Thursday, September 03, 2009

Dialogue (with Exchange4Media)

It’s been two decades for you being a part of advertising industry, according to you how has the industry been shaped since then and now? Any alarming fact to be observed comparatively…

Over the last two decades the advertising industry has evolved for the better. I think the quality of the work we do is much superior to the work done then. Earlier a lot of advertising were derivative of western advertising. Today we can be proud of an Indian school of advertising. Earlier brand propositions didn’t need to work very hard since there was limited competition. Today the reverse is true.

Euro RSCG Worldwide per se undertakes various surveys and studies to understand the trends in advertising. Any recent studies that you have undertaken and that you would like to share with us…

We have a series of papers that are titled “the future of _____”. So we have a study on the “Future of retail”. Another on the “Future of luxury” and the most recent one on the “Future of value”. These studies are shared with clients and potential clients for whom these studies are relevant.

Do you see an increase in mergers and acquisitions by international networks of Indian advertising agencies? And does this mean that the stranglehold of foreign agencies will increase further?

Acquisitions take place because there are strong local agencies available to acquire. So before M&A can happen, you need local entrepreneurs to create strong agencies. We can see around us small boutique agencies opening up – in creative, digital, events, PR, you name it. In due course these agencies will get acquired, but that is not about a stranglehold of foreign agencies. It is more of a tribute to Indian talent.

Please share your views on the new media and digital landscape and what role advertising agencies can play to harness the potential of these mediums.

Our view of new media is the same as our view of old media. We think it is wrong to think of digital or new media agencies as a separate discipline. We don’t have a separate TV division, so why do we have a separate digital division? You may have a production facility for digital that is separate and staffed with specialists.

Please take us through the growth that Euro RSCG has seen on the revenue front in the last three years? (At least in terms of percentage if not the exact figures)

We have grown at more than 30% per annum for the least 3 years.

What is the growth target for 2009?

It all depends on how the slog overs pan out (we have a Jan – Dec year). We are optimistic about the next 4 months and expect to end the year with a small growth over last year.

How much has the current economic slowdown affected the Indian advertising industry?

We have had our share of problems. In general the multinationals (clients and agencies) were more cautious than the Indian companies when the downturn started. That negativism spread through the whole economy. But now things are looking up again.

During the slowdown, many advertisers took extreme steps to brave the recession. When things are back to normal, how do you think these steps would have changed the industry?

It would make us leaner and meaner.

Speaking about talent and the slowdown, there was a sudden hiring freeze. Now as we are seeing some sign of recovery, there is again a buzz of hiring happening across levels. And on what criteria’s are these hirings taking place?

Agencies are now making the most critical hires. In our case we are also hiring some people to accelerate growth.

How is Euro RSCG tackling the problem of talent crunch in the industry and retaining skilled people? Is there any specific strategy for that?

Yes we are doing a bunch of different things to retain people. Covers a wide gamut from better structured salaries, to training programs, to welfare activities. The objective is not to reach 0% attrition. The objective is to ensure that people are happy and contribute at a high level when they are with us.

Lately, many agencies including Euro RSCG have announced internal elevations/promotions. But these promotions have come without any increments. How do you view this development in an agency favour of retaining your talent? It is believed that many have otherwise quit agencies due to this. Is this an advantage or a disadvantage in regards to retaining talent?

Recognition is often as important as rewards in retaining people. When you can’t afford to reward, you can still afford to recognize. Rewards will follow soon.

What are the weak points of the Indian advertising industry today that you feel need to be addressed?

I think we are still very TV centric and need to grow our capabilities in other disciplines. Also while we tend to do great work for theme ads, we treat tactical advertising like step children. That’s not how the consumer sees it. We need to handle those with the same love and affection as the theme ads.

What are the areas that Indian advertising practitioners need focus on to create a wider global impact?

Our people are smart and many have already created a mark on the global scene. But we need to be a little bit more process oriented and much more punctual in our work. If we tighten up on those areas, Indians can dominate the global arena.

What are the two things that you would like to change about the Indian clients?

I don’t want to change anything. I just want more of them.

