Various international reports on October 17, 2008, quoted an internal email from Sir Martin Sorrell at WPP that reportedly ordered a hiring freeze across all WPP operating units that includes the likes of O&M, JWT, Young & Rubicam (Y&R) and Grey Worldwide until further notice. The reports also said that the group had banned its operating companies from using head-hunters, and had told managers to get a grip on the employment of freelancers and temporary staff. The company is also taking a stern look at any operating company that was caught trying to poach staff from another.
While these reports created their share of tremors in the Indian young ad force as well, heads of WPP operating units in India stated that they had neither seen such a memo nor expect the India market to feel any heat. Ranjan Kapur, Country Manager, WPP India, said, “I have not seen any memorandum on this, and, therefore, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on this.” Piyush Pandey, Executive Chairman and NCD, O&M India, stated, “Even if any such action is taken, it could only be for countries that are facing a problem. I have no such information, and I can tell you that at least we are not facing any such pressures.”
Does he expect the shadows of this WPP move to be cast over India any time soon? “I don’t think so,” replied Pandey. Dhunji Wadia, Managing Partner, JWT India, added, “As long as the operations’ targets are met, there is no reason to panic or worry.”
Very clearly, the chiefs of India ad land have a very brave face to show on this subject. Another highly placed executive from a WPP operating company in India divulged on condition of anonymity, “Revenues and profits are very important for WPP companies. We were told a couple of months’ back that headcount growth has to be checked, we need to have very sound reasons for any recruitments.”
Another senior official added, “There is a problem and everyone knows about it. People are just not comfortable speaking on this, and WPP cannot be singled out on this either. Last week, a Publicis agency unexpectedly withdrew an offer letter that was yet to be officially accepted in a planning position. There is pressure to show the numbers and these steps would be seen in India as well.”
The recent lay-off reports have got many in sombre moods and sooner or later, the advertising industry would feel a pinch too. The question is simple – if Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines are seen terminating or considering the termination of their employees and mulling other budget cuts, would they still be spending on their advertising? What happens then to the agencies, and the caps on what they can spend? Evidently, this is not the last that we are hearing on this.