While senior level movements are nothing new, the ad industry has been witness to quite a few high profile exits in recent times. Till sometime back these exits were mostly restricted to creative people who left the set structure of an agency to set up creative boutiques that gave them the freedom to be on their own and look at brands in a holistic way. Now, this development seems to be catching up with media heads and the suits in the creative business, who are quitting jobs where they have spent almost close to two decades, and most of them have plans to be on their own.
Divya Radhakrishnan, President, TME, the media arm of Rediffusion recently put in her papers after an eight-year stint with the agency. And she is not alone. Suman Srivastava, CEO, Euro RSCG India; Mahesh Chauhan, Group CEO, Rediffusion; and Ravi Kiran, CEO, South East & South Asia, Starcom MediaVest Group (SMG), are some of the big names to have made their exits in recent times.
In the creative space, one had earlier seen Raj Kurup setting up CreativeLand Asia, Agnello Dias and Santosh Padhi founding TapRoot India, Manish Bhatt and Raghu Bhat launching Scarecrow Communications, and most recently, Priti Nair starting her own venture called Curry-Nation. While these are some of the successful new beginnings, there is another aspect where one has not seen or heard anything of many such intended agency launches. The truth being that starting and gaining one or two businesses is easy, but to sustain that momentum in the long term business is an altogether different ballgame. Hence, we do have cases where people have shut shop and gone back to a regular agency set-up after having a taste of being on their own.
For those who have spent considerable time in the industry and have reached the pinnacle in the leadership role that an agency set-up provides, the move from the agency, even though surprising, is just a step ahead in one’s career path. In many cases, it is either a jump to the corporate side or starting something on their own. After all, being at the helm of affairs has also given these professionals a brand equity for themselves.
For example, Suman Srivastava, CEO, Euro RSCG India, has been in the industry for nearly 23 years and is now moving out. There is a strong possibility that he will be venturing out on his own, which he has neither denied nor confirmed. On his decision, Srivastava said, “For me, personally this is a good time to move as Euro RSCG has done well, and if one has to move, then why not when the agency is on a high. These decisions are more a career decision, where you have been a CEO for the last five years and there is a feeling of been there done that. It is also about the right time and the fact of things falling in place.”
Radhakrishnan of TME has been in the media business for the last 24 years and has decided to move out recently and look at a fresh beginning. She said, “I have seen all sorts of changes in the media industry, but for the last few years, I felt that the business has become only about deal making. Nothing wrong with that, but this approach cannot be the be-all and end-all of the business. I am still proud to be a part of this industry, though I feel that the excitement that this business gave has gone now.”
She added, “This has been an extremely difficult decision for me as being a South Indian and that too an Iyer, the place that I would have been would probably be a bank, but here I was in the advertising industry just because of the passion and excitement that this opportunity provided. I think all the pitches that we did in 2010 – and believe me they were quite a few – opened my eyes to the reality.”
Mahesh Chauhan, who is currently at home in Bangalore (as his status says) and chilling at on a sabbatical, has not thought about what he would do in future, though he does admit that the idea to be on his own has crossed his mind several times, and not just now but even earlier. On the decision to move, he said, “There is an emotional fatigue and I felt that there was stagnation. The passion for my work, which describes me in lot of ways, has been missing and my work had ceased to be an enjoyment. Right now, there is no handle and no flow to the life, but I do believe clarity will emerge out of this.”
Being on one’s own
While Chauhan mentioned the thought of being on his own, Radhakrishnan has gone ahead and actually planned a plunge alone. She plans to be on her own and sees this opportunity as no less than an ad-venture. She said, “For creatives who decide to be on their own, it’s probably easy as they can walk out of the agency and start on their own, relying on their brain. But for media, you need to spend on research, which is huge and also requires cash flow.”
Though Srivastava of Euro RSCG India does not agree on the cash aspect for starting on one’s own, especially for the media, but he does agree that the market certainly is conducive to allowing people to be on their own. He added, “There is also a change where even big clients are amenable to go to a boutique agency than opting for a big agency as the former promises to give better focus to the clients’ business needs because of the small set-up.”
Been there done that
Manish Bhatt, who has been on his own along with his partners at Scarecrow, says that the decision to be on his own has been worth the while. He said, “The kind of growth we have seen in the last 11 months is something we had never anticipated. Advertising for advertising sake does not work in today’s scenario, but we have to take a holistic approach to understand and deliver brands communication. It’s been a rewarding journey barring initial hiccups like getting an office space and making it the way we want it to be. We have talent approaching us who want to work with us. The success and growth have been reassuring and generated huge amount of confidence in the way we have envisaged.”
Adding her perspective, Rekha Jacob Koshy, Director, Media and Entertainment, Accord Group India, said, “I think currently there is a wind of entrepreneurship that’s blowing in the industry. There are many in the industry who have had successful careers in the industry and are looking at what could be their second innings. The environment is such that the idea of entrepreneurship is actually translating into successful business entities. These are also people who have had successful innings and are confident enough that their name is a brand in itself and can attract talent as well as business.”
Nithya David, Proprietor of Upstream - Human Resource Solutions and HR Consultancy, which does hiring for corporate and specially ad agencies, said, “Advertising is a glamorous job, but it can be frustrating for people in the client servicing, who often feel that the credit is taken by creative people. Also, clients themselves have realised that creative people bring to the table few advantages that a regular marketing person may lack, hence their openness to hire from ad agency.”
She added, “Recent trend has also been of many small agencies mushrooming in the city and they have been doing very well for themselves. In fact, we often get requests from people who would want to switch to a small agency than being lost in the crowd in a big agency.”