Thursday, September 23, 2010


Smaller Agencies are cracking the glass ceiling and breaking through to grab A-list clients, earlier reserved for the biggies.
Even a decade ago, could you have ever imagined corporate giants like ITC, Godfrey Phillips, TOI, Audi, Diesel, Platinum, Emirates or Renault cosying-up with any agency that did not feature among the top 5 in adland? Would these organisations ever dream of risking going to a small shop, no matter how hot the buzz they generated? Well, times, they are a-changin’, because that’s exactly what seems to be happening. In recent times, whether it’s Strawberry Frogs (Emirates), Law & Kenneth (Renault), Creativeland Asia (Audi), Taproot (TOI), Shop (Godfrey Phillips), Happy (Diesel), Metal (Platinum)… small agencies are indeed making big waves. What’s up? Has there been a paradigm shift in the mindset of the Indian management big boys? Are they, now, prepared to put their money where their mouth is? Is risky, edgy work slowly finding favour in place of predictable, stodgy stuff? Does this move signal a return to basics?

Ogilvy’s NCD Abhijit Avasthi takes first strike. He believes that since advertising is an idea-driven business, clients will always be drawn to any agency – small or big – who can provide that. “It’s never a conscious decision regarding scale or size. It’s usually governed by three factors: Great ideas, ability to take it through – in terms of infrastructure and media-engagement to ensure effective delivery – and the capacity to afford the agency of his choice”. He is convinced that any agency that can think fresh and stay ahead of the game has no reason to feel threatened. Santosh Desai, Communication Guru & CEO, Future Group, has a different take. He believes that smaller agencies shouldn’t be perceived small only on the cinema of size or scale. “Their uniqueness lies in the fact that these shops are about creative ambience which is brilliantly appropriate in a time when the ad business is definitely moving ahead to be governed – more than ever before – by the creative product. Most larger legacy-agencies, unfortunately, continue to be deeply entrenched in a structure, hierarchy and traditional blue-print and cannot be as free-spirited, edgy, quirky, interesting and nimble-footed as the smaller shops. Clients too, often find it easier to engage with these entities because, apart from fresh ideas, they are always available for interaction, which helps effective and prompt delivery,” says Desai. Everything considered, he is delighted at this move and believe it is an idea whose time has come.

Arvind Sharma, head honcho of Leo Burnett is up next with his informed take on this contentious debate. He believes that this animal – small, edgy shops – has always been around and appeared seductive to one kind of client. Earlier there were the Enterprises & Contracts of the world. Even earlier, there was the mother of them all, MCM, headed by the late Kersey Katrak. “These shops are headed by creative entrepreneurs driven by different motivations. They break away from large agencies because they begin to find it too complex and restricting and want to fly. The blueprint can be perfect for one set of clients, but with larger clients demanding larger scale and width of services, can this work? Can they match up with the resources of larger agencies dedicated to continuously engage in exploring newer innovative avenues related to brands & ideas,” asks Sharma. TOI’s Director, Brand Management Rahul Kansal is more forthcoming. He is of the opinion that there has been a definite and dramatic paradigm shift in thinking from the client’s perspective. Earlier, the larger multi-nationals were more comfortable with the legacy-agencies because there was – they believed – compatibility in terms of an MBA connect and so forth. “Strategy and marketing consultancy ruled. Over time, clients got their act together, by learning and monitoring these areas themselves. They realised that ultimately the creative product was what they were looking at and sought out agencies that could provide that,” says Kansal. The movers n’ shakers of both Shop and Taproot (Birdy-Akhtar & Aggi-Paddy) were known to him, personally and professionally, so there was a huge comfort level. Cutting-edge quality with speed was easier to access with these guys because of the nature of these agencies and relationship. Arvind Wable, Chief of FCB Ulka, North doesn’t quite agree. He reckons that “these flirtations are not new and have existed all along. Most of them have not survived because in the bigger space, the boys have been separated from the men! When the clients are looking for communication engagement across all media parameter and avenues, we are talking resources and infrastructure along with management skills of a mega nature. Can they ever hope to match that? They are okay for one-off ad campaigns and lightweight stuff, but anything of scale, size and dimension mandated for the long haul … no chance!”

The last words fittingly must come from Aggie & Paddy whose one-year old agency Taproots is considered the hottest shop in town! While Paddy believes that “there is enough place for everybody,” Aggie warns that jumping to conclusions is silly. “These are early days for some of us who have broken away to start our own agencies and consistency is what is required to actually address this question change,” says Paddy. While their rampage continues – the latest acquisition being National Geographic Channel and Blackrock, the largest mutual fund company in the world – his focus and wit remain intact. “If you can manage to stand up and be wanted among the Goliaths of adland, I guess it’s going okay!” says Paddy. As for the future, you guessed it… you ain’t seen nothin’ yet, baby!