Interviews

Building Business Under Pressure Requires One To Have Conviction With The Plan- Harshil Karia, Schbang

Agency Reporter reached out to one of the most skilled, insightful and hardworking digital enthusiasts, Harshil Karia, Co-Founder and Managing Director of a young agency called Schbang to share his views on the agency’s journey so far and future plans.

Here are the excerpts
The debate continues as to whether digital marketing is overpowering and surpassing traditional marketing or not. Many think that for the most part, digital marketing has taken over and traditional marking barely exists, if at all. Do you think that Digital Marketing will completely replace traditional marketing practices in the near future?

Digital marketing is still about 17% – 22% of any average spend of a marketer. Some brands maybe highly skewed on digital or more highly skewed on digital having 50% of their budget specifically for digital. But these are for slightly smaller brands. So to say that digital marketing is taking over traditional marketing is a misnomer. Do I think Digital marketing will replace traditional marketing in the near future? Not at all. I think this 17% to 22% threshold will go up to 30% and digital marketing cannot alone exist, especially in a country like India where still majority of the sales are done at the retail channels and where the wholesaler or the distributer plays a very important role in moving products, where e-commerce has a significantly high margin and doesn’t have a significant competitive advantage vs a traditional distribution channel in most categories when it comes to commissions and given that not every consumer in India is consuming e-commerce today.

Having said that I don’t think digital marketing can replace traditional marketing because large chunk of business is done through these traditional channels and obviously marketing will focus from where the business is done through. The other big thing is that TV is still a relatively proven channel to building big brands. A lot of brand marketers still have a lot of faith in television and its ability to build mass brands. Digital hasn’t necessarily been able to do that, we haven’t seen too many case studies of the same either.

It has to be a good mix always and the agency should always try to bring this mix together and deliver the optimum result for the brands and thats why what we do is not just ‘digital’, we are digital at heart but we bring the ‘whole Schbang’ – activation, television, print, and we put digital at the centre of it to unlock the power of all different media.

In 2015 you started Schbang, a new venture where you managed to have partnered with prestigious brands across diverse industries, including PayPal, Jet Airways, Godrej Properties, Asian Paints, HDFC Life to name a few. How has been your journey so far?

The journey of Schbang has been really exciting. We are a team of over 250 people across two cities and we partner with 100 of India’s best brands. We’ve got a multidisciplinary skillset  – creative, digital, production, technology, search, media planning & buying for both digital and traditional channels, event and activations; so we are bringing together the ‘whole Schbang’.

The journey for the first two years was pretty challenging because we needed to convince brands to trust a relatively new agency. An upstart with a lack of credentials, the first two years was relatively more difficult, more heavy on pitching, more heavy on convincing marketers to give us a chance, more heavy on ensuring that we were grooming a team that would be built for the future.

These were terribly exciting times as well, challenging but exciting. It’s helped us build a very strong portfolio. I think our portfolio will only get stronger but the journey so far is that we’ve made it past the start and now the phase of excitement has begun for us as we move onto build what we think will be the best agency this country has produced.

In continuation of the aforementioned question, you have been associated with so many brands, planning their campaigns. Would you like to share your one of the most memorable campaign so far?

One of the most memorable campaigns that we have produced is the campaign for Raw Pressery. I think the entire campaign of ‘And Nothing Else’, which is the fruit, the whole fruit and nothing else was a very memorable communication. It really hit the consumer to say that this bottle of Raw Pressery juice has just the fruit and nothing else. It was also our sharpest communication in a while.

The fact that we really upscaled the visual language in 2017 of food photography in this country and took it to the next level was very interesting with the first set of films. And with the second set of films where we had Jacqueline Fernandez pour out some liquid but actually it was the fruit that was coming out or even converting the fruits into the juice, that visual identity of using trick photography and using interesting vfx was something that had never been done in the world of celebrities.

Whats very interesting here is that we brought the ‘Whole Schbang’ for the brand – we wrote the film, shot for digital, planned the media buying, built the website, so definitely this was one one of the most interesting/ memorable campaigns.

The new campaign that we’ve just done for Castrol Power 1, I think has been a very effective product proposition film as well, where the claim of Castrol Power 1 is 5 meters ahead of the competition in 30 seconds. So we created a brilliant film that will now probably be taken across many other countries . We brought the ‘whole Schbang’ here once more with – augmented reality game, influencer marketing outreach, celebrity work with Ranvijay Singha, strong and robust media plan, multiple digital assets, and also some assets for sales and trade teams.

Think some of the campaigns we’ve done last year for Mattel – Uno x Tinder, launch of Barbie’s ‘You Can Be Anything’ and now the 60th anniversary of Barbie, is extremely exciting. The Ashok Leyland’s woman’s day campaign was one of the most spoken about campaigns we’ve done. And for Cipla the Breathe Free campaign was a very well integrated one.

Definitely a lot of memorable campaigns but I would say the Raw Pressery one would stand out for its sharpness and setting benchmarks and the recent Castrol Power 1 for how it puts all the pieces together, making us the lead agency on very ambitious brands is what is most exciting.

Starting a new business from scratch is challenging where you might have spent hours and hours, late nights and working hard for your clients. Would like to know how did you work effectively under pressure if there was any since it’s a start-up?

I’m answering these questions for you at 1:10 am in the night, so starting a business is challenging and I think if you want to start a business and you want to move forward/move up you need to burn the midnight oil.

I think there is no substitute for hard work. I think there are a lot of talented people in this country and you got to work hard, work smart, and place your right bets.

I think in this agency what we did was place some very big bets, we came into the space which could accommodate 150 people with a staff of 20. And we were paying rent for 150 people but actually salaries for 20. So we were running at a huge loss as well in the first year. It was definitely challenging and with our business plan we knew that if we survived the first 3 years, we would be turning green very healthily.

And the reason we also decided to invest wisely and take a big space is because we didn’t want to have pains while growing. So we wanted to have our growth very smooth without any constraints. We invested upfront cause we were confident of hitting our goals.

Having said that, putting a plan on paper and then seeing money go out of the account in hard cash is a very difficult feeling, yes of course we’ve turned the business around completely and we are extremely satisfied with the profitability levels that we have hit today.

But I think building a business under pressure requires one to have conviction with the plan, having an intuition of knowing where you seem to be going right with the plan and where you are going wrong. And then you’ve got to have the determination to essentially correct every place where the plan is going wrong.

Content Marketing not only helps you build trust and connect with your target audience but also acts as fuel for your other marketing techniques. How do you measure the effectiveness of content marketing?

Three ways to measure the effectiveness of content marketing are:

One is where how well does this content rank on search, because the search is the place of discoverability for most consumers who are trying to make a purchase decision. Second is how much the content gets shared. Third is how much attribution can actually come on sale from a piece of content that is created. 

I think all these three ways are very easy to measure and are industry standards too.

At last, your journey has been full of new experiences and learnings at all stage. Where do you want to see yourself professionally 5 years down the line?

In the next 5 years I’d like to see myself as the Head of the best agency that India has ever produced in the last 75 years!