With the ad industry in the grip of the economic slowdown, several agencies have gone on cost-cutting drive, freezing recruitments and putting on hold several plans. But there is also a breed of admen, who have found opportunities amid such tough times and are venturing out on their own – Agnello Dias, Santosh Padhi (both JWT), Sukumar Menon (Leo Burnett), Jagdish Acharya (Mudra). A look at what drives these men to buck the trend.
Already creating a buzz in the industry is the duo of Agnello ‘Aggi’ Dias and Santosh ‘Paddy’ Padhi, who have generated quite a bit of curiosity about their new venture. Aggi, formerly with JWT, was instrumental in India getting her first Cannes Grand Prix. Paddy had done wonders for the Luxor campaign.
Elaborating on the reasons for embarking on their own, Aggi said, “I thought it was the right time – and when Paddy and I took the decision, recession had definitely not set in – to do something on my own after working in an agency set-up for 18 years. Both of us clearly see this as an attempt to try something different on a personal level and not in defiance of the big agency model at all.”
Jagdish Acharya, former Executive Creative Director with Mudra DDB, called it a day at the agency and started off with his own creative shop, Cut the Crap (CTC). Acharya started off his career with Mudra and has worked with clients like Reliance ADAG, Lipton, and Johnson & Johnson, among others.
According to Acharya, “Achievements in these times get underlined in bold. Also, some bright minds are ready to be put to work as they find themselves underdrawn during a slowdown. I could put together a kind of team I couldn’t have in the agency I worked for, even during the better times.”
Sukumar Menon, former ECD with Leo Burnett, is ready with his new agency – Black Swan Life. On why he chose the slowdown period to embark on new venture, Menon explained, “Black Swan Life would have started despite the slowdown. And the clients would have questioned the prevalent order despite the slowdown. It was inevitable. The slowdown has made it more urgent.”
Menon is of the opinion that everything that is process-driven in an agency, a lot of clients have already found a way of handling it directly. According to him, this saved them money and most importantly time, and they were in control of it as well However putting his point straight, he said, “The one thing that the client can’t put a process to is the ‘process of ideation’. And if I can come up with a model that gives the client quality work at a cost that will make them grin ear to ear because we are lean, hungry and don’t have any unnecessary overheads, then I don’t see a reason why I can’t be tried out. So, incidental as it may be, there couldn’t be a better time than this slowdown to start shop.”
Also joining this breed is Brijesh Jacob, former Executive Creative Director with Grey Worldwide. Jacob already has two ventures – a specialised digital agency called 22 Feet, and a full service agency, White Canvas. He partners as Managing Partner with the two founders, Deepak Nair and Vinod Moolacherry.
As for the size of business that they seek, for Aggi it is not too large because then it would mean they cannot work on anything else. He explained, “Small to medium and definitely entrepreneurial-minded, ambitious clients who are looking for disruptive progress. If a client is happy with maintaining the status quo he currently has, I really don’t see why he needs to look at us or anybody else.”
Menon is looking at Black Swan Life getting involved with their clients business as much as they can to understand it better and come up with high impact solutions. He said, “So, we are not looking at many, but a few like-minded clients.”
Menon felt that the only real struggle would be to get a platform to pitch an idea. “After that, it is what you bring to the table that matters to the client. Yes, there’s a fear of not attracting enough business, but that’s not just with start-ups alone,” he added.
Aggi too admitted, “Yes, there is a fear of not attracting enough business. If big agencies have them, why should we be immune? I guess clients would see the body of work that Paddy and I have in arriving at a decision – I hope they do – and not just go by the fact that technically it is a start-up. After all, agencies are made up of people, not deeds of incorporation.”
‘Show me the slowdown’
As the creative minds venture out with their dreams and ambitions, the big daddies are happy to see the talent moving out. exchange4media catches up with the most looked upon creative big daddies of advertising on their views as to the reason for many of the admen venturing out with their own creative shops despite the slowdown and financial crunch.
KV Sridhar (better (known as Pops), National Creative Director, Leo Burnett, explained, “The reason why people want to start their own agency set-up is not necessarily a rational decision, but most often an emotional one. People start because they want to chase a dream or they are tired of the establishment.”
Giving instances of Leo Burnett, John Hegarty and Mohammad Khan, Pops reasoned that the three individuals starting off with their own agencies was the same rational why Dias and Padhi were starting today.
On the slowdown issue, he categorically stated, “I do not think slowdown will affect the start-up, in fact, it may help them to grab business more easily as the clients would be looking for cheaper and better options.”
On similar lines, Prasoon Joshi, Regional Creative Director for South and Southeast Asia, McCann Erickson, observed, “This trend is not about slowdown. People are not thinking much about the slowdown. The opportunities in India are not less. All said and done, our GDP is still not showing signs of worry. So, I don’t think people are that much worried about the slowdown that they would not venture out. However, few people are more ambitious right now and they would realise the effect of slowdown little later.”
Joshi further said that it would be a bold step to venture out if the slowdown prevailed, because most of the clients were going to stick to their agencies. “I would say a start-up has as many challenges as they would have had in the absence of a slowdown. Probably there would be some additional challenges in terms of slowdown. However, I don’t think it is any unique situation to why most of the creative professionals are embarking on new ventures. It is their dream and they are following it,” he added.