DAN Interviews

We Are Eyeing $50 Million In Billing In 2015: Shamsuddin Jasani, Isobar

Author | Satrajit Sen | May 20,2015

2014 was the most ambitious year in Isobar India's six-year history. The agency reached billings in excess of USD25 million and achieved their most desired objective of growing to 100+ people. Isobar ended the year with 115 people strong and now close to 130 people by March 2015.

Now, what lead to this success? How did this just-6-year-old agency managed to grow in the highly competitive Indian market? We decided to listen directly from the horse's mouth i.e. from the Managing Director Shamsuddin Jasani. And here it is: the complete story behind agency's growth, the future plans and more. Read on to find out how this agency's strategy to win bigger accounts to make themselves the "A-league" player and create more value from their existing business helped them win over 35 awards in search, social, media, creative and mobile.

Q. Last year, Isobar had won Wechat, Bose social, ING, 3M ,Nokia, Microsoft and Chevy India, besides also winning British Airways, Mastercard, Amante . Do you say that last year, Isobar came of age?
2014 was a defining year for us. Not only did we have 30 new wins but we also grew more than 100% from 55 to 112 people and won multiple awards; and all this has been due to the great work we have done. So yes, you can say that 2014 what a coming of age year for Isobar in India. It was our 5th year of operations and has been a phenomenal and fulfilling year for us.

Q. What do you asses to be the reasons behind this success?
There were multiple reasons behind our success. Starting with a geographical expansion that we did in late 2013 by adding an office in Bangalore, followed by our office in Chennai in 2014 which helped us in growing our numbers, besides giving us big clients like AirAsia, Sterling Holidays etc.

People are the backbone of our industry and with a brilliant team and a retention rate of over 87% we have some really great people delivering great results on a consistent basis.

We have been able to add 30 new wins but also have retained over 90% of our clients.

Finally, I believe that we are one of the few true full service agencies in India. We started off as a media agency but now we have pivoted to being a full service agency. This strategy has helped us in 2014 as we were able to showcase our entire strength. Now clients hire us for their overall digital strategy.

Q. Ending the year with a billing in excess of USD 25 million is commendable for a digital agency. What do you think have been the reasons that lead to this feat? How much of that came from India?
The billing is 100% from India clients. And in 2015, we expect to double that.

I have been in the digital industry for close to 14 years and digital has always been this 'emerging' medium for almost 10 years. It has been the last few years that digital has become mainstream. On the consumer perspective, people are moving towards on-demand viewing and are moving away from TV. So that's a huge change and thus the reach has also increased. Hence, a lot of advertisers have turned their attention towards digital and there are brands that are now spending close to 30 to 40% of their marketing budgets on digital.

And having cemented our place as one of the leading full service digital agencies in India, we work as a partner to our clients rather than just an agency. This helped us grow and scale our business in 2014. We also established a Senior management team and we believe that the only way we can grow exponentially is to empower people and that has paid rich dividends.

Q. Isobar has been Dentsu's effort to build an agency through acquisitions and many branded-entities. How was it crafting your own niche in India?
Isobar India is an organically grown organization and it helps being a part of the Dentsu Aegis Network. There are four digital agencies that the Dentsu Aegis Network has, and as a network we are the largest India with over 600 digital professionals. So we are at a leadership in terms of knowledge and resources. So all these help the network to grow together and thus offer amazing solutions to the client. The scale also helps us negotiate better for our clients.

We never compete with each other and hence there is no question of differentiating within the network. The digital advertising spends in India is around Rs 4000 crore and the opportunities here are endless.

Q. Isobar's strongest point is media planning. How has the diversification to being a full service agency worked?
As I have stated we started Isobar in 2008 as primarily a digital media agency in 2008 after we proved our capabilities there we added creative, technology and social capabilities in 2010. Mobile and video emerged in 2013 and that is where we were able to gain scale in 2014. And now it is all about programmatic and native advertising. Being a digital agency, we had to have expertise in all strata of digital marketing and hence our decision of pivoting our business model helped a lot.

Isobar believes in technological innovations for clients and that is going to be one of the unique points of Isobar as we will be using technology to drive business results for clients. That is why we have set up Isobar NowLab globally and we are bringing this to India this year and thus bring in tomorrow's tech innovation in India.

Besides, we have something called the 'Innovation Budget' in India. We have earmarked a budget which will be used to experiment some technological innovation, irrespective of whether it is a client driven work or not. We will experiment every year with technology and see if these fit any of our client's business objectives. Even if it doesn't, the activity will help us gain in terms of technological knowhow and expertise.

Q. Where does Isobar go from here?
Now we are poised for going at the top slot among the digital agencies in India. We are also looking at achieving $50 million in billing which is very large for a digital agency and we can only achieve that when we can deliver to our clients more than what they have asked for. Isobar is a people-driven organization, driven by young minds, who are the future of digital medium in the country.

Besides, so far, we have not been showcasing our work not only in India, but also globally and that is where our focus is. We are also focusing strongly on awards this year.

The other future that we see is mobile and that is where Isobar is putting a lot of muscle in to. A time will come when brands will only have TV and mobile in their media mix and Isobar is ready for the change.