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Vishwanath Shetty

It’s easy to work directly with clients, but easier to work with agencies that have a good influence over them, feels Vishwanath Shetty, VP, Sales and Brand Solutions, Pocket Aces.

“We don’t want to work with agencies that don’t understand clients, have a zero grip on things and keep on asking for content from us just for the sake of pitch,” Shetty said in an interview with BuzzInContent.

Last year, Pocket Aces acquired 150 new clients compared to 70 a year before. Owing to the pandemic, the content creation company that owns popular digital channels such as Gobble, FilterCopy, Jambo, Nutshell and live game streaming and esports app, Loco, had to strategically slash its prices, which it has gradually brought back to pre-Covid levels.

According to Shetty, the pandemic has pushed clients towards digital as a platform but not towards content specifically. “That journey is still left,” Shetty said.


How do you see the last year for branded content?

Last year, when the lockdown started, a lot of brands had to change their messaging. For example, Close-Up’s tagline has been ‘paas aao’ but this was completely in contrast with Covid protocols. So the brand started figuring out what to say in their new communication. The film shoots had stopped and TVCs were not being made. But in any case, it had to communicate with the consumers and potential buyers about its new messaging. The easy way out was branded content. It is easier for brands to convey their messages through content, which gives them more time compared to regular advertisements.

From a strategy point of view, we slashed our pricing for clients to come and experiment with us. We understood the conditions of the market at that point in time and consciously took the decision. The result: we had on board a lot of new clients.

How many brands continued their journey with Pocket Aces even post lockdown and the peak Covid period last year?

Our repeat business is very strong. We have a retention rate of 70%. Last year, we added 150 new clients and a year before that, we onboarded 70 new clients.

Is Pocket Aces back to pre-Covid levels in terms of pricing?

We got a lot of new buyers due to our slashed prices in Q1. Slowly, we have gone back to our original pricing, but haven’t increased the rates yet.

What kind of impact on business and content creation are you expecting from the present surge in Covid-19 cases and localised lockdowns across the country? How well prepared is Pocket Aces in this regard? Is there a contingency plan in place?

The brands have understood how to deal with the new normal and they are well-prepared. They have re-looked at their channel and media mix.

We realised that many brands are now opting for influencer marketing as it’s a no-brainer for them. Therefore, we built our talent management wing Clout to be prepared for such uncertain times. We are heavily focused on building our live game streaming and esports app, Loco. The gaming industry is connected with a lot of tech brands. Brands such as Lenovo, OnePlus and Poco want to latch on to the growth of the gaming industry.

We’ll be shooting one of our biggest web series in May. But we have a plan B in place. If we are not able to shoot in Maharashtra, then we’ll go somewhere else. Most production houses have a plan B and C.

Often clients want excessive brand integrations in content or there are situations where the creative team doesn’t agree with the brand’s idea of integration in the content. How should the brand solutions team balance such a situation?

We have a fabulous servicing team when it comes to the execution of content. There are times when the clients dictate the dialogues to us. In such cases, we have taken a stand and have politely asked them not to interfere. Many times, we have said no to businesses and in good faith. The brands need to understand that a channel or a publisher has more to lose than a brand. A lot of viewers will unsubscribe if they see bad content on a platform. You always have to be the gatekeeper of your business and audiences. We commit a certain number of views to our clients. If clients intrude in the creative process, then we tell them that we are not responsible for delivering the numbers that have been promised to them. Then they understand.

What role does perception play in selling your content to a client?

Perception building is really important, irrespective of the stage of your business cycle. For example, people know FilterCopy. But we are also the company that has launched a new product called Nutshell in the market. It is not easy for Pocket Aces to sell Nutshell. Any new company that wants to make a mark in the content business should make really viral content. It’s easier to build perception if you are a creator of at least one or two viral content pieces.

Do you think clients should be more open to giving a chance to new players?

Clients get many calls and might end up ignoring some even if someone has good content. There has to be an interesting way to reach out to him.

For example, it took two years for us to crack HUL as a client. No content player other than us has been able to open an account in HUL. We first asked people within HUL who liked our content to at least try something smaller with us. We got an entry with one content piece. One of the biggest challenges in the content space is that clients don’t know what kind of ROI content has fetched for them. There isn’t any metric like BARC or RAM in the digital space. We identified this problem with HUL. We did a third-party brand lift study on the content and it worked wonders. Someone from the HUL team circulated the brand lift study inside the company. It became a gate-opener for us. Since then, we have worked with a lot of brands at HUL.

Do you think it’s easier to work directly with brands than having agencies in between?

We definitely want to work with agencies that have a good hold on clients. We don’t want to work with agencies that don’t understand clients, have a zero grip on things and keep on asking for content from us just for the sake of pitch. It’s easy to work directly with clients, but easier to work with agencies that have a good influence over clients.

How do you see brands’ interest and understanding of content marketing evolving over time?

I have been selling branded content for over 11 years. I have seen the behaviour of clients changing towards content. The pandemic has pushed clients towards digital as a platform but not towards content specifically. That journey is still left. We have given enough reason to brands to start with content journeys.

According to you, what challenges are branded content publishers facing and how can they overcome these?

First, there is no third-party data research body such as BARC and RAM in the content space. The publishers are suffering because they don’t have a unified metric in place. There are a plethora of awards, but that becomes really subjective. There isn’t any third party that can penalise the defaulters. A third-party body can be formed to solve these issues.

The second challenge is the slow pace in which the behaviour of brands is changing towards content. And the third challenge is, of course, pricing.