Do Ad Agency Professionals, Crossing over to The Clients’ side, Guarantee a more Confident, Evolved and ‘Sorted’ Communication Manager – or are they Misfits who are more Enthusiastic than Clued-in? 4Ps B&M Investigates
It has happened before… and will happen again. It comes with the territory and is often seen as a natural extension, a transition, a seamless move from point A to B – ad agency pros jumping over to the clients’ side. Critics, however, are not so sure and believe that the similarities in portfolio are only cosmetic. They point to several who rushed in, tempted “by the glamour, perks and the opportunity to give-it-back” but ended up with egg on their face because they couldn’t read the ‘’! The demands are different and in the end, it just didn’t add up.
This certainly wasn’t the case for ToI’s Rahul Kansal (Director, Branding). Powered with a solid two-decade agency experience, the MBA from IIM Kolkata made the switch in early 2002 and appears totally relaxed, fulfilled and in-control. “It really seemed the right thing to do at that point in time and it’s worked out fine,” Kansal tells 4Ps B&M. No glitches, teething problems, initial nervousness? “No... because I was quite confident of what I was doing, where I was going, where I was coming from and what I needed to bring to the table. I think some of my senior colleagues may have had some reservations – rightly so – but soon, everything fell in place, once I delivered. I saw this new calling as both a huge challenge and an opportunity; and gave it my best,” he adds. Kansal makes no bones about the fact that his high comfort levels with the editorial guys and briefing sessions with ad agency hot-shot creative – Freddy-Naved, Aggie-Paddy – is due to his agency experience. However, he appears very disappointed with the new breed of crossover clients. “Unfocussed, under-qualified, non-serious, even frivolous, it’s all very cosmetic and there seems to be more hollow posturing than real, grounded contribution,” laments Kansal emphatically.
Esha Guha takes the debate to another level. The director of the Delhi-based Concept Advertising is clear that ad-agency experience is certainly no guarantee that “the switch across the table will be meaningful for the agency bloke. The mandate and demands are different, which is why most of these guys are at sea and quickly conform to their organisational blueprint instead of bringing in a fresh, interesting, creative perspective to the communication process which could add value to the brand equity of the organisation’s products/image quotient.” She believes most fail to understand and grapple with the basic difference between “taking a brief and giving a brief!”
Ex-President of McCann and present CEO of Future Brands, Santosh Desai agrees as he tells 4Ps B&M, “Overall, tough as it is to generalise, I’d say that most agency guys don’t make the cut – and the reason is simple. The complex conflict between the person and the role, perception and reality throws them [off]! The simple transition is not so simple after all, leading the been-there, done-that agency smart-guy to confusion of the confounded type!”
Comparatively, non-agency clients have neither the baggage nor the pretence of any game-changer agenda. They bring a no-nonsense kind of direction and have a focus that is devoid of the I-know-what-to-do, but don’t know-how-to-do-it mumbo-jumbo, believes Desai. Disagreeing totally is Naresh Kumar, the Chief Corporate Communication Manager of Power Grid. The youngest professional to hold such a senior position in the PSU domain, he makes no bones about how critical his ad agency background has been in making him an enlightened and clued-in-client, confident in dealing with his 17 ad agencies! “The experience was invaluable and gave me a total understanding of how the publicity machinery operates. Today, no agency guy can fool me about what is possible or not, because they know that I know! Similarly, I know when to blow the whistle when – sometimes – impossible deadlines are demanded by some. My confidence, drive & achievements as a client are largely due to my agency experience. No two ways,” says Kumar.
What better person to articulate the last words in this debate than Agnello Dias, Co-founder & CD of Taproots. Unlike Desai, he is of the belief that generally speaking, the strike-rate has been pretty good and points to some of the star cross-over successes – Rahul Kansal, Punita & Sanjeev, Alex Kuravella, Santosh Desai – to reiterate his stand. However, he is quick to add that “it largely depends on the kind of experience the person had while working in the agency. If it wasn’t fun, exciting and interesting, he/she would be unlikely to bring any real value as a client. If it’s a true collaboration, it could rock!” In fact, from personal experience to their bonding with ToI, and to Kansal (as demonstrated through ToI’s Teach India & Lead India campaigns), all bear testimony to his take “Ours is really more about relationship than partnership. The client-agency line doesn’t exist. It’s living with – not off – each other in this amazing voyage. Yeah sure, I am biased, but can you blame me?” Dias finishes.