Whilst talent moving to the client side of the business is an eternal tale of woe for the creative industry, there have been an increased number of agencies acknowledging the advantages and benefits of recruiting talent from smaller cities (tier II and III).
It is quite natural for individuals from art schools and literature courses in Madurai, Coimbatore, Trichy, Trivandrum, Cochin, etc. to move to Chennai and approach JWT Chennai or Ogilvy Bangalore for placement. But as part of a natural progression, the same talent wants to move to larger cities such as Mumbai or Delhi after a few years to get better opportunities and higher salaries.
Interestingly, reversing this trend, a number of leading agencies are seen making a proactive approach in recruiting talent from smaller cities. Last year, Lowe Lintas & Partners chose to take a different route for its Apprenticeship Program; the agency tapped into potential talent from institutes and colleges in smaller cities such as Aligarh, Chandigarh, Guwahati, Jakhama, Mangalore, Ranchi, and Shillong, instead of walking on the well trodden path of recruitment from B schools.
The initiative saw a participation of over 3000 applicants. Of the total applicants, 23 selected students had the opportunity to train for 18 months at Lowe. Basis their performance and ability to excel on the job, these apprentices stood a chance to secure a permanent job at the agency. During their apprenticeship, the students were provided with a stipend along with accommodation in Mumbai. Out of these, the agency has eight trainees join the creative team and two have joined the film production unit.
“We are quite happy with the way they are shaping up. They have interesting inputs and add texture to the work. The Indian market is opening up and fast expanding to smaller cities and towns. We cannot ignore the fantastic sea of talent that is available here; on the same note, we are not saying there is no talent in the urban areas,” commented Arun Iyer, National Creative Director, Lowe Lintas & Partners.
Internet and satellite television has exposed youth to another possible career option within the creative domain. Thirty years ago, there was only Bollywood. Today advertising, radio and television industries provide lucrative career options.
“As far as the agencies are concerned, we need talent and the best unpolished talent comes from smaller towns. Today more than 90 per cent of the work is created in vernacular media; therefore, kids from smaller towns bring in fresh relevant insights and passion to succeed. We had already experimented with this strategy; half of our young CDs are from smaller towns such as Jhansi, Bhopal and Allahabad. We are now embarking on a huge recruitment and training drive. We would be launching India's first ever copy test in Hindi next month,” shared KV Sridhar, Chief Creative Officer, Leo Burnett India and Subcontinent.
Santosh Padhi, Chief Creative Officer and Co-Founder, Taproot India echoes the same sentiments, “Talent from smaller cities are hungrier for opportunities, more dedicated, passionate and inspired. We are now reaching the bottom of the pyramid and need to reach out to people who talk the language, as well as bring freshness with behavioural insights.”
Though the agencies agree on the virtues of talent from smaller cities, they are quite clear that though recruiting from small towns does have its definite advantages, it is not a sure short method to guarantee success in the creative field.
“Most creative people in our country are rooted in their local cultures and draw inspiration from their Indianisms. And even the ones who are lucky to be born in the bigger cities have travelled the length and breadth of the country and know the various nuances of small towns by heart and soul. It, however, helps if you know more than one language and understand the myriad differences in the various cultures of India to create communication that cuts across all the states and languages of India. I don't think that you need to be born or have lived in a small town to understand it best and if that is the criteria for creative hires,” said Senthil Kumar, National Creative Director, JWT India.
“Moreover, you could also be from a smaller town and be unaware of everything about the region. There is a myth that people in cities don’t understand people in smaller cities, talent from smaller cities adds dynamism to your talent mix. Our industry is getting more complex and in many ways this infuses freshness into the creative team,” added Iyer of Lowe Lintas & Partners.
Sridhar feels that in advertising, people who have the ability to connect with people are needed and this can only happen if they have lived and understood the real middle class India. There are a million Dhonis waiting to be discovered. Brands are seeking people who understand people and know how to tell an engaging story.
Is the trend driven by a business need?
There is no denying that there is indeed a hunger, a fresh perspective, a distinctive bubbling of enthusiasm and passion, cultural nuances and insights that talent from tier II and tier III cities bring, but the question is whether recruitment of talent from these cities is also driven by a business need?
“A lot of good creative guys and planning people have come from the smaller cities. For us, it is a business need for our experiential business. I have observed in the last decade that people coming in from advertising are from tier II and III cities. These people have a fancy to marketing and advertising as a route to get there. Clients want people who understand the DNA of the consumer, not necessarily in creative but it could be planning as well,” observed Pratap Bose, COO, DDB Mudra Group.
As brands scale up their business and reach smaller towns, it seems to be inevitable that we will see an increased number of youth from smaller cities enter the advertising industry and live their dreams. It is also a win-win situation from the agency perspective as such talent is also more economically viable than talent recruited from urban cities.
“Finally, this business is not about money and fame; it is all about passion for life and using creativity to solve communication problems. After all, hunger, passion and talent make all the difference, no matter where you come from,” concluded Sridhar.
Hopefully, this passion and hunger will give the industry more Prasoon Joshis and Piyush Pandeys who can pave the way and encourage young talent from smaller cities to emerge.