In a freewheeling chat, Rana Barua and Ashish Chakravarty, Contract’s CEO and CCO respectively get talking on the agency’s recent wins, which include ITC Personal Care, Century LED bulbs, Abbott Healthcare, Lupin OTC, Orient Fans, Reckitt & Colman, Garnier among others. Contract has also won the mandate for mygov.in, one of the largest mandates from the Government of India.
The duo field questions on receiving offers from other agencies, what is a compelling offer to them, taking Contract to the next level why clients are willing to wait for the agency today and more
“Singularly or as a team barring two or three very obvious network agencies, everyone has made an offer at some point or the other,” says Chakravarty in a matter-of-fact manner.
Given their team work and working equation, ‘if’ they ever considered moving out, would it be as a team? Together would be an ideal scenario agrees the duo, but the offer has to be compelling enough.
And what makes a compelling offer for the duo? A compelling offer would be a large network, a solidly creative, global kind of entity coming into India, something that is a bigger challenge than what we have achieved, say both unanimously.
Barua joined Contract in 2013, Chakravarty came on board a couple of months later.
Chakravarty makes an interesting observation on one of the differences about the agency today.
“ Contract has always been a creative agency in its DNA, but it was more about aesthetics, we have added a lot of mass appeal to it so, today you have very “Janta-Janardan” brands also coming to us, which would not have perhaps considered Contract in the past, as it was considered this boutique, niche, high-end agency. At the same time it’s not like we have given away on that strength either.”
There were rumours that you were moving on from Contract; what is your take on that?
RB: Conversations keep happening. There was never intent of either looking out or moving out, and there still isn’t. There were also a lot of non- committal meetings with people who I respect and are friends. Was there a genuine desire to move out? Not yet.
When Cadbury moved gums and candy to Saatchi and Saatchi, there was a perception that the Cadbury account moved out of Contract…..
RB: Cadbury’s Celebrations is the local jewel, which stays with Contract because we have built Celebrations. Celebrations was started by Contract, the relationship is that old, the brands that have moved was due to pure global re-alignment.
AC: Our relationship with Cadbury is very deeply embedded, I believe Celebrations is the only brand in the world where gifting has been successful. Our Eid film was successful not just for Celebrations but for the entire range of Cadbury products, giving it a very good spike.
In an industry where agencies are judged on their creative product, how has the agency’s creative offering evolved to suit the changing brand dynamics?
AC: We have instilled an entrepreneurial spirit into the system. While there are different departments, we are all in it together - it’s a business to do shining work for the client.
It is not about individual glory but how to leverage creative as a tool for acquiring business. That reflects in the way we work. We have changed the entire rules of working on a client brief; we have people from all departments on the deck solving the issue of a client using the different tools available - that’s the spirit of a start-up, that’s an e-commerce scenario where individuals are not separated by departments. To a degree, we ascribe our success both in business and in creative to this spirit that we have in Contract. It’s about solving a business problem using creative, and therefore, beneficial both for the client and business.
Given the equation between you two, no power camps at Contract?
RB: We work in alignment and alignment is that common goal that both of us have set for each other.
Power camp kind-of conversations are likely to happen when both take independent calls but because of our alignment, you see the same percolating down the line at least 80 per cent in the agency, which is fabulous.
AC: Since we are aligned, what is happening across the agency and departments is that people are looking out for each other; it is not one against the other. If the other person has failed and I am gaining joy out of it then something is wrong. Wherever that happens, the agency is going to get crippled. That has started to flow and it is not across departments, it’s across geographies. You know that you are winning as a team or you lose as individuals. I think that sense has gone down. It’s not magic, it’s just that you put a set of people with a common purpose and then they align over a period of time.
When you took charge at Contract, your initial focus was to stabilise the ship, then you went aggressively after new business, where is the agency at now?
RB: What we managed to do with Contract is to make it a far more stable ship. If you look at the number of people who came on board in 2013, including me, Ashish and many of them, including many senior people and individual talents. They have got multiple offers but have stayed together. Secondly, if you look at the number of clients that have come on board and stayed with us, it’s a massive list of people who have invested in Contract. Without naming any agency, there are so many of them that are struggling to find a footing. Our conversation with clients is about creative effectiveness, product, planning - it’s a very different conversation. So, if you ask me if the mission is over, I would say, no. There are many categories that are open to Contract, there are many clients who are talking to us, and there are many more things we can do if we want but it also matters on our bandwidth.
So are you saying no to pitches/ new clients if the bandwidth doesn’t permit it?
RB :In many instances clients are ready to wait for us…
AC : Our first priority is to our existing clients..
RB- If we go for a pitch we go for a win. A lot of heartache goes into pitches and a loss is demotivating for the entire team, so there is no point just going for the heck of it. Also pitches we go into today are of a certain size and scale, let me put it this way, we have been going for pitches with the top few agencies in the country.
AC: If there is an urgent requirement, we excuse ourselves if there are bandwidth issues. Also a lot of what happened and worked for us last year was when a client approached us, we showed them our work and the team who would be working on the account and asked them to work with us without a pitch, in a whole lot of cases we were able to work on numerous projects in the manner.
Any reason for the silence since the last one year?
RB: There are two or three reasons you talk; when you need to, when you need a lot of attention and when you need to make a conversation. Right now conversations, attention and a lot of engagement is happening on its own. Whether it’s with clients, whether it’s with people, a lot of things are happening. There is no particular reason to come out and say something which requires any kind of eyeballs for us. Our work is speaking for itself.
What would be some of the focus areas for you going forward?
AC: I think it would be to up the ante in some of areas like design. The other would be newer forms of engagement.