A planner needs to be a guardian to the brand, says FCB Kinnect’s Priyanka Nair

Priyanka Nair, national strategy director at FCB Kinnect, in a conversation with Storyboard18 explained that doing the rigour, having a point of view followed by asking questions stands paramount.

By  Kashmeera SambamurthyMay 28, 2024 11:36 AM
A planner needs to be a guardian to the brand, says FCB Kinnect’s Priyanka Nair
Priyanka Nair, national strategy director at FCB Kinnect, highlighted, "IPL followed by elections are great events. A planner should be having a deeper understanding of what is impactful during these events. Events like IPL happen on a yearly basis, and elections on a five-yearly basis. How an idea impactfully and effectively delivers for the brand's growth is something that one needs to do as a planner."

Priyanka Nair, who served as the executive vice president - planning and strategy at Ogilvy, has taken up the role of a national strategy director at FCB Kinnect. Having started her career at Creativeland Asia, an independent agency, Nair refrains from compartmentalising agencies as digital and mainline.

In a conversation with Storyboard18, she explained how understanding the brand and the customer stands paramount, and how agencies are built on ideas, stories, and the messages they deliver. She stated, “I'm involved in the business of ideas and in the business of people. It's just that we have to mould and shape our ideas, depending on the medium, be it mainline or digital.”

Edited excerpts:

You entered the business of advertising in 2009. How have the roles of a strategist evolved? How crucial are these roles for the advertising business?

When I joined advertising in 2009, the Indian advertising scene was at the cusp of transformation. Brands and agencies had begun dipping their feet in this large ocean called digital and social media. That was when changes began to happen. Today, planning as a strategic function goes beyond advertising and it is present everywhere.

There is strategy in consumer research, there's strategy in product, there's strategy in R&D, there's strategy in design, there's strategy in media and so on and so forth. So, we've seen a lot of evolution in the Indian market, in the past decade and a half, whether they are brands or in the field of advertising. The role of the strategist also evolves along with that.

Hence, there have been a lot of changes but what I feel is the biggest change of them all is to see the role of a strategist going beyond advertising. And, the fact that it is not just a mere pit stop for a brief from a client to the creative people, but more like partnering with the clients in their business and to solve business problems. Hence, from that perspective, the role of a planner or a strategist has evolved leaps and bounds.

You started out at a mainline agency and now you have moved to the digital side of the business. What influenced this decision?

My first stint for the first eight years of my life was with an independent agency named Creativeland Asia. From there, I moved to Ogilvy, which was a mainline agency. Having said that, why do we categorise agencies as mainline and digital? For me, agencies are built on ideas, stories, and the messages that we deliver. Be it mainline or digital, they're mediums and they should be looked upon as mediums only.

The move from mainline to digital has not impacted me in any way because I'm still involved in the business of ideas and in the business of people. It's just that we have to mould and shape our ideas, depending on the medium.

What are your thoughts on joining FCB Kinnect as the national strategy director? What are your responsibilities and how different are they?

FCB Kinnect is at the cusp of exceptional growth. How often do people get an opportunity to learn, grow and build at the same time? For me, that's the biggest advantage of joining FCB Kinnect. As far as my roles and responsibilities were and how they have evolved over a period, at Creativeland Asia, I dabbled with strategy across different functions and different categories. Pertaining to categories, I had a wide range of brands that I worked under, right from automobile to real estate to beauty & personal care, to food & beverages to QSRs etc.

From a field perspective or a function perspective, there was a lot of strategy that I learned across different fields as well. There was design strategy, there was communications strategy, there was business strategy, followed by learning how to do a content strategy for television. It was not more like a responsibility, but absorbing things like a sponge. And at Ogilvy, from width, it went into depth. It was more about understanding brands at a deeper level and trying to solve their business problems at a more granular level.

So, it also helps one build themselves as a real partner for clients. And one also tends to build on client agency partnerships. So a lot of my role at Ogilvy was all about building client relationships and also building a team.

Now at FCB Kinnect, I just see this role strengthening further at a core level.

