It’s been a little over two years since Hari Krishnan was named CEO of the Indian agency Mullen Lintas. And what a two years that’s been. He’s been grappling with a global pandemic alongside a myriad of changes in the country’s communication landscape, thanks to shortening attention spans and digital shifts.
“The ground is shifting under our feet,” he says. “Traditional advertising is one part and that still is relevant in a country like India. But digital spends have overtaken traditional spends by quite a bit.” Hari goes on to explain that the landscape is shifting “drastically and rapidly” and this is leading to an increase in blurred lines between creativity, technology and content. “For organisations like ours, the starting point is to acknowledge that the lines are blurring and see where we want to belong. You cannot be everything to everyone and you cannot also be everywhere. Therefore, I think today's the day and age of partnerships and collaboration.
“As a CEO, my primary learning point was that you can't be everywhere. You can't be everything to everybody, we need to know our strengths and optimise our strengths.” For Hari, optimising his own strengths has been integral to his journey. While he’s now a key figure in marketing and advertising, he almost followed his father’s path into chartered accountancy before a meeting with a friend introduced him to advertising and in the late ‘90s, he joined Lintas in Bangalore.
Before his current role, he had an illustrious career including serving as VP of Marketing at Star TV, however, one role of interest was his contribution at MullenLowe Sri Lanka as CEO. Hari took on the role in 2015 and was there a little under 18 months. At the time, Sri Lanka was a market that was growing, though “its operations had slowed down”. Joining as CEO meant that Hari was tasked with growing the company and winning new business. He reminisces: “I think success is contagious, just like passion is contagious. It took a while for me to get them to get into this new business growth mode. And once we got into that, once we tasted success, I think the entire team was charged up and completely motivated towards driving growth and more growth.
“We underwent a complete transformation and that really was quite enjoyable and they've been on this growth path ever since. It is the number one agency in the country.”
Turning his thoughts to India and where the communication landscape is heading, Hari reflects on the afore mentioned relationship between technology, creativity and content. “The future may already be here. The reason I'm saying that is because I think known brands will no longer compete only with brands. Brands will also compete with content, because at the end of the day, we are all fighting for that same share of wallet which is the screen or the attention span.”
He explains that thanks to the pandemic, screen time has gone up and content consumption has “gone through the roof” meaning that attention spans have dwindled. This has led the team at Mullen Lintas to reimagine how they approach brands. “For us, we're saying brand is equal to content - let's start seeing a brand as content. If a brand is equal to content how would creative people and creativity approach that brand? That is what we are working towards, in a world where brands no longer compete only with brands and brands are competing with content.”
This ties into Hari’s long-term plan for the future of Mullen Lintas: “How to make brands unboring in this highly fragmented cluttered audience with micro-attention span.” Within this, there is talk of experiential, the metaverse and augmented reality which he believes India’s brands are still in the “figuring out” stage of implementing.
This belief that there needs to be a mix of different technology to make creativity work, feeds into Hari’s belief that to make creativity work it takes different people to come together. “I believe this is an all-rounders profession, whether you're in creative, account management, planning or whatever function you're in. As an account management person or as a strategic planner, if you can't think creatively, I don't think this is your place. Or as a creative person, if you can't think strategically for a brand. I don't think it will work out well.”