Sunil Kataria, Chairman of the Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA), and CEO, Raymond Lifestyle, wears many hats. At the helm of ISA for more than five years, he represents 160 advertisers responsible for two-thirds of non-governmental advertising spending in India. He is also on the board of several industry bodies, in addition to his responsibilities at Raymond.
Here are excerpts from a conversation with Sunil Kataria on the eve of the third ISA Global CEO conference:
You have been elected ISA Chairman for the sixth consecutive term. What would you call the high points over the last five years and what have been the big challenges?
The ISA is the apex voice of advertisers across the country and leading that is an honour and a pretty big responsibility. My role as Chairman as well as that of all the Board members are honorary – so, for the organization, it was very critical to have a professional team running it. That has taken shape over the last few years. We now have a professional set-up headed by a CEO, and this team runs the organisation day-to-day. Secondly, we have been able to draft what we call the the future-ready ISA roadmap, starting around two years back, and work on it is moving very sharply. We have identified six main areas and created working committees to lead these agendas headed by one of our EC or media forum members. These areas include work on the cross-screen measurement system, brand safety, responsible advertising and many more.
Our association with the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) is very strong and we are working together intensively in two areas - one is the unified screen measurement system, on which WFA has very large experiments happening in countries like the US, Canada, UK; and two, on brand safety and guidelines for India with the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM). ISA is working closely with BARC on one hand, and WFA on the other, to bring up phase one of the solution on a unified screen measurement metric, maybe by early next year
As for challenges, one obviously is that advertisers’ businesses are very diverse, ranging from tech to FMCG, automobile to insurance and so on. Each advertiser will have very specific issues that need to be tackled and the big challenge is to identify the common issues. Another challenge is that the ISA is a founding member of many industry bodies and it has a critical role to play across. So, you have to wear multiple hats while carrying out different roles on various industry forums, and be very objective and fair in the interest of the entire ecosystem, as at times, there can be conflicts of interest.
Coming to the ISA Global CEO conference on August 22, what are the objectives of the third edition of the conference?
ISA’s first Global CEO conference was themed VUCA. The second one was on ‘Prospering in a digital world’. This year, we are calling it VUCA 2.0. While VUCA had become the new normal, characterized by high Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity, nobody expected a black swan of a pandemic to happen. It has thrown open a lot of challenges as to how organizations should work, and many of the changes had never been envisaged by organizations. The post-pandemic world is also seeing phenomena connected to changes in geopolitical environments, large global events which may impact advertisers. Look at the war and suffering in Ukraine – as a result of that, inflation is hitting all of us and becoming a key consumption challenge for all marketers.
VUCA 2.0 is not only the perspective of your own industry or domain’s volatility; it can be completely global and social in nature. Some events may be happening thousands of miles away, but because they impact your circle of control directly, you will have to do something about it. This is the context of VUCA 2.0, and at the ISA Global CEO conference, we have two sets of speakers. Indian CEOs like Suresh Narayanan, Chairman and MD of Nestle India, Hina Nagarajan, MD and CEO, Diageo India, Shantanu Khosla, MD, Crompton Greaves Consumer Electricals Limited and Renuka Ramnath, founder and CEO of Multiples Asset Management Ltd., will be talking about how they are negotiating VUCA 2.0 in their businesses. Apart from this, we have three leading global speakers - Nitin Paranjpe, Chief People and Transformation Officer, Unilever PLC and Chairman, Hindustan Unilever Limited, Shailesh Jejurikar, global COO of P&G and Raja Rajamannar, President WFA, who are playing pivotal roles in large global organisations and would give the global perspective on VUCA 2.0.
You have said that change sows the seeds for a greater transformation. What potential does the current VUCA landscape hold for the advertiser and, overall, for the advertising industry?
This change has to have two very important paradigms for advertisers. One, the consumer in a post-pandemic world is very different. Every human being’s perspective on life has changed, and each one may think of different things when choosing brands they want to engage with. The biggest task for advertisers is to understand what is the new perspective of the consumer across social strata and age bands, as that needs to be redefined. Two, we need to be even more conscious of being socially responsible advertising. Beyond selling the product, what are we doing for society? These are large imperatives to take forward.
What next in the area of efforts to battle VUCA by ISA? How are you helping marketers to recalibrate themselves to keep up with the dynamic forces of today?
With the world becoming increasing digital, it is imperative for ISA to gear itself to support the marketing professionals in our member companies in the new practices. We have regular touch-points with the WFA on different issues based on best global practices in areas of brand viewability, supply chain transparency, ad frauds as enshrined by WFA in their global media charter.
Apart from this, we also support work-out themes to help many of the smaller advertisers who are our members. We have a very important body within ISA called Media Forum, comprising media heads of a large number of member companies, who meet every month to discuss critical issues of media faced by multiple advertisers. They brainstorm, share ideas and craft out agendas to address those issues. Whatever we learn goes across to advertisers, and our members also can reach out to us at any time for any help in resolving any issues or queries. We hand-hold advertisers, guiding them in terms of navigating the ecosystem.
It's not just advertising that has moved to newer formats like digital and social, even advertisers are coming up from new pockets these days. How entrenched is ISA in the world of new age advertisers – start-ups, gaming companies, et al?
We have representation across industries - financial companies, auto companies, consumer durables, tech and non-tech world. We also have members like Amazon who are part of ISA. But there are many more new age advertisers who have emerged, and we have a continuous programme to keep on recruiting advertisers from new industries and advertising domains that are taking shape. We keep identifying areas where we need to reach out to advertisers from the new age industries and who would actually be critical on two points – one, a new advertiser may need our help in areas like brand safety, system measurement, media, etc., and two, they also bring in a new age perspective, which many of our other advertisers can learn and gain from. A lot of cross-pollination can happen.
Personally for you, what does it take to lead an institution like the ISA?
One challenge obviously is that you're doing this along with your own day job. A lot of resilience is required, because you're dealing with multiple industry bodies at the same time and wearing multiple hats. You have to be completely objective, though your stand may not be always popular. Networking and relationship-building is a very important thing in this role - to be able to pick up the phone, talk to people, reach out to them, bounce ideas off them. Often, you are pushing through ideas that you need the network to advocate. I have made friends across eco-systems and they have come to my help. I work with so many senior industry professionals, and one thing I have to say is that we could have conflicting views in meetings, but the moment the meetings are over, we are great friends. I must credit all the people around me for that. The relationships with many of them have become more personal and more valuable.
(The Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA) is organizing the 3rd edition of ISA Global CEO Conference on ‘VUCA 2.0: Transforming Organizations and Brands’ on August 22, 2022 at ITC Grand Central, Parel, Mumbai.)