Inside the Mumbai based digital agency Social Kinnect

Lighthouse Insights spends half a day at Social Kinnect to understand how the agency works, about its employees, how they are being groomed and what is the culture like

Knowing a digital agency in roughly 7 hours isn’t possible but you can still catch the vibe.Mumbai-based digital agency Social Kinnect (SK) has partnered with Lighthouse Insights (LI) for the agency feature content series. This August, we will bring you stories about the culture, work belief, employees that are building Social Kinnect and thoughts from the CEO Rohan Mehta and COO Chandni Shah.

During the monsoons, July is still good in Mumbai so I decided to visit the agency on the 21st. I ventured out post noon to beat the traffic, but Mumbai has no off-peak hours. The city that never sleeps was kind enough to me; I landed right in front of the Raghuvanshi Mill Compound on Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel (W) in less than an hour. Right after that you get into a broad lane lined by delicious Mumbai street food on the right and on the left is the KSL House.

Srinivas Kulkarni, a friend and Head – L&D and Analytics at SK, guided me on the lift to the second floor and then the stairs as the agency was on the 3rd floor.

Getting into KSL House reminded me of the 80’s Bollywood movies where the hero enters his work place after giving a smile to the lovely lady at the reception and then takes the old metal door lift with a hello to the lift man.

Well, it isn’t the 80’s and I’m not the leading man, so no receptionist and no lift man. I had KSL House to greet me on the gloomy day, it looked like an old lost fort living to tell its yesteryear glories. While I took the steps, I asked myself: Why would a five-year-old digital agency shift to such a place? Will it excite employees to come to work every day? Thankfully, very soon I was going to be proved wrong!

SK occupies the entire third floor of the KSL House. The moment I opened the door and entered the reception area, it reflected the charm and glamour of a digital agency. While I waited at the reception only to be escorted inside by Srinivas, the giant screen kept me busy: it was showcasing some of the agency’s work. I was happy that LI has covered some of them. (Read: How Zee Khana Khazana Created The #InstaCookBook On Instagram)

After a quick exchange of pleasantries, we made our way through a passage, with a canteen on my right. The big table was occupied with some happy faces and their colourful dabbas. As we were about to open the door, I saw a shelf of awards shining with pride.

The moment the door opened, I came across a big open space occupied by cubicles and young voices. The pic below gives a quick glance of the floor, which looked little less occupied as it was lunchtime and quite a few were out for client meetings.

Post a coffee and cigarette break, Taher Changi, marketing manger and Srinivas gave me an elaborate understanding on how the agency is divided into small groups but at the same time work collectively on projects. I am also informed that the present setup is a new one, as the agency moved in to this bigger place in the month of May. “In last few months we have added 1/4th the people but we have got a 2/3 times bigger place. While we have a lot of space now, we have also given good structure where we have set up small teams that have people mapped to their skills. Biggest joy for the Kinectors!,” Taher informed.

The design team led by Priyanka Mestry sits at the center. The team while working on various art and design requirements from clients or the business development teams, is also caught up in its own work. “Apart from different team requirements, we are also quite caught up in our own work. For instance 360 degree Facebook images are trending right now, we start working on them and keep exploring other mediums,” Priyanka said. She’s been busy since the morning in imparting a session on using Craft in Photoshop. The knowledge session would help the team as the agency is going to develop mobile apps in the coming months.

The servicing team allocated brand wise is divided into two clusters. “We decided to have two clusters with a mix of brand categories for the simple reason that one servicing team shouldn’t be looking at everything. Scalability wise it is a challenge and that’s where Chandni comes in, she leads the entire client servicing team,” Srinivas said.

SK has a team of content writers that master long form storytelling, emailers, content banks and blogs, among other things. They do work with other teams but SK is of the belief that account executives should not only manage brands but also be involved in content creation. “A campaign is the brain child of an account executive so it is easier if they write their own content. The day to day content and execution is all that comes into the job description of an account executive,” said Taher.

At this point the dapper CEO Rohan, dressed in crisp white shirt and jeans, walked in to say a hello. We walked into Rohan’s cabin, which is at the extreme end right next to Chandni’s cabin. Before you enter his massive cabin you cross by two large rooms occupied by the business development team and the HR.