My Profile - Written for Campaign India's A List

Current position held (designation and company, official address)
CEO, Euro RSCG India. 1, Brady Gladys Plaza, Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel, Mumbai 400013

Office land line number

Place of birth
Patna, Bihar

Career highlights
Have been at Euro RSCG for the last 13 years. Before this I was at Lintas for 9 years. I joined Lintas straight out of IIMA. During my Lintas stint I spent 2 years in SSC&B Lintas. Behind this high inertia career path lies a lot of interesting assignments. I have been part of two start ups (SSC&B and Euro RSCG), run strategic planning for a region, been on deputation to HLL, worked on a variety of interesting and challenging clients.

Why are you good at what you do? (Answer in 10-15 words)
I fear failure and so I work hard and learn more.

Greatest influence: 15-40 words
My maternal grandmother. She was out of the box in her thinking before the term was invented.

Fantasy business partner
Steve Jobs

Biggest risk taken
None – I play safe.

Best job outside advertising/ media/ marketing
Being a father.

Favourite media

Favourite gadget
Amazon Kindle

Clubs you are a member of
MCA Bandra, Club Millennium Juhu.

Most admired politician
Barack Obama

Perfect day

Fictional hero
Phantom – the ghost who walks.

Who should play you in the film of your life?
Sidney Poitier (some people said he looked like me in “To Sir with love”)

Hidden talent
Making cocktails

Most expensive purchase
An apartment in Bandra

Desert Island favourite objects
Kindle, iPod, Laptop, power for everything.


Every suit thinks he is creative. Especially suits who have risen to the top of an ad agency and therefore no longer considers himself bound by the confines of a department. So most suit CEOs don’t understand what the debate is about – you need to be creative and a suit to be the leader. ☺

Of course, the biggest trait you need to become a leader is to live in a distorted reality world and convince enough other people to believe in that distorted reality. It’s usually called “Vision” which is nothing but an attempt to twist the current reality into a desired one. If you are successful, you are a great leader. If not, you are considered a cracked pot.

The best leaders in every field lived in a distorted reality world. Buddha, Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, Steve Jobs, Ratan Tata, Barrack Obama, Piyush Pandey. All of them set out to change their existing realities in ways that perfectly reasonable people thought couldn’t be done. Who thought that India could achieve freedom thorough non-violence or that a black man could become President of the United States or that a stodgy old “people-friendly” advertising agency could become a cutting edge creative shop?

At this point, it would probably be appropriate to list out a set of traits that a good leader should have. I am going to resist the temptation.

I read a book some time ago called “Why should anyone be led by YOU?” This is the best book on leadership that I have ever read. It simply says that you can’t model yourself on any other person and still expect to be a leader. To be a leader you have to be yourself; to be authentic and real. Even have warts and weaknesses. If people like what they see, they will start to follow you.
I found this a really refreshing argument, because so many leaders fall into the trap of trying to be perfect. Leaders try to be this brilliant all rounder who could be in the team just for his batting, bowling or fielding. Not to mention his captaincy. This kind of a leader gets insecure when others appear who are better than him in any discipline. And that puts off a whole lot of followers, who tend to drift away. Thus damaging the organization.

Coming back to the central point of the debate of suit versus creative. The point I am making is that you need to be authentic and have a clear vision. If the suit is a faceless bureaucrat then he is unlikely to get any followers and therefore will not be able to achieve much.

(This piece was written for the 5th anniversary issue of Impact magazine)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Right Sizing The Cabinet

The voters have given a clear mandate to this government to govern effectively. The people have made it quite clear that we value performance about all else.

In light of this I am dismayed to see the size of our council of ministers and the way it has been put together - with the focus being on pleasing allies and balancing regional interests. In any case, the way the government is structured is hardly conducive to good management.

Management gurus say that a manager should not have more than 7 direct reports into him. Our PM has 40 direct reports just in the council of ministers. This is not including other advisory bodies such as the Planning Commission. Clearly he cannot do justice to supervising all these people.

