Digital Marketing Mavericks is Storyboard18’s new series featuring some of the best digital-first, future-facing, homegrown and globally-networked agencies that are building brands and businesses fit for the new age.
In 2015, when Harshil Karia announced his exit from independent digital agency, Foxymoron, as the founding partner, everyone in the industry was surprised. Karia moved on to start afresh. He took along Sohil Karia and Akshay Gurnani from Foxymoron and made them his co-partners to create Schbang. Eight years have passed since then, and the building blocks Schbang put in place. And now, with 1,000 employees and 275 clients, the trio wants to stay independent and be a truly Indian agency brand. Not that they haven’t received any buy-out offers from some big entities, though. According to them, the future of agency model is the one without too many layers. Schbang’s focus is on creating a singular and simpler agency brand.
In conversation with Storyboard18, the trio discussed at length the areas in which the company is investing time, money, and talent.
Discovering new layers of client relationships
Sohil Karia, co-founder and chief of design and Technology, Schbang, has been instrumental in creating the right structure for the agency’s business transformation and tech services. He says that clients today are looking for holistic solutions, which include beyond creative and media duties. “Marketers are looking to reach out to consumers at every touchpoint and not stop at an ad piece. They have wider canvases for their vision. With that, as agencies we have a lot of headroom for growth,” he says.
Karia believes the advantage of being an independent agency is the speed at which it can deliver. “We are a work-in-progress agency. We perfect things along the way. It’s important to keep this approach because the nature of the business is constantly evolving,” he says.
In order to align their approach with new clients, Schbang is working on a refreshed onboarding process. Prospective clients are sent a detailed questionnaire to understand their long-term goals. “Digital is a broad landscape. It is critical to understand clients’ long-term goals using creativity and technology in their marketing plans,” he says. Ninety percent of Schbang’s business comes from retainer clients. Karia and his core team unanimously think they are in the business of building brands and not just campaigns. With strong creative strength and now new tech services, Schbang this year opened up a new growth chapter. The agency dipped its foot into international waters.
Founding year – 2015
Locations – Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, and London. Soon to launch a hub in Western Europe.
CXOs – Harshil Karia, founder/ Akshay Gurnani, co-founder and CEO/ Sohil Karia, co-founder and chief of design and technology/ Indraneel Gawde, national head of new business/ Dhvani Jagasia, head of finance and IT/ Mini Nair, head of human resources/ Priyam Dadia, head of media/ Abhimanyu Balasubramanyum, head of Schbang Motion Pictures/ Sushant Vithaldas, head of business, Schbang Bangalore/ Aditya Mehendale, national creative director
India revenue – Rs 200 Crore
Total employee count – 1,000
Total number of clients – 275
Number of clients onboarded this year (so far) – 80
Big bets on global expansion
Akshay Gurnani, co-founder and CEO of Schbang, thinks while European markets are creatively mature, India has the tech power. That’s why the agency wants to focus on growth marketing in international markets. In September 2022, Schbang expanded to the UK with an office in London. A team of 20 members in India have been designated to work for clients in the UK. Schbang is looking at India as a big delivery centre as it expands globally. The agency has identified its next EU destination and is planning to collaborate with a boutique agency to make their entry.
Gurnani states that the idea is to bring creative, media, and tech together. He also thinks it was the perfect time for global expansion. “We are extremely focused at the moment. We know the areas that can help us scale at home and abroad. It’s our nimbleness that sets us apart from network companies. While we are structured, our work flow is simpler.”
Gurnani also observes that clients everywhere are looking for similar solutions and giving out integrated scope of work to agencies. “We are at a place where we not only have the ability to crack creative, media, and tech briefs, but can also recognise brands’ need gaps. We help brands understand their consumer base deeper and closer,” he adds.
Setting up a future-ready biz model
Harshil Karia, founder of Schbang, thinks the future of agencies will not just be to deliver tech-focused work. “It’s a complex world. Clients will need all sorts of advice and solutions. There will be a marketplace for all sorts of work. As agencies, we should be fair and provide them with what they want. It will be like the old world meets the new world. Agencies that will be able to tie all these pieces together will shine,” he explains.
Kaira is clear that he doesn’t want to add too many layers to his structure. He wants his agency to be the one that can offer all sorts of services with ease. He is focused on building a single powerful agency brand. In order to do that he and his team are working hard to put in place the best talent pool. He admits that talent is an issue. “It’s ironic that India is the highest talent supply market. Yet, we as an industry keep complaining about not having the best people in the business.”
Through Schbang Academy, the agency plans to fix some of the basic talent issues. “We warm up our new talent and give them the time and space to understand the nature of the work before assigning them work. It’s our responsibility to train the talent pool and upskill them. That’s the only way we can keep them engaged, excited, and slowly solve the talent issues,” he concludes.
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