We have more room to work in the innovative space for which I suggest professionals to connect, collaborate and create

Nabin Shrestha is the Strategist and Creative Head of Water Communication. He has extensive experience of working as strategy planner, brand manager and creative head for over 100+ local and international brands in the private sector including airlines, automobiles, hospitality, tourism, real estate, pharmaceutical, FMCG and in social sectors especially in tourism, health, environment, education and SME organisations.

Shrestha is a seasoned professional with over 15 years of experience in integrated brand management, advertising, and design across various platforms. Not only has he honed his skills through dedicated study and practice, but he has also demonstrably achieved success by managing over 30 brands. His expertise extends beyond brand creation, encompassing the development of effective strategies, content planning, creation, and management for more than 15 websites and social media platforms.

Shrestha is a strong collaborator, fostering successful partnerships with stakeholders and teams. His passion for knowledge sharing is evident in his regular workshops and seminars for colleges and organisations, where he focuses on brand management, strategy, planning, design, and creative work. Further solidifying his credentials, Shrestha holds memberships in the Advertising Association of Nepal and the International Advertising Association (Nepal Chapter). He even leveraged his expertise by serving as the Head of the Advertising and Design Faculty at WLC College in Nepal.

In an interview with the HRM Nepal, he speaks about the advertising sector of Nepal.

Q: How would you like to assess the current advertising market of Nepal?
A: The advertising industry in Nepal is stagnant due to the slow economy, low business and lack of consumer confidence. We can still see some growth though, mostly in digital marketing on social media platforms post-Covid. But it is still not encouraging.

Q: What are the emerging challenges and opportunities in the advertising industry?
A: Today’s consumers have a wide range of choices when it comes to products and services, and access to information through multiple digital platforms. In this attention economy, it is challenging to reach out and genuinely engage with them. I believe there are opportunities for brands to genuinely connect with them through ‘hi-touch and hi-tech’, by reaching them in-person through various out-of-home activities and personalising conversations through selected social and digital platforms.

Q: How do you see the impact of technological disruptions in this profession? For instance, digital marketing has set a new trend.
A: This disruption is the process of society readjusting to new technologies. We as consumers are adopting and exploring new possibilities and vulnerabilities. The average time that a consumer spends engaging with digital platforms has increased significantly.

Some key technological disruptions in digital marketing are data analytics, personalisation through artificial intelligence and machine learning, email marketing automation, social media posting, and customer service. Advanced predictive modelling also enables businesses to predict customer behaviours and preferences based on historical data while AI-powered chatbots are transforming customer service by providing instant customer support, enhancing their overall experience with a brand.

One of my colleague’s companies in India is using data driven insights to analyse and predict viewer preferences on OTT platforms for higher viewership.

Q: How are the new dynamics affecting the industry and its ecosystem?
A: Change is constant. On one hand, technology is evolving fast, and disruption is happening faster but on the other hand, customers have become more empowered and expect a seamless on and offline experience while engaging with brands. In this scenario, the advertising industry is adopting digital platforms and various activation campaigns to engage with customers beyond traditional ATL (above-the-line) and BTL (below-the-line).

One more important factor is Nepal’s population is pre-dominantly youth; 40% of the population is between 16 and 40 years. Women also comprise 51% of the total population. This provides a unique opportunity for brands and the advertising industry to focus on youth and women-centric content and activities.

Q: Considering the transformation in work culture, how can we ensure or enhance the quality of advertising services?
A: I believe research and data-driven insights are key pillars to planning and developing engaging campaigns; there is no short cut. We need to listen to all stakeholders, which includes brand management teams, the company leadership, and front-line delivery teams. In the current climate, we also need to work with influencers who can strengthen public relations and activation on a more granular level.

On the agency side, in order to protect and enhance brands, the collaborative team (including third parties like creators, producers, and disseminators) must adhere to strict brand guidelines and voice, consistency in branding and messaging, and investing in people, culture and process management. To push the standards of creative culture, risk takers and doers in the team must be regularly rewarded.

Q: Innovation, creativity and passion are the essential components for doing the best in advertising designs. In this volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) situation, what sort of strategies are you adopting to retain talent?
A: Creativity is our reason for being. We believe that our people, not our structures or systems, are what make us successful. Their thinking, curiosity and sensitivity are our only competitive product. By treating them with understanding and dignity, we ensure that we have the best talent to work with our clients. As I mentioned earlier, we have a culture of rewarding risk takers and doers. We embrace a growth mindset – experiment, iterate, seek feedback, and support.

Q: In your opinion, how should the government address the challenges from the policy perspective?
A: The Advertisement (Regulation) Act 2019 is the primary legislation that regulates advertisements and marketing of goods, services, programmes and events in Nepal. This Act was amended by the Advertisement Board of Nepal in 2023. In light of some misleading social media promotions, the board recently ordered that all audio, visual, and audiovisual ads be tested before broadcast.

As the size of the advertisement market in Nepal is estimated to be around Rs 5 billion a year, we expect policymakers and business leaders to prioritise advertising. There could be more emphasis placed on creative marketing courses in higher education and the government could include creative industry talents/agencies in the marketing and promotion of national interests while creating a platform to collaborate and co-create with consumer, business umbrella organisations, social organisations and related international industries.

Q: The advertising industry is being affected by the cost-cutting strategy of the private sector. How do you see the near-term scenario of the industry?
A: Be more selective about the clients you work with, review your pricing structure, negotiate better terms with your suppliers, find new sources of revenue for both digital and physical promotions, explore new sources of revenue like social media, collaborate with others and retain the right talent at all costs.

Q: What are your recommendations for creating an environment where more advertising companies can work innovatively and expand the scope of work?
A: Connect. Collaborate. Create. The advertising agency or industry was never a vertical industry with talents and resources from within the industry only. Talents and experts from various fields make significant contributions, whether in content creation, planning, strategising or production. I believe collaborating with seasoned professionals and new talent is a must to take the industry forward. Nurturing new talents in the new digital economy will provide hope for the future of the industry.

Q: What advice would you like to give to youths wanting to join this profession or embracing entrepreneurship related to this field?
A: Finding a path early on in your career can be challenging, particularly when the economy is slow. But there is one path I recommend more than any other for early professionals: joining an ad agency. You will get the opportunity to work in practically every business sector while expanding your horizons, learning about competitive dynamics, consumer personas, and product mechanics. Each campaign will improve your capacity to combine creativity with data-driven methods to get results. You will be communicating with the masses via story-telling and multiple other channels. At this stage, your talents will be refined, expanded, and applauded.

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