Several of the ministries exist for legacy reasons. Why do industries like Shipping, Mines, Coal, Textiles, Chemicals and Petroleum have separate ministries when there is anyway an Industries ministry and a labour ministry. Not to mention Finance and Commerce (although the latter is more about Exports, notwithstanding its name).

Clearly, the Cabinet and its performance would improve if we were to issue a few pink slips.

I spent a few minutes playing God (or Sonia) with the ministries and came up with these two diagrams. Figure 1 shows the 10 super ministries that would report directly into the Prime Minister (click on it to see a larger version).

The logic for the above is quite simple. To begin with we need a ministry for internal affairs and a ministry for external affairs. Those are obvious. Given our focus on development, it would be best to have ministries focused on the three main sectors of the economy - agriculture, manufacturing and services.

Next is HRD. Clearly India's big strength is its people and we all talk about the demographic dividend. Clearly there is a need to focus on people. Also I felt that in a large country like ours, transport is important enough to justify its own ministry. And going forward, we will have to find a way to grow without polluting the environment, so we need a ministry to focus on that. And finally, we need a finance ministry to focus on the money.

Those, then are the 10 super ministries.

Figure 2 shows what happened to the various other ministries. You will definitely need to click on it to be able to read it.

Most of the above seems obvious to me. The only one that I debated for a while was whether Defence needed a separate ministry. I decided against it because I feel that war is the last resort for the diplomat, and so I thought it would be best to combine the two into one ministry.

I am quite pleased with my last hour's work. Let me know what you think.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Importance of Grit

I have always felt that in order for a brand to sound authentic it is critical to have a little bit of dirt - something that is less than perfect. It is like Betty's sandwiches that Jughead doesn't like until they have a little bit of sand in them!

I follow a blog about fund raising for non profit organisations that found this "commercial" for Trader's Joe that sounds really authentic. Follow the words and you will see my point about grit.

Friday, March 06, 2009

BJP has better orators

I'm sitting in the India Today Conclave 2009. Just heard a brilliant speech by Shivraj Singh Chouhan (CM of MP).

Last year I was impressed by Narender Modi. Another year. Another BJP Chief Minister.

Congress is represented by Ashok Chavan (CM of Maharashtra). Omar Abdullah (CM of J&K) represented the middle front.

Both spoke well, but read from prepared speeches. Shivraj had no notes but had better turns of phrase & more data.

Notice that the self made politicians speak better than those who are products of dynastic democracy.

Sent on my BlackBerry® from Hutch

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Brands need to have social value

Friday, April 2, 1993 was supposed to be the day that brands died. That was the day when Marlboro cut its price to compete with generic brands that were 50% cheaper. The marketing world reacted with shock and promptly started funeral preparations for brands.

But brands haven’t died. They have just changed character. This article proposes one way in which brands have changed.

The starting point of the argument lies in Internet brands. Arguably the strongest brands in the world today are web brands like Google, Facebook, Second Life etc. Equally strong, perhaps, are brands like BlackBerry and iPod which have a strong web component to back up their physical products. The question arises, what is common between these brands and what can older brands learn from them?

All these brands have a social component to them. They help people connect with each other. They also create communities of users who can bond with each other. Very much like smokers of old, who could bond with each other while smoking, sharing a light etc.

Is this only a phenomenon of on-line brands or can it be taken into the real world too? I think that several brands have shown that the idea of creating social value around brands can be useful in the real world too.

The idea obviously works for Starbuck, Café Coffee Day and the like. But it goes much beyond.
My favourite example in India is the Jaggo Re campaign for Tata Tea. It is creating a community of young people who are concerned about the future of their country and want to influence its course. There is a strong product connect and it is based on a strong insight of how Indian youth thinks. The campaign for Idea is on a similar line.

We at Euro RSCG have experimented with portraying the new “chalta-nahi-hai” attitude of youth in our campaign for Dainik Bhaskar – Zidd karo. Before that we created the “India ka dil, India ka AC” campaign for Voltas.

So what do the success of the above commercials mean? We are used to thinking of the rational value of a brand and the emotional value of a brand. Now we have to think also of the social value of the brand.

