DAN has leaped ahead when it comes to digital expertise by acquiring a number of digital agencies over the years – Sokrati, SVG Media, WATConsult, Fountainhead, Happy Creative, and Fractal Ink. How to do see the new agency model evolve, and how will these acquisitions help?

Ashish had a clear vision when he took over the reins of DAN close to nine years ago – DAN must be the undisputed leader in digital. I believe with more than 1800 digital professionals focused on India, a huge gap has been created between the digital expertise at DAN and the other networks. This is also in line with the global goal of DAN of becoming 100% digital by 2020. Acquisitions work for DAN as more than 70% of the entrepreneurs stay back in DAN once the earn-out is completed (me being an example for India). I believe this percentage is in the lower 30s for other networks. In the digital world, collaboration is a competitive advantage and the one P&L philosophy of DAN allows all the digital agencies to truly collaborate to solve our client's challenges, which is again something that other networks cannot replicate. The new agency model is going to depend on Data Expertise, AI and becoming a Sherpa consultant for the clients. A Sherpa walks with the partner upto the summit, rather than giving them a blue print on what they need to do.

2018 seems to be an interesting year, with a lot of hue and cry around data, transparency, walled gardens etc. How should agencies and brands be prepared to solve these challenges?

Data and transparency is going to be a huge challenge. At DAN, we follow the data guidelines set by the European Union, which are much stricter than other countries. We set up a data science team four years ago – this team has not only trained our people on managing data as per regulator guidelines, but also how data can be used to help our clients gain a competitive advantage. Our acquisition of Merkle in USA has given DAN a significant advantage in terms of data competencies when compared with other networks. We planned this four years ago rather than planning it when we were forced. Agencies will need to look into the future and prepare capabilities before they are mandated.

What is your vision for 2018, and what are the key trends that marketers and agencies should focus on to stay ahead of the game?

AI is going to be the biggest disrupter of the digital media industry. Our DAN Data lab team headed by Gautam has built tens of tools that have been licensed to more than 14 countries globally. This is the first time within DAN where technologies developed in India have been adopted globally. The agencies need to build capabilities in a set of exponential technologies such as augmented and virtual reality, AI (i.e. Data, Algorithm and Machine learning), consulting and lastly the ability to bring the entire team to work as one agency. I believe the one P&L structure gives us a huge head start to make this happen seamlessly.