It’s not often that people, least of all entrepreneurs, think of launching a company, forget any form of business, during an unprecedented crisis gripping the whole of humanity — a global pandemic made worse by a global recession. You could read it either way. But we have had some precedents. Some of the most iconic companies — you will be surprised — such as General Electric (1890), IBM (1896), General Motors (1908), Disney (1923), Burger King (1953), Microsoft (1975), CNN (1980), Apple (2001, although started in 1975) were all launched and thrown into the deep end during periods of great economic stress/recession in the United States. They never looked back. Closer home, we have a modest venture named ^a t o m, no less, that took off just the other day. ^a t o m is a digital agency, started off by three men, not abruptly, but after due thought over the past few months. Creative Brands spoke to ABHIK SANTARA, the Director and CEO of ^a t o m. (Excerpts)
CB: Amidst extraordinary times, an equally extraordinary decision. But it is often out of such circumstances that great enterprises of consequence have taken shape. What motivated or challenged you into setting up Atom at the height of a global pandemic? An atomic decision as it were!
AS: Well to be honest with you, the planning for ^a t o m started many months back. The gap we wanted to fill in the industry required a certain kind of experience, ambition, and attitude. The courageous part was not to back out even when a recession loomed large at us in this time of crisis. We stuck to our plans, innovated in a few areas, and rolled with what we believe made absolute sense during pre- and post-Covid era. The new world order will change quite a few things, and marketers need to deliver business ROI on every dollar bill — that will be of paramount importance. We modelled ourselves for this, much before the pandemic made it even more necessary.
CB: Who have been your co-conspirators in this daredevil act and what strengths and legacies do you bring to the table together?
AS: The strength of ^a t o m is in its diversity. Thankfully, I found the right partners at the right time. Yash, Ananda, Chanchal and I were on the same page, right from the word go. Chanchal has been a lecturer, creative director, serial entrepreneur, and a very successful author, who brings tremendous experience and wisdom to this entity. He is our mentor. Yash and Ananda, on the other hand, are among the most celebrated creative heads who have the rare experience of classical brand building and creating efficient and smart outputs for digital natives. It’s a very rare combination to find. So at the leadership level, we draw our strength from this collective diversity of having hands-on experience of what we intend to bring to the table, as against just ‘hoping’ that we will evolve on the job. The second line of ^a t o m also is also populated with the same DNA.
CB: Further, what is that singular vision that you bring to bear on your act and mission? So, by extension, how do you define or differentiate Atom in a market defined by plenty?
AS: Unfortunately and more or less largely, the industry is divided between two extremes. So you have the big mainline agencies whose strength lies in creating long-term equity building work for brands (the top of the funnel). The other is the more agile digital agencies, who are champions in delivering short-term business performance (the bottom of the funnel). Marketers have to divide the mandate.
The ratios vary basis the category, life stage of the brand, market conditions, and so on. But both of these marketing tasks are equally important and will co-exist — ideally, hand in hand. That’s were ^a t o m comes in. We are equipped to strategise, create, and execute work which will deliver the ROIs, without taking our eyes off the impact every single piece will play in the building brand equity.
Brands don’t have to create a TVC from a mainline agency and hand over to the digital agency to adapt for the digital medium. Neither do they need to suffer from a creative presentation with the last two slides dedicated to digital strategy!
^a t o m’s offering will be Brand first – ROIs second – Medium last.
CB: These are, once again at the cost of repetition, extraordinary times too — for people, brands, and communication. Every known and tested notion of communication and branding will be put to test where creatives and brands work in complete isolation — if not entirely removed from consumers and markets. Under such circumstances, how do you view brands communicating with the world outside?
AS: The new world order post the Cover era will make it crucial for marketers to see consumers as ‘individuals’ and not group them into segments. They have to rely a lot on real-time data and have a golden record of all that is knowable about a customer, such as identities, transactions, and behaviours. Data and Tech will play a very crucial role. Agencies can assist brands now more than ever in creating informed interactions. With personalised insights, customers will benefit from relevant, positive engagement that is consistent regardless of distance, device, or journey path that is bound to vary for each individual consumer.
CB: Finally, where would you be based and how would you be looking after various regions?
AS: The leadership will be based in Mumbai and will be moving around. We have the operating teams in place across three cities, but the nerve centre will be in Mumbai. The current situation will make clients and us fluent with working virtually, so we may have to travel less than what we expected. That’s another silver lining!
SANTARA, Abhik: A marketing and communication professional with close to two decades of brand building experience across India and South East Asia, is a former President, Mumbai and Kolkata at Ogilvy and has had considerable exposure to a variety of industry verticals, with specialist skills in telecom and FMCG marketing. Santara is Director & CEO, ^a t o m.
KULSHRESTH, Yash: An award-winning creative director, including at formerly Cannes and Spikes Asia, and formerly with Dentsu Webchutney, is National Creative Head, ^a t o m. He has worked closely with brands, such as MTV, HDFC Life, Sony Pictures, Platinum Evara, Asus, Hero, Pidilite, Red Bull, Aditya Birla Health, Jet Airways, Shoppers Stop, St. Regis, and Cadburys, among others.
SEN, Ananda: Formerly a Creative Director of DentsuWebchutney, Sen, who specialises in building in-house digital, social, and new-media creative capabilities, is National Creative Head, ^a t o m. Sen, who typically leads design strategy and development of creative campaigns for digital-alone clients, seeks to incorporate new technologies into strategy.
SANYAL, Chanchal: Well-known entrepreneur, communications solutions provider, a specialist in films, events, exhibitions, and a literary writer, Sanyal is Chairman of QED Communications (^a t o m’s investing company) and Mentor of ^a t o m.