As the BBDO India Chairman and National Creative Director, Josy Paul has a tall list of expectations to execute but for now, that doesn’t appear to worry him much. In a freewheeling conversation over breakfast with exchange4media, Paul spoke on what has kept the agency busy in the last 18 months, the thought process at the agency that did not push it to enter in any advertising awards yet, and the establishing of a culture that though is led by creative exploration, is still evolving to fulfil the promise of a differentiated offering in the Indian advertising space.
The structure of the agency is now in place – the top order comprises Paul and BBDO India CEO Ajai Jhala. They are supported by Vice Presidents in new business and strategic planning domains and three Executive Creative Directors. The agency’s reporting line is essentially to Singapore.
Some of the key clients that the agency handles include 7-UP and Nimboos from PepsiCo (Paul is quick to add the brand names, lest, he says, JWT would get “upset”) and Quaker Oats from Pepsi Foods, which he states is a large player in the south with the ambition of all India. The Delhi office of BBDO India also handles Hewlett-Packard and Gillette had walked in two months back. Other clients for the agency include GE Worldwide and Bayer Healthcare. The BBDO India Mumbai office has Real as one of its key clients. “There is a process of change that is going on at the company right now, and we are part of that,” added Paul. The agency is also doing a lot of Zubin Mehta work.
He informed that BBDO had support from various regional heads on accounts such as PepsiCo, HP and Gillette. For now the plans are to strengthen the Mumbai and Delhi offices instead of expanding into other markets. Is the agency on track from a business growth point of view? Paul replied that the agency is neither outstanding nor poor on that count but the mandate for now it to “make a mark from the creative perspective”.
The BBDO culture & the fight with content creators than creative agencies
Sipping on his coffee, Paul took a moment before responding to what is the BBDO culture. He then said, “How do you answer that? Culture is something that evolves -- it is not theory but practice led by how people at the top behave. For BBDO India, it is a fusion of many cultures. It is where BBDO is, combined with what my experience, as the guy who set up David for Ogilvy, brought to the table and finally where advertising is headed - you take a little learning from everywhere.”
The BBDO global culture is led by creative exploration, where everyone is focussed on new creative thoughts. Paul was clear that that creative equality was one of the cornerstones of BBDO India as well. “It was the same thing that I followed at David too,” he said.
And yet BBDO India has been very quiet on platforms such as advertising awards. “We have not entered anywhere,” stated Paul. He added, “We do not believe we are ready for awards yet. We did not want to start an agency on the back of a Cannes Lions, or ready-fix creative solutions. We understand that awards game, and we would play it too but before that, our objective is that someone one day says that the early work of BBDO made us think on where the industry was going.”
Paul confessed that that had not started yet, and that it would take time, since the agency needed a wider client base for that but the overall thought process to get there is not by completing with the Ogilvy, JWT or Lowe, but by competing with the like of CNN IBN, NDTV and Aaj Tak. He said, “Advertising is fighting with content and you have to match content. We have to fight with compelling content like news channels that generate word of mouth and inspire discussions. I do not see any agency thinking in that direction right now but we believe that advertising needs to make a mark in the social fabric and the brands need to contribute to news.”
Working with Ajai Jhala & Learning from Mahatma Gandhi
Paul put his knife and fork down when we came to this part of our conversation, and in a rather proud demeanour, he stated, “I sought Ajai out! We knew each other first in college, and then at Lintas but we had never worked together. One day I had had a dream about Ajai, and I asked a few people for his number. Ajai was in London at the time, and he was very excited when I had first made this proposition to him. He came down to India, and we had an eight-hour drinking session at Indigo in Mumbai. Chris (Thomas, CEO, BBDO Asia) thought it was a great idea too and that was it,” said Paul.
He added, “Ajai is everything that I am not – his strength is in global expertise and world view. He has handled giant brands in Unilever, created brands like Pepsodent and Close up in India, and has a great sense of what makes clients comfortable with agencies. Our approach to situations is similar and therefore it is easy for us to collaborate. I am the servant leader - I follow. In many cases, I just play the role of the mad creative and Ajai is the Chairman and CEO!”
The only other person that Paul was this excited while talking about was Mahatma Gandhi. Like many other agencies, Paul and Jhala are also confining to travelling economy for now. Paul said to that, “I will probably start taking the train now. I had recently visited the Sabarmati Ashram and I am very influenced by Gandhi. He was the best integrated advertising man in the country, the best inspiration on how to communicate to grass-root level. Now with brands moving in that direction, there is a lot to learn from him.”
The discussion drifted to various other topics from there but Paul couldn’t end the conversation without coming back to BBDO. His parting comment was, “I still do not know what BBDO stands for – I keep telling it is Bill Bernbach and David Ogilvy, and so we have the best of both, but the ‘O’ in BBDO should stand for Osmosis. Right now everyone at the agency is connected with the world outside -- I have never seen such intense collaboration. It is a bit like being in a joint family.”