Advertising Interviews

Sangeetha N

President (West) & Executive Creative Director | 31 Dec 2009

The main weak point in the Indian advertising industry today is that it continues to feel that somehow the western ways or methods are superior. Creative is developed on the lines of creative in the West and evaluated in the same manner. There is no reason to feel this way. After all, India has art and culture which is distinct and different from anything elsewhere. In fact, this is being borrowed and internalised by others and will soon be played back to us as the original way. Perhaps then we Indians will begin to pay more heed to it!

Sangeetha N, President (West) & Executive Creative Director works as Head of Creative and Management of the Mumbai operation of RK Swamy BBDO. She has been with the agency for 23 years and has been quietly working behind the scenes, creating iconic advertising for major brands and companies. Her work covers a gamut of clients, including Raymond ‘The Complete Man’, Visa Power, LIC ‘Why go anywhere else’, Hawkins ‘The Joy of cooking’, Mercedes Benz ‘The future of the automobile’, Shriram Transport ‘Musafir ho yaaron’, and others. She holds an MBA, and is a Visharad (Master’s degree equivalent) in Indian classical music, from Allahabad Music University that she received at the age of 14. She has also trained extensively in different forms of dance.

Some highlights of her work like her continuous and long-standing contribution to key clients with consistent work on many brands has lead to extraordinary depth of understanding of the clients’ issues, and they hardly need to brief her or the agency on their needs. Add to this strategic understanding and insight into consumer behaviour and she is able to produce work that offers the right solutions time after time. On the creative front, Sangeetha has produced a prolific amount of work for each client. She has personally scripted and produced over 65 TVCs (original work – the number excludes work she has supervised or helped others with), a quantum of work that will be matched by just a few creative people in the industry. She has also worked on numerous print and BTL campaigns.

As President (W), she is responsible for RK Swamy BBDO Mumbai P&L, and has delivered on this front year on year. The Mumbai operation of the agency has grown consistently year on year, through recessions and slowdowns. She is a key member of the RK Swamy Hansa Group national management structure and has played a huge role in enabling the Group to evolve on many fronts. The Group today has 20 distinct offerings in marketing communications and services, and has spread its wings to serve the US market. Today the RK Swamy Hansa Group is a multifaceted player with all India strength of over 1100 people. Sangeetha has been a major architect of the Group’s sustained progress to a strong leadership position nationally.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Pallavi Goorha Kashyup, Sangeetha speaks at length about RK Swamy BBDO’s growth strategies, new media plans and more.

Q. How has the journey been so far for you at RK Swamy BBDO?

The journey has been very good over the past decade or more. Our work is strong and consistent. We have contributed to the growth in business and in stature of our major clients like Raymond, LIC, Hawkins and Futura, Piaggio, SBI, Visa (left us after 20 years last year due to global realignment), Mercedes, Shriram, Pediasure, and others.

Q. In creative terms, where would you want to be as compared to the other top creative agencies in India in the next 2-3 years?

In creative terms, we look for strong brand building ideas and consistent execution over time. This is what makes things work cost effectively for clients and builds brands. We would like to be among the top few in the country in terms of sheer consistency and long term brand building. We have a strong track record on this front. We hold our heads high in this regard.

Q. Please name three ads in recent times that have impressed you with their creative work?

Ads that have worked for me in recent times are the Airtel ad with the child complaining to his dad about his mom on a toy mobile; the LIC ad for Jeevan Saral, where different kids have different orders for golas and their wishes are met; the Shriram Transport ad, which shows the true life of a trucker and celebrates it.

Q. How much has the current economic slowdown affected the Indian advertising industry? During the slowdown, many advertisers took extreme steps to brave the recession. When things are back to normal, how do you think these steps would have changed the industry?

Business is down overall, and the industry has been cautious in hiring. This has impacted new talent entering the business, which is unfortunate. At RK Swamy BBDO, we have continued to hire, albeit at a lower pace than before.

I am not familiar with the extreme steps taken by advertisers. Our clients have cut back a bit, but I cannot term these steps as extreme. They have been more demanding, and that is understandable in a tough competitive economy. Some sectors (like real estate) have gone through cyclical downturns and this was expected.

Q. Please take us through the growth that RK Swamy BBDO has seen on the revenue front in the last three years. What is the growth target for 2010?

In the past three years, RK Swamy BBDO has grown over 25 per cent cumulatively. The current year has also been good given the environment. We have set a double digit growth target of over 12 per cent in revenue terms. We will achieve this as the plan is granular by office and type of service. We did not lose any major business in 2009, and we have gained quite a few. Therefore, the growth target is achievable.

Q. What are the two things that you would like to change about Indian clients? What are the weak points of the Indian advertising industry today that you feel need to be addressed? What are the areas that Indian advertising practitioners need to focus on to create a wider global impact?

It would be good if Indian clients better understood the transformational power of communication, both internally and externally. They must begin to view this as a strategic investment that can deliver disproportionately positive results to their business. We have shown this kind of performance over and over to our clients.

The main weak point in the Indian advertising industry today is that it continues to feel that somehow the western ways or methods are superior. Creative is developed on the lines of creative in the West and evaluated in the same manner. There is no reason to feel this way. After all, India has art and culture which is distinct and different from anything elsewhere. In fact, this is being borrowed and internalised by others and will soon be played back to us as the original way. Perhaps then we Indians will begin to pay more heed to it!

If anything, the worldwide economic crisis has shown that the Western ideas can be suspect, and that we need to evolve our own ways that are good for our country and people and market.

To have a global impact, the first thing we need to do is start believing in ourselves, our culture and roots. Next, we need to be disciplined in the way we work. If the Japanese and the Germans score all over the world, it is principally because of the discipline they bring to all aspects of their work. We will do well to follow processes and work to a detailed plan. At RK Swamy, we are constantly hammering this point to our people.

Q. Please share your views on the new media and digital landscape and what role advertising agencies can play to harness the potential of these mediums.

We believe that the new media is no longer new. It is a fact of life. We are dealing with it like we have dealt with other developments – by investing in people and in processes that are making such new media a part and parcel of our thinking about brands and our clients businesses.

We have embedded this in the way the agency works in its normal course and have thus 80 full-time people focused on this new media. We believe this will have to double in the next two years. This is central to us, and cannot be left to some specialised group or third-party arrangement. Our RK Swamy Interactive Group is scaling fast and we are gaining ground rapidly in this area. The demand is real, and our response is full fledged.

Q. Do you see an increase in mergers and acquisitions by international networks of Indian advertising agencies? Does this mean that the stranglehold of foreign agencies will increase further?

The international networks will continue to expand in India, and that is to be expected. At RK Swamy, we have redefined our relationship positively with our partner network BBDO. The RK Swamy and Hansa businesses (the marketing services part of our Group) will be managed and controlled by Indian management. RK Swamy will be an Indian agency with an international outlook. In that sense, we don’t see any stranglehold of our business by an international network. Our Group has two companies running in the US – Hansa Marketing Services and Hansa GCR Research – and these businesses employ only American nationals and are servicing leading US companies. We are the only Indian agency group with a foray in America so far. We expect our US businesses to grow rapidly, and we see them contributing to our overall group strength in the years to come.

Q. Please mention the wins of RK Swamy BBDO in 2009?

Union Bank, Parryware Roca, Central Bank of India, Zuari Industries, Ranbaxy Labs (OTC), United Spirits (HR), Asia Motor Works, Novotel, NTPC, Metronation Chennai TV, Sasken Technologies, United Stock Exchange, Nitta Gelatin, CalCom Cement, IFCI, and the NSL Group.

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