Advertising Interviews

Joemon (Joe) Thaliath

COO | 15 Jan 2010

Yes, we do get involved in pitches, but we are selective. However, we have never believed standing in the queue and pitching… We believe that we are consultants and need to be given that respect. People who don’t give us that respect, we don’t pitch for them. Hence, we are very selective. But again, there are certain categories where we would want to be a part of. So yes, as an agency, this is where we focus on pitches.

Joemon (Joe) Thaliath began his career with Ulka Cochin, and while steering the branch to double digit growth, he ensured that Ulka Cochin was Agency of the Year five years in a row.

Success saw him come to Mumbai and he handled some of FCB Ulka’s largest accounts before joining Interface.

Thaliath believes that good creative is like chess and that one needs to have the right strategy. He has developed B2B strategies for telecom companies, news magazines and helped launch one of India’s first SEZs (Special Economic Zone) even before China popularised the idea.

A graduate from Union Christian College Cochin, Thaliath did his Advertising and Sales management from the School of Communication Management, Cochin.

Tasneem Limbdiwala

Q. It's now been two years for you as COO at Interface. How has the journey been so far? What is the role shared between Niteen Bhagwat, Executive Director, Interface Communications and you, post Bhagwat taking the additional responsibilities at Cogito Consulting?

Nitin has always and will always be there. I have taken over as the COO and taking the responsibility for over two years now. The journey has been good so far. It’s been good for the agency and Interface will probably be one of the few agencies that will meet its targets. Our clients are doing well. So, despite the recession, we have been doing well. I would say we are on track.

Q. Could you elaborate on the target growth that you are talking about?

I cannot discuss numbers...

Q. If not in numbers, then in percentage terms?

We are probably looking at a growth of 20-25 per cent this year.

Q. The year 2009 was a challenging period for all. How did Interface as an agency cope with the slowdown?

Touchwood, we are doing well and so have our clients. Our focus was on more business and more revenues. We’ve had a few new launches and the year started off with Xylo from M&M. We’ve also had the launches of two-wheelers from M&M. So, we have been quite okay with numbers and growth. We’ve also had some new assignments from our existing clients, so there has been some good businesses coming in the agency as well.

Q. Which are these new businesses that you are mentioning?

As I mentioned, they are the ones from the existing client portfolio itself.

Q. Kindly brief us a bit more on Interface’s client portfolio.

I would not like to go into more detail on this. However, giving a little brief on our client portfolio, besides M&M being a part of our portfolio, we also work with ConAgra India in a big way.

Q. Does Interface handle the complete portfolio for ConAgra India?

Yes, we have the complete portfolio of ConAgra India.

Q. When did this development happen?

There have been brands that were added gradually to the kitty. It started off with Sundrop, followed by Act II popcorn and gradually the entire portfolio. The belief has always been that if you do a good job on one, you will gain more. Thus, this has been working across the clients and our brands. So, we are dedicated, we know the market, understand the consumer and thus value work.

Q. We know that Interface handles M&M and with the development of M&M taking over Kinetic bikes, how is that being panning out from the advertising point of view?

We have been given the mandate for the two-wheelers from the M&M stable to make it the top in the bike sector. We have already launched a few campaigns for the two-wheelers in print and television. So, there has been some exciting work happening there.

Q. What is your strategy and focus for 2010?

Our strategy is simple and clear. We need to grow in terms of business. But growing with brands is the key. Every campaign we do has a strategic base. It is not just any other campaign or just for sake of doing it, but will have a strategic focus. So, that is what makes or breaks the market. Once your strategy is gained, creativity gets that extra leverage to do good work. So, our primary task is the strategic breakthrough or strategic deviation, and that’s what can help a brand succeed. That is where Interface’s investment is going to be in terms of consumer understanding, market analysis and accordingly decide what the communication is going to be.

Q. Interface has always been seen as a quiet agency. Any particular reasons for that?

As mentioned earlier, the agency works for the brand. However, I strongly believe that our industry is really very small. If we do good work, people will know us, and then they will look for us and gradually come to us. For instance, we have created some strong case studies in the auto sector during the economic downturn. Our work should speak for itself, and then it is the people doing the talking about us rather than we ourselves doing the talking.

Q. When you talk of looking at growing the business, is Interface aggressive when it comes to pitching for new businesses?

Yes, we do get involved in pitches, but we are selective. However, we have never believed standing in the queue and pitching. Reiterating my comment mentioned before, if we do good work, we will be called and when we are called, it’s a different experience, because you will be heard, rather than going forth and saying you would want to be involved in the pitch too. We believe that we are consultants and need to be given that respect. People who don’t give us that respect, we don’t pitch for them. Hence, we are very selective. But again, there are certain categories where we would want to be a part of. So yes, as an agency, this is where we focus on pitches.

Q. Interface is the second agency of Draftfcb+Ulka. As COO, how do you differentiate Interface as a different agency all together?

I am proud to say that we are part of Draftfcb+Ulka in India. As we are aware that Draftfcb+Ulka was one of the agencies that probably changed the outlook of advertising in India. It is the agency that turned around and said that we need to have a great strategy that one can win a market share; good looking creative works are just not enough. And I guess, at Interface we have proved this again and again on tough brands. There are brands that we fought against MNCs and won those businesses and changed the game with great strategy. So, this is the tradition that we have been taking forward at Interface as an advertising agency.

Q. What are your views on the awards front? Again Interface is very quiet when it comes to awards?

If you ask me whether we spend money in creating award winning ads, then the answer is ‘No’. We create ads that should work in the market today. We are not the ones to spend money on the ads that do not run, but are created for the sake of awards. We strive for and believe in creating ads that are good in creatives as well as are effective for the brand and that can win awards. So, to that extent we try to create good ads. But we simply don’t create ads just for awards.

Q. How strong or satisfactory is 2010 looking for Interface?

I wish it is good. Giving you a perspective from my and the agency’s side, we are on a strong wicket. Our clients are doing extremely well and hope they continue to succeed in 2010. We are seeing growth in many sectors, and if that continues, 2010 looks good.

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