Friday, July 12, 2013


4Ps B&M examines an issue that continues to plague the industry … but remains its worst kept secret! Is it normal industry practice or over-reactions from the creative dilettantes?

As a curtain-raiser, a brief flashback to what one of my earliest gurus – the late, iconic Subhash Ghoshal – told us when we were about to get started as trainees in the JWT Kolkata of the early 70s, would be in order. “We are in the service industry and exist only because of our clients. Never forget that.” He also made it clear that the jobs of the two were clearly demarcated. “Our job is to understand everything about his product and communication requirement and offer him cutting-edge need-based solutions. The client is to clearly define his needs and pose challenges that charge us to offer communication that catches lightning in a bottle!” Since creativity was the driving force, opinions – informed, focused, sharp, insightful as well as frivolous, stupid, dismissive, even downright rude – he warned us, would fly, but it was critical that we retain our cool and dignity befitting our role as good ambassadors of both JWT, and the profession. However, it was equally critical that we don’t “cave-in, sell-out or play yes-men to any/everything the client says because we are not suppliers but consultants – collaborators and equal-partners on the same side, united in the common agenda of informing, educating, persuading and selling the product/service to the target group.”

That was titan-speak, but today, in year 2013, does client-interference happen as frequently and does it still embrace the charming definition of “the insanity of barking when you have a dog!” Let’s face it, advertising – like Bollywood – is a nervous space, forever driven by frenzied guesswork, hunches, buzz, hearsay, whatever. Pecking to death a perfectly well-formulated and approved idea, is not unknown, nor the client “perching on our damn shoulders like some goddamned nagging conscience” as one fatigued creative put it. “They should stop being C-grade writers & art directors and concentrate on playing the role of an inspirational impresario instead,” adds another. Tongue-firmly in cheek, ex-JWT Creative Director Dulu Sen lets fly a zinger: “As the great H. G. Wells once wrote, no passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone’s draft!”

Power Grid’s Naresh Kumar fires the first salvo offering an interesting client-perspective. “The answer has to be a yes and no! Yes, because there are definite instances – both in the PSUs and private sector – where clients are more opinionated than professionally evolved and bring this to bear on the job. Due to this inadequacy, they prefer to play safe, toe traditional lines and go for consensus instead of taking the lead and responsibility to break new ground in terms of joint-collaboration towards creating meaningful, interesting yet relevant communications.” However, as an ex mass-com student with advertising agency experience, Kumar prides himself in being a thorough professional with a solid, two-decade experience of successfully handling the entire gamut of PSU communication portfolio. “This has resulted in awards and being recognised as a communication practitioner of real worth, enjoying high comfort levels with every Ad agency I have ever interacted with, leading to excellent work. We both know where we are coming from so there’s mutual respect, total transparency and zero bullshitting – something bound to happen when clients are clueless and opinionated allowing agencies to play shrewd supplier and move on,” he tells 4Ps B&M.

Next-up is Delhi-based agency Perfect 10’s Creative Director Moon Moon Dhar with her own take. “Client interference – especially in the PSU orbit – frequently happens when the wires are crossed!” She explains that many times the key honchos representing clients at a presentation are not from the communication discipline and therefore lack the required understanding, perspective, direction or appreciation of this special calling. They bring technical or financial aspects which – usually – are irrelevant to the presentation focus and confuse the issue. Sometimes, they insist that these elements be incorporated … and agencies give in because they feel its not worth fighting for. “Look, we are not here to change the world. It’s often no more than just a dumb job for a dumb client! However, there have been instances when clients have been brilliantly pro-active and their inspirational direction, guidance and mentoring have resulted in magic! Alas, these are few and far between…” she tells 4Ps B&M.