Shubha George enjoys setting up organizations, and has been doing so with elan all through her career. She readily admits that it was one of the reasons that made her take up the opportunity of setting up Red Fuse, WPP’s full-service integrated global agency dedicated to serving all of Colgate-Palmolive’s brands worldwide in India .
“I do enjoy and thrive on setting up organizations,” says George, who was recently elevated to MD of Red Fuse Asia in addition to her role as CEO, Red Fuse India.
Red Fuse is on WPP’s top priority list, and that does help George. “I knew I was doing a job that was important to WPP, so it was not something that was just there. I had worked in full-service, so I knew that there were many aspects that were good about it. And of course, being a key priority for WPP, it was the right thing to do,” observes George, a true blue WPP-ite.
She has donned multiple hats in her career, and a new challenge is not something that worries her: “I am fortunate that I have got these opportunities within WPP, that I could progress my career within the group,” she says.
So what happens if a new challenge or opportunity comes her way after this? “Depends on what it is. I just started the Asia job, so that’s a new challenge,” she replies.
George is no stranger to setting up new organizations. Way back in 2001-2002, as the GM of Mindshare Bengaluru, she had to get the office up and running.
Then came setting up MEC and Red Fuse. George believes the leader of an integrated team should definitely have an open mind and be embracing of different types of talent and working styles. At the same time, the leader should be able to give the team space and energy to do their best.
The biggest high for George at Red Fuse has been that the unit was up and running seamlessly within the first six months as one integrated team.
Self-confessedly not one to look at the long term, George aims to confidently say at the end of the year that she is well established with regards to her additional remit and has made a positive change to the overall business for Colgate-Palmolive in Asia.
Edited excerpts from a free-wheeling chat Shubha George, Managing Director- Red Fuse Asia & CEO -India had with Priyanka Mehra on different levels of collaboration and partnership between Colgate and Red Fuse, why Red Fuse has made her a better practitioner of her craft, her new responsibility and method of integrating all WPP resources to give brand Colgate an advantage………..
What next for Colgate from a Red Fuse perspective?
I want to take our expertise forward in the areas of digital technology, e-commerce and content, probably in the reverse order. The other area is integrated working, and there is really no end to how you get better at it. While we have spent two years together at Red Fuse, I wouldn’t say we are perfect in terms of integrating our different specialisms. That is an on-going process and I think while we have gotten much better today, compared to when we started out two years ago, there are still ways in which we can improve.
You mentioned in an earlier interview that Red Fuse actually influences the market-place decisions made by Colgate, can you tell us about the working partnership between Red Fuse and Colgate?
There are different levels of collaboration and partnership between Colgate and Red Fuse. It is an exceptional partnership at all levels. Whether it is at a global level in New York, or the regional level or at the market level - that partnership is very strong, with a collaborative spirit that transcends markets and levels of seniority.
If we consider what happened to Nestle last year, do you think that integration within the brand and trust levels are much higher with a model like Red Fuse in a crisis situation for a brand?
That is for sure. Because you are an integrated agency, your ability to respond very quickly to a crisis situation is tremendous. There are no distractions because at that point you can prioritize and say listen, this is what I need to do and this is what I will do. And again as a client, they are clear that this is your 100% focus for the next one or two weeks. Whereas, when you are working with an agency which has multiple responsibilities, whatever said and done, there is only that much time they can put in because the other clients cannot come to a standstill. So the crisis management situation is definitely an added plus. Having said that, I don’t think Red Fuse is just for crisis management. I only say it makes things easier because you have a team that is dedicated to your business.
Then again, how a client and agency respond to a crisis is entirely dependent and specific to them.
As you take on the new role, what are the challenges you foresee?
When you move from a single market role to a multi-market role, the main challenge is really to understand those markets, the consumer in those markets and the marketing challenges in those new markets. That is definitely the most critical part of the job. The other challenge is really that of adapting to working styles that exist in different cultures in different markets. That is very important, and as a leader, I should adapt to the working styles of different markets as well and at the same time ensure that there is transference of best practices from one market to the other.
Don’t you miss MEC with regards to new business wins and the high from that?
Somebody used to call us ‘pitch junkies’. We used to work constantly on new business pitches there and I do miss it to some extent, but not all the time. I know missing it sounds very romantic, but when you are doing it, pitches can be such a nightmare. But working with multiple brands and clients, after a certain amount of experience, you don’t really miss that because you would have worked with almost all categories. But what I did miss at MEC was when you are handling so many clients, you really don’t get the opportunity to practise your profession on too many brands. You are really not a media expert on anything, you are just pretty much a leader who is managing the business. So, there is always a danger of losing touch with your craft. That is something I should be thankful for at Red Fuse, because I have now become a better practitioner of the craft in some ways.
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