, isn’t that insane? No wonder Micromax is making a comeback with its “in” series. What does it all say? The data consumption story is now real, and it is also visible with the numbers that the streaming platforms are delivering whether its Hotstar or Zee5 or SonyLiv. The connected TV story has hit the roof clearly indicating that data streaming into homes through smart TVs and devices like FireTVStick are real.

Let me give you an example, I had 4 Tata Sky connections in my home same time in 2019 and now I have none. My TVs have been taken over by streaming devices and I watch what I want and when I want in a non-linear environment, unlike the linear environment that runs regular TV consumption. This is a big behavior shift, and real disruption happens only when such changes occur.

Thanks to Covid 19, these changes have accelerated the whole transformation process across organizations, sectors and businesses, which is why the meme that we all are exposed to about who our Chief Digital Officer actually is, went viral – it was Covid 19 the chief architect of digital transformation in India. If PayTM was the key to digital payments, then Covid 19 was the same force to Digital Transformation.

Look around you, entertainment, education, content businesses have all gone digital either through platform capabilities or direct B2C. It is wonderful to see how we have adapted to even the worse of situations to bring some light right back.

Coming back to shopping, 54M shoppers hopped on the digital train to purchase online, which same time last year was at 28M during the festive period and the growth has come from Tier 2 towns. The whole voice story has contributed to this growth too, especially Alexa and the likes. IMF has predicted that India will see the biggest bounce back as compared to any other country worldwide in 2022 with a predicted GDP of 8.8%. These to me are super encouraging signs with validation – look at the valuations and the companies that invested in Jio during the peak of the pandemic. That says enough of where we are headed and how consumer tech is going to be the most exciting space to be in.

So, let’s look ahead and get our acts right in 2021 because it is going to be one helluva ride in 2022 and I can’t wait.

“Author is Managing Partner and Head of MediaTech at DDB Mudra Group heading Media Business across 5 companies in the group”.