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IT’S TIME TO REBRAND SRI LANKA: VIRAT TANDON, GROUP CEO, MULLENLOWE LINTAS GROUP


MullenLowe Lintas Group CEO Virat Tandon is extremely proud of everything achieved by MullenLowe Sri Lanka and avers the agency is in a great place and he believes it is one of the best offices in the South Asian region.

He points out MullenLowe Sri Lanka has doubled in size over the past four years engaging some of the biggest brands in the country, and is now mulling a second agency in the country to be titled LoweLintas. The Group already operates a two-agency model in India, which Tandon states gives more clients the opportunity to work with the MullenLowe Lintas Group. Similar to India, MullenLowe will be the legacy agency, whilst LoweLintas will come up with a challenger model and potentially new clients.

MullenLowe Sri Lanka continued its dominance in advertising effectiveness with a massive margin at the 2018 Effie Awards held last week, as the most awarded agency of the evening walking away with 17 awards – three Gold, three Silver, three Bronze and seven Finalists, in addition to the main accolade of the night, the prestigious ‘Agency of the Year’ award.

The agency further made a significant contribution to make their clients Unilever to win the coveted ‘Marketer of The Year’ award and Softlogic Life Insurance to win the ‘Brand of the Year’ award. MullenLowe Sri Lanka’s Chief Executive Officer Thayalan Bartlett accepted the ‘Most Effective Agency of the Year’ award.

Commenting on the immediate future of MullenLowe Lintas Group and the industry, Tandon is focused on promoting ‘hyper-bundling’ both within agencies and with wider stakeholders. He points out that whilst agencies have built complimenting competencies such as creatives, PR, digital and activations, they may have fallen short with combining these teams to work together on brands and ideas.

“What is happening is whilst we are the creators of ideas, the client sometimes works with other partners on different aspects and then those ideas get translated, whereby the client feels the eventual brand experience is getting fractured. Therefore, we are open and hungrily looking to collaborate across the spectrum, because today is the age of super specialisation. There are Instagram influencers, there are specialised agencies that do video content, etc. and as organisations we cannot really open up into each business. We want to invite them into the agency and start collaborating, which is part of hyper bundling,” Tandon explains.

Commenting on the Sri Lankan market, Tandon feels with growing data and social media consumption there will be greater scope and stronger presence in the digital advertising side of the business, and avers this is an area his agency will invest in ahead of time. Highlighting the quality of work produced by the MullenLowe office in Sri Lanka, and the gap to the next agency in terms of size, reputation and work, Tandon stresses it is important to focus on building the next level as there is always room for improvement. Across the strait, the Indian creative industry has become quite complex and mature he says, with many new agencies and smaller digital shops opening up. However, there are still only few agencies that can do strategic brand work and create big ideas, he adds, which is what clients seek. This requires consistent strategic effort and experience over a period of time.

MullenLowe Lintas Group has also worked with over 70 start-ups over the last four years in India, Tandon reveals, adding that clients actively seek their expertise on building effective brands. There is still a lot of fragmentation he admits, and believes that the hyper-bundling model will build effective synergies to safeguard a brand’s narrative. At global level, some of the large international clients are looking at working with holding groups and using talents across the whole spectrum, he adds.

“I have been associated with Sri Lanka since 1995, and one of the things I really love is that people are so resilient. Sometimes these disruptions will happen, but the people and economy will jump back. Increasingly the world is facing many challenges, and earlier there used to be world leaders who everyone could look up to for clarity. We have fewer of those leaders today. But brands have started to fill up that gap and take a stand on issues; people are connecting really well with that. It’s not just a product they are buying, they will relate to the brand’s philosophy. Large brands in Sri Lanka should play that role. Take a point of a view, be the people’s voice and connect with young people.”

“When you close your eyes and think of Sri Lanka, what comes to mind is beaches, peace and quiet, friendly people and great food. Tourism is a big contributor. But I think it is time Sri Lanka looks beyond that and evolve to the next level. There are some strategic advantages the country has, so I think it should have a vision on how to pivot on those strategic advantages. One should think about what all those advantages mean and how we can rebrand Sri Lanka. There are lots of new investments coming in, so positioning wise how should the country reimagine itself as a brand for the future. Its time you start expressing it; communicating it to the world at large,” Tandon urges.

Whilst some sections believe the economy has slowed down, MullenLowe Lintas Group’s Group CEO stresses this has not impacted the Colombo operation, adding that the company outperformed the industry average in 2018. He points out that things have returned to normalcy following the Easter carnage and the government has taken measures to promote spending which would boost the economy. He notes that once the cost of mobile data comes down, this would naturally result in a significant uptake in digital activity in the country.

Tandon also paid tribute to the local leadership of MullenLowe adding that the company has become a centre for creative talent in the country and a great place to work due to the enterprising, adoptive and innovative approach taken by the management team.

“The culture is great at Mullen Lowe and this is important for creative agencies, as good people want to work where it allows their creativity to flourish.  We allow each company leadership to determine how they want to work. We have flexi hours and work from home policy, also because we want to encourage women to come and work. Work actually never stops; you check on your phone, emails even if you are travelling. So, no one really switches off particularly in our industry. Which is why it doesn’t matter where you are as long as you get the work done.”

“The collaboration within our offices is growing. We have networked teams, and we also do something called a ‘hot-house’ when we are presented with a challenging brief. It’s a rapid prototype philosophy where you put a high-talent and high caliber team into a room and get them to ideate over small bursts of six hours and then a one-hour review. We create a lot of path breaking ideas through that.  It’s a winning culture, it’s a successful organisation with great people to work with doing things other agencies are not doing,” Tandon states.

This interview was originally published in DailyFt, Sri Lanka.