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Fast Chat: Deutsch's Anush Prabhu on Media's Evolution

Why the industry needs to better harness data

Anush Prabhu

Anush Prabhu, who is taking over Deutsch’s media department, has never made a TV or print buy in his career. But in fact, his data, analytics and communications planning background underscores the changing evolution of that one-time media world. In his new role at Deutsch, he oversees communications planning, media planning and buying, and data strategy—bringing a new perspective to media at an agency that still believes it’s important to have a bundled presence within. 

“He’s not just a numbers guy. That’s important to understanding why he’s right for this job,” explains Val DiFebo, CEO at Deutsch N.Y.  “He’s really a creative mind who has a skill set that takes everything that media is trying to do now, which is to reach targets, engage them in a dialogue, measure the impact of those things and then either course-correct or do more of the same. He’s perfect for that.” 

Prabhu, in his newly created role of chief channel planning and investment officer, spoke to Adweek about what happens when a data geek gets to play a larger role in media.

Adweek: What does your appointment say about how Deutsch’s media vision is changing?
Anush Prabhu:
There’s all this data that is coming up front for us and we as an industry in media aren’t using all of it—we’re still spending all this equity on where people are spending time. Given that there is so much more data available, and we can harness it, speaks to where the future of media needs to go. The fact that Deutsch took the first step in actualizing this vision speaks to more than Deutsch’s vision but also to how we as an industry need to be more future-forward as an engine to drive what we are doing. There’s a lot of conversation in the industry about data but I also think it’s important that when we start to talk about data we start talking about it in the context of outcomes and outputs rather than the data itself.

What kind of changes do you expect to make in Deutsch’s media operations?
There’s a strong foundation upon which to build. (Former chief media officer) Peter (Gardiner) left good leadership behind. We have strong pillars in Karen Benson who leads up our media planning, Jay Baum and Maureen Burzynski who head up our buying. Deutsch has always been very integrated and very business-centric and if there are any changes I need to bring it is to re-engineer our processes. It’s more from the perspective of how do we draw from this larger data pool of insights, this broader and richer data, and how do we be more nimble to act on it? How do we bring some of that nimbleness even when it comes to television? Deutsch is very integrated and we sit together but how do we operationalize some of that integration with other aspects of media? How do I bring creative and media buyers together? Because that’s where a lot of the partnership can happen in coming up with solutions that are real value drivers in situations.

Will you be you be adding more specific expertise in any area?
If you include some of the data strategy and [communications] planning people, we have 80 people. I don’t have plans as of now to change the size or some of the dynamics because we have some really good talent in-house. It’s more about how can we get them to work with one another and get them to be more comfortable working in a way with a lot more data. That’s more the initial focus but as needs arise and we get more clients in, the dynamics will obviously change.

What has your role been since you returned to Deutsch last May?
In a way this move has not been that big to me because this conversation started six years back when I left Deutsch to go to JWT. I started working at JWT, set up a metrics group and working with [communications] planning there and I found there was an opportunity to use data in a bigger way to figure out how we go to market which wasn’t being done there, which wasn’t being done in the industry overall. As I started working on that at JWT I felt it was a vision we needed to work [toward]. I did that there and then went to Mcgarrybowen, started [communications] planning and again data strategy because I felt like those needed to go hand in hand. So when I was brought in here by Val (DiFebo) I knew it was a culture where I could activate that vision because I had been here before and knew data has a seat at the table. We made more collaborations with media, collaborations with planning, collaborations with new business and figuring out how are we going to repackage, how are we going to re-format? So a lot of the stuff I’m talking about now has been happening in the past ten months. For example, there was this robust data-driven approach for PNC, one of our clients, where we look at 52 different market variables including economic factors that drive the business, their own business factors, social media to determine how we go to market. It not only helped to form our media thinking and media plans from an offline and online perspective, but also helped form the message that went with it.

How has Deutsch N.Y. changed in the nearly seven years you’ve been gone?
I can answer from several perspectives: There are quite a few new players obviously that weren’t there before like our CMO (Michael Goldberg) and our head of planning (Brent Vartan). They are fantastic people to work with, they are real collaborators with their  fingers on the pulse of what’s going on so it’s been very exciting for me. The other aspect is the clients we have now are different from the clients we had then. Obviously there are some clients that have carried forward but working with the Microsofts of the world brings a different dynamic into the agency’s culture which has been a very positive change for us because we’ve gotten a lot more digital. I don’t know if it’s a function of time or a function of the clients we have, but we’ve also gotten a lot more nimble and faster with how we operate because of the needs of our clients. It’s all a positive change in the momentum we’re headed in.

What do you hear from clients about how they can better use data to drive efficiencies?
The funny thing is nobody speaks about that aspect of the puzzle to me because most of the conversations I have are about the outcomes. It’s about the result of the media, the result of our message or what we need to impact. What is the message we need to drive, what is the strategy with which we need to approach media that will then drive the outcome they’re looking for? Data is the means to get there, but it’s not really about data, it’s about the outcome. With all the data that is out there we have more opportunity to tap into a lot more behavior. So, for example, with some of our clients we really delve into customers’ behavior, their purchases, and start looking for key nuggets. As (clients’) media spend goes down, as their budgets shrink, how do we get more out of less? Those have been the conversations rather than ‘Hey, what can you get out of a bit more data or what is the data telling you?’

How are the creative people at Deutsch adapting to this new world of data?
The creatives here are very focused on business outcomes. Our chief creative officer Greg (DiNoto) is a slave to driving the business, a slave to the brief, so every time we engage in a conversation about how we approach data, what we need to drive it, that puts a smile on his face. The creatives have been super eager. More than anything else now I think they realize that how their creative message goes to market needs to be thought of at the same time with changes in the media landscape.

Since unbundling has been the norm and retaining media inside the agency has been the exception, why is it important to retain some media responsibility inside Deutsch?
Having people work under the same roof and having these conversations together goes a long way in driving creative solutions and innovation. That happens when people come from different perspectives. A creative person involved in a media conversation, a media person having a creative conversation, drives innovation that each alone wouldn’t be driving by themselves. That’s a plus we have. In addition, one of the practical business aspects is that it’s one profit center. So when we think of what we want to drive from a creative perspective or from a media solution perspective, it doesn’t matter to us whether we’re putting money in digital or in television as long as it’s the right solution for the client.

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