Our efforts have led to a 92% pitch-winning rate: Shamsuddin Jasani & Chamith Buthgumwa

Isobar South Asia Group MD Jasani and Director Buthgumwa recount their spectacular one-year journey with the agency and tell us why they want to build exceptional brands with exceptional people

The past one year has been nothing short of spectacular for Isobar Sri Lanka. exchange4media caught up with Shamsuddin Jasani- Group MD, Isobar South Asia and Chamith Buthgumwa, Director, Isobar Sri Lanka who shared the agency’s achievements in the year gone by and their vision for 2020 and beyond.

Q1. Could you share the one-year journey for Isobar Sri Lanka?

Shamsuddin: It’s been a phenomenal one year. Winning all the awards was an amazing recognition. When we set up almost a year ago, the objective was to reach where we are in a year. We are close to about 18 people in Isobar and we’ve already won over 20 competitive pitches.

We started Isobar in Sri Lanka with the same ethos with which we started in India. It’s a full-service digital agency, doing all parts of digital, whether it’s media, creative or technology. And it’s already catching up with us here in India in terms of the work. A lot of the stuff that we ended up doing in our 7th or 8th year, they’re already doing it in the first year itself.

Chamith: We’re having a great time bringing a new wave of thinking to the market. Over the past year, we’ve established ourselves as the go-to content marketing agency in the country, only recently winning the Digital Agency of the Year Silver Award by Campaign Asia – taking the shortest time for a local agency to do so.

We’ve been able to achieve what we have because we have an incredibly exciting team using emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and Behavioural Economics to understand the patterns and interests of individuals, groups and communities.

We are driven by the vision of becoming Sri Lanka’s number one full-service digital agency – bringing data, creativity and technology together to develop stories and campaigns that connect with our audience at an individual level. We’re the first agency to not only forecast the fast-shifting communications landscape but also to adapt and adjust to it – embracing constant change. 2020 will see us continuing to building exceptional brands, with exceptional people.

Q2. Could you share details of successful campaigns in the past year? Have there been any in partnership with Isobar India?

Chamith: One of the biggest campaigns we had in 2019 was for the hi-end luxury chair brand Herman Miller, named “A chair worth fighting for”. With the epic final season of Game of Thrones hitting screens in April, Isobar and Response created a four-episode webisode series depicting modern-day office politics, loosely based on the power play theme of the famous TV show. The series is a satirical take on the demeanor and motives of certain characters of the show and tries to adapt the global pop-culture phenomena in a modern corporate Sri Lankan context.

This campaign received global praise for creativity and the contextual use of content, where it gained 7M impressions with high visibility and engagement even during a social media ban imposed by the Sri Lankan government. It was featured on some of the world’s well-known online advertising publications. This was one of the many instances where we leveraged our partnership with Isobar India to its fullest potential.

Q3. How successful has Isobar been in gaining clients within the first year itself?

Shamsuddin: Sri Lanka has grown on the back of very local clients. And we’re very happy about that. But now we’re looking at taking Indian clients into Sri Lanka and vice versa. There are some Sri Lankan clients who are local clients too, take Singer, for example. The objective in 2020 is to make that five common clients across India and Sri Lanka. But the primary objective is to build a world class organization based in Sri Lanka. I think, what also worked in our favour is we’ve hired really good local talent.

We are just here to help Neela Marikkar, Chairperson and Managing Director, Dentsu Grant Group and Chamith take the agency up to the Isobar standards. It’s important when you chose leaders, you look at the long term because they help the organization grow.

Chamith: Our process of gaining clients begins long before we even approach them. We actively try out the products we pitch for, use competitor products to draw comparisons, call customer service to gain insights and visit sales conventions to talk to promoters – giving us the edge over our competition prior to any pitch process. All this passion and effort has contributed to a 92 per cent pitch-winning rate.

Q4. When you compare the digital landscape of Sri Lanka with that of India, what are the key takeaways?

Chamith: Even though the scale is at a totally different level, on the behavioural side of things, it’s very similar. Mobile devices are driving digital consumption. Many Sri Lankans have skipped the desktop stage and landed on mobile, hence online media consumption has shown tremendous growth over the past few years, as it has in India.

Consumers also dictate the kind of communication that comes their way. We see both big and small brands taking steps to communicate with people in their local languages using multiple-format content on multiple platforms. This leaves a cluttered advertising landscape for agencies to fight on, to help brands reach their audiences. Most of this data growth is attributed to video, audio etc.

OTT players, both domestic and international, have been providing consumers with multiple choices around content consumption. We see a shift in consumer’s attitude from content ownership to easy access to a vast library at any time and place. The increasing popularity of digital media has caused a paradigm shift in advertising spends. Marketers are following the changing trend and are increasingly allocating their budgets to digital mediums. Digital media spends is expected to increase as each day passes. This increase is mainly allowed to happen by cannibalizing traditional advertising mediums like print and radio.

Q) What is your vision for 2020 for Isobar Sri Lanka?

Shamsuddin: As I said, we want to dominate the space. In Sri Lanka we want Isobar to play a central role in the clients’ entire strategy and not only in digital. Although digital needs to be core, we need to weave it in with everything else that the client does. Number two, of course, we want to win pretty much everything out there. I am making no bones about the fact that the right kind of awards matter. We will set our objectives to not only win local awards but also global awards out of Sri Lanka.

We want to start, as I said, to have five common clients across India and Sri Lanka and we want some out-of-Sri Lanka clients too. Of course, revenue and profit will always be there. Another very important objective is to work with the industry, the clients to really grow digital and the government on how to digitise the economy.

Chamith: While everyone else is making noise, we want to make music. With consumer insights, technology, and creativity at our core, we want to be the number one full-service digital agency in Sri Lanka and deliver some of the most talked-about campaigns of the year.

Mohenesh Chamith Buthgumwa

Mohenesh Chamith Buthgumwa

Director, Isobar Sri Lanka