Entrepreneurship is not a new phenomenon in the creative industry anymore. Many creative mavericks have left cushy jobs, started ventures, built successful shops from scratch, made name for themselves and are an apple of every investor’s eyes today. A new name that has been added to the list is Vandana Katoch, who has quit after 16 long years in the industry to create ‘Clayground’. In her career, she has worked on prominent brands such as Domino’s Pizza, Dabur, Jaypee Group (Corporate, Power, Cement, Edible Oil, Infratech), Wrigley’s, Del Monte, Honda and ITC, to name a few. In interaction with exchange4media, she talks about her ‘calling’, challenges and more...
What has been the most memorable moment during your stint in the advertising industry?
Well, there have been several but there’s one from the recent past that is special. I was sitting at the dentist with my little one, waiting for his turn. This was at a time when I was seriously toying with the idea of going independent. There was a bunch of magazines lying about and I picked up an old issue of Femina. The page I opened spoke about people who had started out on their own, which was a nice coincidence. But the last line of the paragraph blew me. It used the tagline I had coined several years ago for the very client who was now encouraging me to start up! The ‘no dream too big’ line had come back full circle in some inexplicable way to nudge me to realise my own dream. For me, it was a sign.
What was the motivation behind starting on your own?
The idea had been brewing for a while but in a ‘I'll-do-it-one-day’ kind of way. I was still enjoying agency life and wasn't in any real hurry. Then an opportunity came knocking and I realised it was time. I didn’t yet fully understand the business aspect of running a company but in my heart I had crossed the bridge over to the other side. Starting out on your own is empowering and exciting and at times overwhelming. Natasha Bedingfield captures it beautifully in her song 'Unwritten,' which incidentally plays quite often on my Mac!
Take us through the journey of coming up with the idea of Clayground, the thought process behind it, challenges that you faced while working on it, and finally seeing it taking shape.
When you're creating something from scratch, I think it is important to look inside and be true to who you are, instead of trying to be what others consider is cool and happening. I like to approach work also in a similar way. The name is a toss-up between the words 'clay' and 'playground' – in other words, substance mixed with fun. We’d like to build Clayground as a place where the process of creation is playful and fun, while at the heart of it is something solid. For me, creativity begins with a truth or an insight and then one plays with it and enjoys the process. If either is missing, the work doesn't tick.
The start-up phase is a great teacher. I have learnt more in the last few months than I have in years. As a creative person in a big agency, you tend to live a cocooned life. Now you’re out in the open and facing the elements. It’s hugely exciting.
There have been several start-ups in the Capital recently. What would give Clayground an edge?
Every start-up is as unique as the people running it. What experience, values, learning and talent they bring along with them is what makes the agency different. Clayground will reflect the values that my team and I bring with us. Our core strength is a deep sense of ownership of our clients’ brands. Their success or failure is our success or failure. And that is the motivation for us to do the work that we do. ‘Build, don’t battle’ is something I learnt along the way (from Umesh Shrikhande, Contract’s CEO and a person I admire). So often we waste our energies battling to prove that the other person is wrong when we can focus those energies to build something great together.
What, according to you, is the reason behind many people in the industry starting on their own and leaving large companies?
In many cases it was a question of ‘what next’ after spending a reasonable number of years in the industry. Also, people are spotting potential in small and medium businesses that need communication partners and the network agencies don’t seem a viable option for them. Moreover, seeing the success of those who took the plunge a few years ago is giving more people the confidence to step out.
Do you think there is enough business for all?
That only time will tell. It may be Gandhian to say ‘There’s enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed’ but there is some truth in it. Also, growth needn’t come only by getting more and more accounts. You could also nurture a few key accounts and help them grow and in turn grow yourself.
Tell us about your first client and how did it come about?
Clayground’s first client is Jaypee Group. I’ve been working as a creative person on the account for six years now, over two agencies. A few months ago I got a call from the client asking if I had considered turning entrepreneur. I was happy when Jaypee gave me the opportunity to start up by offering to be my first client. We’re on the roster of the agencies that Jaypee works with and look forward to doing projects across its different verticals.
How do you describe the work that will come out of Clayground?
Honest, insightful, engaging and conversational.
What edge do brands have when they are working with smaller agencies/shops as compared to larger networks?
Well, for starters, they get the undivided attention of the senior who otherwise would be juggling several brands in a larger agency. A smaller shop peels away all the layers so that it’s a closer, one-on-one relationship with the client and that can work wonders for the brand. Moreover, anyone who starts up has spent enough years in a large agency to know what pitfalls to avoid in a client-agency relationship in the new set-up.
Where do we see Clayground five years from now?
Doing some good work, getting talked about now and then, with a bunch of happy, talented, motivated employees and a healthy portfolio of brands we’ve helped build. While this may be a broad vision for the future, in truth, I’m a more here and now person. I believe if you give your all to the job at hand, the future takes care of itself.