Thursday, February 24, 2011

Do Agency Guys Make For ‘Better’ Clients?

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.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Booming Delhi Adbiz Has No AD Film-Maker To Speak Of!

A Rocking Adscene. A High-end, Classy, Client roster. A Whopping Adspend… But ooops, Zilch in The Ad Film-maker and Production House Area!

When I moved from Kolkata to Delhi in 1978, it was pretty much – certainly in the ad space – a village trying like hell to ape a city! Hardly a single mainline ad agency thought it worthwhile to have a full-service branch in what they condescendingly dismissed as a “sarkari, PSU-centric city”. It was either a solitary representative or a small skeletal branch to establish a ‘presence’, with the taskforce flying in to take the brief, do the job, make the presentation before hot-footing back to Mumbai! One of my late bosses regularly threatened, warned, begged us to ensure that we booked his air passage “back to Mumbai, ASAP!” The fact is, back then, compared to Mumbai and even Kolkata – then hub of multinats – Delhi was boondocks terrain and just “a great place to get a letter from, son,” as mockingly described by a Mumbai hot-shot.

Asian Games & colour TVs in 1984 marked the turning point; and thereafter, the zoom North (pun intended!) was unstoppable! Today, with Gurgaon being the locale for an astonishing number of red-hot, globally-revered clients along with almost all, major multinational agencies (fully-staffed) totally equipped to deal with every segment of communication requirement, Delhi/Gurgaon takes on Mumbai anytime in the ad sweepstakes! Ironically, it is the Mumbai guys who now need to come here for client meetings – not the other way around! However, amazingly, the one area in this advantage-Delhi juggernaut that remains totally unaddressed is the ad film scene! The Delhi ad-universe reportedly commissions around 1,000 TVCs a year – mostly from the FMCG and auto sector – but how many are made in Delhi? Isn’t there, despite a booming top-of-the-line ad activity and environment, even one worthy, respected ad film-maker (like Prahlad Kakkar, Prasun Pandey, Abhinay Deo, Vinil Kumar, Amit Sharma, et al ) or production house who can respond professionally to a Pepsi, Coke, Airtel, Sony, P&G, Maruti, Mercedes or Toyota brief and deliver a TVC, made-in-Delhi, as good as the ones made in Mumbai?

“No! And the reason is historical.” This is Kolkata-based filmmaker Jeet Choudhury. He believes that unlike Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai – cities with a proven cinema-making culture – Delhi is without any similar background or DNA. Also, unlike the IT or BPO industry (quintessential Delhi landmarks), filmmaking is not something that you can acquire overnight and make a mark in, nor is this field simply about machines and hardware. As per him, it’s about individuals, drives, mindsets, a special brand of evolved creativity demanding a very special skill set, which does not lend itself to the character or nature of a city like Delhi, which remains a definitive political city, a trader’s city, a Doordarshan space! Respected and hot Mumbai-based ad filmmaker Abhijit Chaudhari, for his turn, sees no reason why ad film-makers should go out of their way “to re-invent the wheel”. In fact, he cites the example of the established, age-old Bollywood and ad-film scene existing in Mumbai for the last six decades (if not more), ready with every conceivable trick in the book in terms of service. “Why would any sane professional suddenly attempt to get adventurous and try some silly, risky, stuff? Besides, even if some guy with deep pockets and manic desire wishes to put Delhi on the TVC map, it’s going to take a long time to establish the credibility required to match Mumbai,’’ Chaudhari tells 4Ps B&M.

Sandeep Marwah blows the whistle loud and hard and rubbishes these claims. As the moving force behind Noida’s Marwah Studios, he reels off a list of ad films that have been shot in his studio. “That much for limited infrastructure and equipment! My staff and I also have frequently helped in locating the right professionals – like art directors etc. to do the job for them. The problem lies elsewhere… star- convenience and preference,” says Marwah. He adds that stars (film-stars or cricketers who seem to be doing most of the endorsements) are crazily busy people and therefore often request the ad-film guys to shoot at the location they are working in. For film stars, it’s Mumbai. For cricketers, it’s wherever… that’s the real reason!

Delhi-based film-maker Ishani Dutta adds to this pro-Delhi chant with passion and purpose as she tells 4Ps B&M, “Actually, it is a matter of perception and branding. While admittedly Mumbai has a definite history of B-town and ad-films, we continue to do excellent work in the docu and corporate film space; and given an opportunity – along with the right backing and encouragement – would definitely be able to produce the goods. Fact is, we live in an age of brands and Brand Mumbai totes up, values – real and imagined – that rate high in the glamour and professionalism quotient for the ad frat.” She is convinced that like the feature filmmakers homing-in on Delhi, the ad guys will follow too. “Great value at an economical price is our USP; and sooner or later, they will realise that Brand Delhi is a worthwhile brand too,” says Dutta definitively.

The last words however must be reserved for someone who actually ran a very successful ad-film unit (Apocalypso) with his partner Pradeep Sarkar in Delhi around a decade ago. Shovon Chowdhury, Strategic Planning Director of the Delhi-based ad agency Street-life is focused and lays it on the line. “Let’s face it. Most talented ad filmmakers invariably dream of making a feature film some day; and sooner or later, gravitate to Bollywood. Also, in terms of scope and scale even in the advertising space, Mumbai is matchless. For clients, be it easy access to infrastructure, skilled, trained technicians, professionalism, Mumbai remains streets ahead. Hence, why would any evolved, savvy or informed client/agency bother to look elsewhere?” says Chowdhury. He admits that their ad film production company did good work and rocked for a while “but soon, predictably, the exodus to Mumbai began and you can’t run a quality production house without quality people…” Case closed, decision sealed, Mumbai it is... for now!