Colvyn Harris, who took charge as CEO South Asia (India, Srilanka and Nepal) JWT in September last year, took on added responsibilities for JWT’s Indian companies, including Contract Advertising, Hungama Digital Services, JWT Mindset and Encompass. It hasn’t been a quiet year to put it mildly, and the agency has been in the news for a variety of reasons.
In a free-wheeling chat, Harris talks about the reasons for not appointing a Chief Creative Officer, adopting a frugal approach in spends, retaining talent, and more…
How has the role of an agency evolved in a market that is not as exciting as it used to be?
Firstly, 2013 for India in its economic slowdown has been a terrible year. Our best estimates of what we would do this year are not going the way planned. Client after client at best is doing what they did last year; they are facing pressures on business to perform. India was the land of promise; global companies that had great expectations from India are wondering what is it that has changed about India. Our goal is to ensure our clients achieve their objectives in the best manner advertising can help.
How does JWT become a more effective and strategic partner to clients in times like this?
We definitely want to become more flat, more nimble, and as an agency ensure that we are able to rise to all these challenges.
What are the changes that have been made in order to do this?
What we get remunerated is under pressure. We have to deal with a revenue shortfall and we are more frugal in our spends. It means we are being careful as to how we recruit, the kind of monies we now offer, even how we approach increment and headcount. This does not mean we are not planning for the future; our 2014 plans are fully under way. The challenge we put on our own people is to ensure that the strategy and direction we have taken for our client’s brands is the right one. Things will change. As early as next year, we will see some signs of revival.
Given this scenario, has advertising now become more accountable?
We have always been more accountable; clients make us accountable but it has to be fair accountability.
When senior leadership within the agency leaves, does it worry you that clients will follow them because of a long relationship?
No. Great talent will attract clients, but clients come for a full service agency – an agency which can help them become a brand leader in the future. There is always somebody cheaper and there may always be someone better, but the consolidation of the best capabilities makes large agencies stay where they are. We continue to invest in strategy, digital, training and development. We have been looking out and acquiring companies; for example, JWT Mindset gives us geographical coverage to give local nuanced services. Hungama is by far the best digital company.
Are you looking for a Chief Creative Officer?
No, not at all. In each of our offices we could have 300 or 400 people. We are full service wherever we operate. In a full service, there is head of account management, there is an executive planning director and an executive creative director. For example, today we have 12 ECDS and one NCD in Delhi. From a client’s perspective, we are well staffed in all skill-sets that matter.
Our three NCDS – Tista (Sen), Senthil (Kumar) and Swati (Bhattacharya) – come together in our creative counsel called MOJO. They look at what we are doing, the quality, what we should be doing, great ideas that can be proactively sold to a client, etc. They are able to shortlist talent and good work that we have done and are able to identify work that we don’t like.
How does JWT retain talent in an industry rife with attrition?
In 2013, we haven’t had a talent issue. We have the lowest churn rate of talent. We benchmark for span of three to four years based on APAC parameters, location parameters, skill and discipline parameters. The churn is the most in the account management department in junior levels. In creative, the churn has gone down drastically. In planning, we are possibly the only agency that has 44 people.
Which is JWT’S best campaign in 2013, according to you?
Nike India's ‘Parallel Journeys’ film. It was also the most awarded.