This is the season of IPL and elections - a lucrative period for advertisers and agencies. How does a planner and strategist help the advertiser achieve their targets during this period?

As a planner, one of the things we need to do is be a gatekeeper and assess what works best for the brand. Events like IPL and general elections are a great springboard for brand growth and brand visibility. But one needs to use these events wisely. How do you make your brand go unmissed in the clutter that exists during these tentpole events is the question we often need to think as planners.

What are the common mistakes brands and agencies commit during this period?

Brands aim for eyeballs without looking at what actually the impact or the effectiveness is. There is something that we call ad effectiveness (advertising effectiveness) where it is not just about how many eyeballs we reach but also about how we engage with consumers.

Today, the audience has the attention span of a goldfish. How are we making the ads relevant? I think that is important to address. A lot of us generally tend to get swayed away by the number of eyeballs these events garner. But what we tend to forget is actually the impact and effectiveness of that particular idea.

In your new role, what advice will you give to agencies and clients during pitching season? Also, the relationship between brands and agencies in the digital arena is said to be very short-lived. What is your take on this?

My only request to clients would be to assess agencies not on the width of what they present but the depth of the idea. Is the idea solving for their business problem?

Within agencies, what I believe needs to change is the compartmentalisation of work gets done. Don’t work in silos. Work as a team. Creatives. Servicing. Planning. Altogether.

The second thing we must do as agencies is to Think beyond the ask. For example, a brand has approached an agency for a social media campaign. Let us not only think from the social media point of view. If the idea merits something beyond social then we should definitely put our point of view and present what we think is best for the client, even though it may be beyond the brief given by the client

The third thing, as agencies we should adopt a lot more of tech into our creativity. There is so much tech at our disposal it would be a shame not to use it. Use tech to inspire clients to step out of their comfort zone.

With the advent of AI, do you feel the role of a strategist and a planner will become redundant in the near future?

I think it's a little too early in the stage of AI to think about the planner’s role becoming redundant. Also I am a bit of an optimist, so I’m inclined to see the positive in this AI phase. I see excitement and experimenting.

In fact, the other day I was having this chat with a friend about how all the artificial intelligence (AI) we consume is an outcome of all the data we input into the web. In other words, the intelligence in artificial intelligence comes human intelligence. So I really don't think we should be looking at how AI is going to take over jobs. They will take over a lot of manual labour that goes in. They will bring in efficiencies. But that’s about it, I don't think AI can ever replace or take over human creativity. As long as we are in the business of people and emotions, creativity will still live on and AI will not have a chance there.

In the next five years, how do you see the role of a strategist and a planner shaping up?

There are two schools as to how a strategist can function. There is a generalist strategist who will be able to give general strategy on the overall business function or communications function, who will talk about culture, and about different things they will dabble with. Then, they will put all of it together.

Then there is a school of thinking where I think there will be strategists who are specialists. They will be specific to a particular field. For instance, design thinking and strategy or a strategy that comes out of behavioural science. So, there will be certain of these specialist strategists that will also be important for a brand.

And, there will also be a need for a generalist strategist. So, either one can choose to be a generalist strategist, or a specialist.

At FCB Kinnect, which are the brands you look forward to working with?

I think how to think of ideas for different categories is where the excitement comes from. And while I’d be super excited to work across all of FCB Kinect’s brands, I haven’t really dabbled much with BFSI. It would be interesting to see how that goes.

What is your advice to budding strategists and planners?

Do the rigour. Understand your brand inside out. Understand your consumer. Dig deeper into their lives. Sitting in front of the screen and reading up will not cover everything one needs to know. Some of the best insights and ideas have come from simple casual conversations with people.

Be a sponge in your initial years. Absorb as much as you can. Go that extra mile. Always do a little more than what is required.

Ask. Ask. Ask questions. A lot of young planners hesitate to ask questions. No questions are stupid or wrong. So avoid hesitation, discard the fear of judgement and just ask.

And lastly, have a point of view. Build one. And fight for it. In a boardroom, have a point of view always helps.

First Published on May 28, 2024 9:00 AM

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