This social value helps define the users and fans of the brand into a community. Once the community has been defined the brand needs to provide its “members” (not just consumers) with a platform through which they can communicate with each other and with the brand. This is how the strong brands of the future will be built.

In conclusion, I don’t think that brands are dead. They have just acquired an additional layer – the social layer. Brand handlers now need to be conscious of this new rule in the game.

The above article has been written for the Mint, but they will probably not publish it as it is.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

License to harrass

There are numerous road blocks in the city which slow down traffic and cause huge traffic jams, but which are not manned by any human beings! So why are they there?

The one I see most often is the one at the airport just as you come out of the Terminal 1A. 4 lanes of traffic has to slow down to squeeze through the road block one vehicle at a time. While the cops who are supposed to be checking the cars are presumably having tea somewhere.

Of course, everyone has often wondered what they are checking for anyway. But we'll talk about that another day. For now, I just wish that the cops would open up the roads at least when they are not on duty there.

Warren Buffet's Thoughts for 2009:

We begin this New Year with dampened enthusiasm and dented optimism. Our happiness is diluted and our peace is threatened by the financial illness that has infected our families, organisations and nations. Everyone is desperate to find a remedy that will cure their financial illness and help them recover their financial health. They expect the financial experts to provide them with remedies, forgetting the fact that it is these experts who created this financial mess.

Every new year, I adopt a couple of old maxims as my beacons to guide my future. This self-prescribed therapy has ensured that with each passing year, I grow wiser and not older. This year, I invite you to tap into the financial wisdom of our elders along with me, and become financially wiser.

Hard work: All hard work brings profit; but mere talk leads only to poverty.

Laziness: A sleeping lobster is carried away by the water current.

Earnings: Never depend on a single source of income.

Spending: If you buy things you don't need, you'll soon sell things you need.

Savings: Don't save what is left after spending; Spend what is left after saving.

Borrowings: The borrower becomes the lender's slave.

Accounting: It's no use carrying an umbrella, if your shoes are leaking.

Auditing: Beware of little expenses; a small leak can sink a large ship.

Risk-taking: Never test the depth of the river with both feet.

Investment: Don't put all your eggs in one basket.

I'm certain that those who have already been practicing these principles remain financially healthy. I'm equally confident that those who resolve to start practicing these principles will quickly regain their financial health.

Let us become wiser and lead a happy, healthy, prosperous and peaceful life.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Late-comers are from Venus

I think too much has been made out of this men are from mars and women
from venus thing. I think if you really want to study two different
species, you ought to look at people who are habitually on time and
those who are always late.

I belong to the first species and have been surrounded by people who
are habitual late-comers. At home, in office, among my friends – this
other species dominates the population nearly as much as right handers

In order to further the cause of science, I offer below a few
characteristics of this species. To begin with let's give them a
name. I like to call them Homo Latiens to distinguish them from the
rest of us Home Sapiens.

1. Home Latiens always make you wait, but hate to wait themselves.
They make sure that they find something else to do that takes a little
longer than what you are doing, so that you end up waiting.

2. You can't out-late a Homo Latien. This is a corollary of the first
statement. If you think you can be later than them, all I can say to
you is "Ha!"

3. Homo Latiens are amazing at multi-tasking. See picture above.

4. Homo Latiens are absent minded. They always forget the most
important things. Their wallets. The projector. The file. The
gift. The keys. Then they have to go back and get it while you wait.

5. Homo Latiens think they are super efficient. They think everything
will get done in 5 minutes. Or in a jiffy. Whichever takes less
time. Home Sapiens tend to think in much longer time segments.

6. Homo Latiens think the last lap takes the most amount of time.
Having delayed themselves and everybody else, a typical Homo Latien
will sprint the last lap to the car, the door, down the steps or
whatever. Thus making up for lost time.

7. Homo Latiens are emergency prone. Somehow emergencies always seem
to crop up in their lives. That's actually what makes them late.
Somehow Homo Sapiens don't have so many emergencies. Please note that
going to the loo at the last minute counts as an emergency.

I would welcome further study into this species and in how the two
species – homo sapiens and homo latiens - interact with each other.