Heated arguments transpired between industry leaders on ‘value’ issues at the Advertising Conclave at Goa. Saatchi and Saatchi’s V Shantakumar and Vodafone’s Harit Nagpal started off with an interesting satire on the typical dealings between agencies and clients, and how need for the business and lack of understanding had led to the relations that we saw today. Nagpal took the session forward saying that to understand and get down to the depth of people, and the issues, we needed to really understand the clients business first. What was the environment that the client was working in, and how a difference could be made to him.
Problem of value and respect, and the system
This discussion, too, went back to the problems being in value and respect. Shantakumar said, “We haven’t dealt with the most fundamental problem – how do we value these transactions? We should examine very clearly what are we being paid for, what should we be doing that would give us more. What is the clear value we generate?”
According to Shantakumar, one of the problems was that agencies hadn’t evolved in the last many years. The term ‘agency’ itself was Victorian that referred to brokers, and not to what agencies thought they were, which was, facilitators, discounts and commissions. He said, “The word ‘commission’ itself is insulting and demeaning – it is Nineteenth Century terminology. Apart from real estate agents, commodity brokers and arms dealers, no one uses this term.”
“The first thing that needs to be done is to get away from the idea on being linked to spends. Because this is transactional, it also creates distrust. The basic point here is accountability again, and if you don’t get yourself in that space, how are you a partner?” he asked. Shantakumar also spoke about the strengths of the relation of the brand and the consumer, and that the move had to be to create ideas and properties.
Harit Nagpal added here that as a client he had stopped calling agencies for long term meetings. He said, “I cannot recall the last time when I called the agency for long term plans, or next year’s budget plans. We are not doing this out of habit, as they never showed the interest. When agencies listen to what we have to say, they really listen and they come back with sharp questions. We have lost out in the bargain for sure.”
Shantakumar remarked that in the bid to be a ‘kalakar’, agencies had got too caught up in the science of advertising than the art. He admitted that from the face of it, agencies had become more of ‘kaarigars’. He also said that the agencies hadn’t been able to build a brand for themselves.
The discussion also saw the two leaders speak on loyalty to clients versus loyalty to brands, and questioned whether agencies had made any investments to the success of brands. Nagpal said, “You bring the strategy, the framework and the partners bring the specialisation. We don’t create objectives for the partner. We have created a deliverable for the partner. When it’s a partnership of people, then what are the equals that we both bring to the table?”
The discussion left people mulling on these points, but were solutions coming forth – we think not, for the moment.