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)