Right when we pass by Chandni’s cabin, Taher informs that she is mostly out for meetings, so her room is also used for brainstorming and video shoots.

Sipping a hot coffee, Rohan shared that most of the structures were already in place when they took over the place. “We also broke down a lot of smaller cabins and made it more open so that the teams can work in sync. It might look like that we have a lot of different departments but they are still very well interconnected.”

The CEO who focuses on the business side, is also looking at Media Kinnect, an independent media arm solely set up with the primary focus on online media planning, buying, and creative strategy.

Launched in the month of June, Media Kinnect’s goal is to provide the best RoI-driven results through the team’s expertise, along with a state-of-the-art media command centre equipped with real-time analytics tools to provide a statistical edge for optimal performance. He added, “The media room is well thought of as a separate space. The media buying, SEO, web and the analytics team sit together in one separate room since they need to go hand in hand.”

The other role he is playing along with Srinivas is focusing on the hiring process.

“I think my most important function as a CEO today is also heading the HR. We have always believed that it’s the people who will make us grow. We also look for people who have achieved a lot in a short amount of time. We don’t benchmark people on number of years of experience or educational qualifications.”

Along with hiring, the agency has been working hard in grooming its employees under the guidance of Srinivas. In a series of guest posts he had built a case on why digital agencies need to stop Educating and EDGEucate their workforce. “For us we always hope to and eventually try and hire smart dynamic ‘Entrepreneurs by attitude’. Work, for us is more than just doing our job and going home.”

Further, he said, “We believe that their success is ours and our brand’s growth. And that’s why this year, we want to heavily invest in giving the Kinnect EDGE to our team!” (Read more on the Kinnect Edge and how the agency is planning to execute it.)

Other than working hard Kinnectors also have a lot of fun. The agency has monthly parties called as the Kinnect Fridays, which also finds hidden talents. For instance, recently a few members of the agency put together a band and did a jamming session which was broadcasted on Facebook Live. Most recently the agency folks did a Pokémon GO walk to be in line with the trends.

Here we see the agency folks keeping the mantra of  ‘No Pain, No Gain’ alive.

Post Rohan’s discussion I decided to make my tummy happy. SK is well located for a desi foodie like me. Walk few steps on the main road and you will find the giant Phoenix mall of Lower Parel. For lunch I decided to go light with a burger as I wanted to save space for Mumbai’s street food!

After a break of 40 minutes and quick checking of my emails, Facebook notifications and tweets, I decided to do a solo walk around the agency and say hello to the business and strategy team. Led by Kartikeya Tiwari the business development team has been on a roll winning quite a few accounts lately. SK has grabbed new accounts like HDFC ERGO, Zee TV, and PNB MetLife Insurance in the last few months. Indiabulls Housing Finance has roped in the agency for its Media Kinnect arm.

Kartikeya, commonly known as KT in the agency, has been here for over a year. In a conversation with him, I was told that the team has been lucky to find a few brands that are thinking digital first. “Clients these days are not only interested about digital but they are also burning their hands with money.” He further added that at SK they are not only trying to be domain experts on digital but also trying to understand business problems.

“You can master it when you do work that solves business problems. We are problem solvers for a business. Therefore it will be difficult to replace us as we will be so ingrained in your business that you will need us.”

I’ve believed that Facebook and Twitter is not ‘going digital’, you need to focus on business objective and solve them with whatever means that fits in. Thankfully most digital agencies share the same belief and now want to be known as business partners who solve your business problems. One of the things that mainline agencies have followed over the years. But it is good to see the mist slowly getting cleared on digital.

With the clock ticking 6 in the evening, I had more or less interacted with half of SK’s staff, had a fair understanding on how the agency functions on day to day basis and what are the core areas it is investing on in the business and people.

Next in line was an extensive conversation with both the CEO & COO. But before that could happen, it was time to go down for a tea break and hopefully some Mumbai street food. While walking to the reception, I passed by this bold thought –

One of Rohan’s favourite quotes that is evident in the DNA of the agency.

In my thirty-minute break, I gulped down half a plate of spicy Indian Chinese fried rice with cola. My soul was happy and prepared for another round of intense discussions with the co-founders of the five-year-old digital agency. But for that you will have to wait till next week when we make the second article live, in our three-part agency feature series on Social Kinnect.