Today, DIGITAL is the word that everyone is after—right from consumers to businesses, everyone is on to it. However, there are very few who have carved a niche for themselves in this space. And WATConsult is among them. It has been a name to reckon with in digital marketing in India, besides also being one of the oldest digital standalone agencies in the country. It became a household name last year, after it won 19 awards at the 'CMO Asia - Social Media & Digital Marketing Excellence Awards' in Singapore.
The year 2015 also started on a good note for WAT (as they are affectionately called), as after eight years of being in the business, Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN) acquired a majority stake in them.
Post acquisition, we spoke to Rajiv Dingra, founder and CEO, WATConsult, to know what his priorities are now and what would keep driving him. And this is what all he shared.
Q. Rajiv, you entered the digital advertising space way before some of the other major network agencies followed suit. In fact, you were among the oldest stand-alone digital agencies in India, and in the last two years we have seen many of your peers sell out to international biggies. What took you so long?
Well, we took time on finding the right partner as well as the right structure. Acquisitions are known to destroy value if done in a hurry. We always have had a strong culture that drove business for us. Therefore, it was important for us to find the right partner, who valued our culture and allowed us space to grow. We believe the future of advertising is integrated. Hence being a part of an integrated network was never a concern, but which one to choose was always the dilemma.
In Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN), we found a network with a truly unique operating model of one P&L (Profit & Loss) per country. To us, it appeared that DAN had differentiated itself by focusing on digital in key markets across the world and also operated in a truly integrated fashion. We also felt very comfortable with the fact that Isobar and iProspect were global digital specialist networks that were built from the ground up; and this indicated their expertise in the digital agency business.
Q. How will the merger with Denstu Aegis take place in the coming few months?
WATConsult becomes "WATConsult - Linked by Isobar" which means that we will have access to Isobar global tools and technology, and WATConsult is aligned under the Isobar global brand.
WATConsult will be the primary social media agency for the Dentsu Aegis Network and will work with the several agency brands like Carat, Vizeum, Dentsu, Dentsu Media, Posterscope and Milestone Brandcomm to provide social media solutions to their clients.
Beyond that, WATConsult will operate as an independent digital and social media agency focused on social media, mobile, video and digital media buying verticals. The agency will continue to participate and win business independent of the network.
There are no plans to integrate or merge WATConsult with any entity within the group in India in the near future.
Q. What happens to WATBlog?
WATBlog was the genesis of WATConsult but not a business in itself. It was a useful vehicle for us to build thought leadership in the early years of the digital space. But since WATConsult grew in scale, we saw lesser need for such a vehicle. And since January 2014, we have moved away from the blog and focused all our energies towards WATConsult.
Q. Respecting that you wouldn't like to discuss specifics of your revenue in public, could you roughly tell the readers of Ad Age India what has WATConsult's revenue been in the FY 2014?
Agencies should be judged by profits and not by revenues. I hope that tells you what you need to know (smiles).
Q. How was it to run the show without external investment for more than eight years now?
It was an amazing journey and words fall short. Life as an independent entrepreneur is like a roller coaster ride with several ups and downs within a day. What we are glad about is that we fought, we survived; and in many ways, this association with Dentsu Aegis Network is a validation of our spirit of entrepreneurship.
Q. Isobar, iProspect, and Webchutney are all part of Denstu's digital platter now. Where does WATConsult stand in Dentsu's scheme of things?
WATConsult will be the primary social media agency for Dentsu Aegis Network but will continue to operate across digital services for both external and existing clients. I believe the digital world is growing at a very faster pace, and there is enough space for various kinds of agencies to grow and scale. DAN has also created a Digital Council for better collaboration between its Digital agencies, and I believe all the DAN digital agencies will only benefit given the integrated approach that Dentsu Aegis Network is following.
Personally, it's great to be in the company of extremely successful digital entrepreneurs Sidharth Rao and Vivek Bhargava, and I have a great personal rapport with both of them.
Q. What does this mean for your clients?
We have always been fully committed to our clients and their requirements, and that will never change. What will get added is the advantage that a global network like Dentsu Aegis Network brings in. I feel our enterprising culture and attitude combined with the global tools, processes and dynamic nature of DAN will help us provide a unique combination to our clients.
Q. Personally, what's next for you?
I'm in love with what I do at WATConsult. And I plan to take it to leadership position in India. Till I don't do that, I won't rest.
Q. When you look at the future of stand-alone Digital Marketing Agencies' in India, what worries you?
Standalone digital agencies can survive and thrive if they are purely creative boutiques. We always wanted to be a hybrid between creative and media. Scaling business was also our focus, and thus we believe being part of an integrated large network is the best route for us.