Abhik Santarafounded ^ a t o m, 'a new-age, media-agnostic, brand-building creative powerhouse' in April, right in the middle of a global pandemic.
- In our recent conversation, Santara discusses the genesis of the idea, his team and his vision for the agency.
It’s been over 7 months since the launch and despite being born at an adverse time, the agency has had a good run so far. He launched the agency along with
Setting up shop during a global pandemic
When having a conversation with Santara, the obvious question that I blurt out is, why open an agency during a pandemic? To which his answer is very simple. “We thought it was the right time to take the plunge because our proposition as an agency, and the very reason we decided to start out was exactly this, to be partners to brands during times of crisis. Marketers right now are looking at short-term ROI in a really critical way and at the same time, equity of a brand over a long-term period cannot be compromised. And that's exactly what our proposition for
So what exactly is the agency’s core competency? “Marrying long-term brand equity with short-term business ROI is what my delivery is. We are a brand agency for modern day consumer journeys, because today, consumer journeys are not limited to one medium and their path to purchase is very different from the traditional path to purchase. So, we’re not a mainline agency, rather we are a brand agency that respects, understands and delivers for modern-day consumer journeys.
So how has the agency’s performance been in the last 7 months? “It has really exceeded my expectations and we’re doing better than what we had thought we would,” he added with a laugh. Since its launch, the agency has worked with brands from different categories including Edtech, Gaming, Financial Services, and FMCG where they manage the integrated duties for brands.
When asked about the genesis of the idea, Santara said he always knew he wanted to do something of his own and it was during his stint in South-East Asia where he worked in the digital marketing space, he realized the marketing and advertising gaps in India, thereby giving him a clearer idea of what he wanted his agency to be.
“In India, there are 2 kind of agencies, the mainline agencies that know their brand equity will work, something I have been a part of for 20 years, and the digital agencies that are very focused on performance marketing and performance-related marketing work. Today, marketers need a combination of both, a brand agency that understands the importance of short-term performance marketing and a performance digital agency who should understand that even if a small piece of meme or post has to do something with building up the brand equity. So getting someone with this hybrid understanding is what marketers are completely missing out on. And that’s where we come in,” he explained.
However, starting an agency during the pandemic also comes with its own set of challenges. Considering the launch happened when the world was under a lockdown meant that many people who were working together had never really met each other in person. “One thing that the pandemic stopped us from doing was developing that working equation and relationship,” he shared. At a creative shop, a lot of ideas come from discussions, brainstorming sessions where people feed off each other’s energies and that did not happen for the new agency.
Not getting to meet clients in person was another challenge that Santara said he faced during the initial months. However, he also added that things fell in place once not meeting people in person became the norm.
The atom team
The agency currently has 3 offices, in Mumbai, Gurgaon and Bangalore. The leadership team comprises Santara, Kulshresth and Sen. Both Kulshresth and Sen were a part of Dentsu Webchutney, and were part of the work that won big at Cannes.
“Both of them have a great understanding of the digital medium but in their previous avatars, both worked in mainline agencies. And most of the other people at the agency, be it my planner or client servicing head, they have come from diverse backgrounds. So, people with intent are not a part of my team, its people with intent and experience. We also have Chanchal Sanyal who has been running an activation agency for over 15 years now and he brings the experiential understanding and clients for us,” he shared.
The team is currently 39-member strong but is growing continuously, with every new business win.
Learnings from the pandemic
The pandemic led to many brands cutting down on their marketing budgets. They were also expecting work to be cheaper, which was a big fallout of the pandemic, said Santara.
“Clients look for ROI but they also used to feel that digital work can be produced much easily and much cheaper,” he explained. However, he also added that on the brighter side, clients had become more experimental because on digital it costs less to reach your target audience.
He also said another advantage he sees now is that instead of going to a client with one big idea, you can go with 50 smaller ideas out of which 25 will potentially see the light of the day. “It has also become a little more satisfying creatively. When I used to work on bigger brands like Pepsi, we would work on one film for the year. Now, we are working on new creatives for clients every 2-3 days,” he said. He also added that while doing the same kind of work that you started doing and mastering that is important, in today’s world, a creative’s mastery comes from understanding of communication and consumer. “Modern consumers journeys are allowing us to use our creativity, our mastery to do new things. You can keep trying and failing but you can do a lot of new things and that’s really gratifying,” he added.
Building an agency of the future
Considering we are living in such a dynamic world where consumer expectations are changing rapidly, what does it take to become an agency of the future?
“There is a sense of skepticism that the communication business will drastically change. Understanding consumers, insights and brands will never change. The mediums you use might change but an agency of the future will not be something drastically different from what it is today, except the fact that one has to embrace the importance and mining of data a little more clearly,” he explained.
So what is it that gives ^ a t o m an edge over other agencies? “All the clients we work with, we work on their media, strategy and performance. In some ways, we own the client’s business - from a communication, media and actual business point of view. My engagement with the client is not just about creating an ad for him but its also about bringing in money and that will always remain at the core of everything we do. We want to be seen as a business partner and not just a communication, digital or brand partner,” he added resolutely.