Advertising Interviews

Prasoon Joshi

Executive Chairman & Regional Executive Creative Director | 19 Feb 2010

The year 2009 was tough for us, especially for the Mumbai branch, as we handle many financial and retail clients out of here, which were the two sectors that were mostly affected... But at the same time, we fortunately had some good business wins, and as a result the McCann Worldgroup India did really well... our unconventional advertising streams generated a lot... As far the growth target is concerned, we are cautiously optimistic. So, we are trying to grow as much as possible. But we know that it cannot be the way it was two and a half years back, where things were looking beautiful and good. We have to be careful, solid and serve our clients well.

As Executive Chairman at McCann Erickson India and Regional Creative Director for Asia Pacific, Prasoon Joshi is considered a torchbearer of the young breed as well as the contemporary face of Indian advertising.

Recognised for introducing a layered, multicultural sensibility to advertising, Joshi is credited with choosing to exploit the inherent “chaos” of the Indian way of life and creating a distinct identity for Indian and Asian advertising on the world stage.

A winner of more than 400 awards (including Gold, Silver and Bronze Cannes Lions) and accolades at other awards shows, he had also judged and chaired D&AD, the Clio Awards, Cannes Lions and others.

Designated a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, Joshi believes in supporting causes that strike a chord with the masses, such as campaigns for empowerment of women, protecting the girl child and the UN Millennium Development Goals for eradicating poverty.

His foray into Indian feature films has met with success. He has had published three books of poetry and prose.

In India’s 60th year of independence, a leading national publication cited him among the country’s top 60 icons for his contribution to several fields that have shaped and affected public consciousness.

In this interview with exchange4media’s Tasneem Limbidiwala, Joshi speaks at length about McCann Worldgroup’s operations in India, changes in the agency’s structure, and future plans.

Q. The last big win for McCann Worldgroup was that of Etisalat Telecom. How are the operations panning out in India?

We are very happy that we as McCann Worldgroup are growing well. Firstly, many confuse McCann Worldgroup with McCann Erickson. McCann Erickson is our traditional advertising arm. We have different divisions, and now it includes a second agency under McCann Worldgroup. Thus, the Worldgroup has MRM, which handles digitally heavy and 360 degree CRM initiatives; Momentum, which is into retailing and event management services; McCann Healthcare, which concentrates on the healthcare part of the businesses; and T.A.G, which is our second agency.

Q. So, how does Altitude operate?

Again, it is a special arm under McCann Worldgroup, which works and services Jet Airways only.

Q. With Etisalat in MRM’s kitty, how is this business panning out? When is the official launch expected in India?

Etisalat Telecom is a very huge and reputed client. We are very happy to partner with them. MRM is handling the business and is headed by Mandeep Sharma. As for the launch date, that will take some time. Every company has its own way of working. The client will be in a better position to talk about the launch date.

Q. Etisalat is definitely a big client. Is the team in place for the same?

Yes, definitely the team is in place. MRM per se is huge as an agency, it has a special team and specialised people to handle the business. The agency is well reputed and huge worldwide and is one of the prized possessions of McCann Worldgroup.

Q. There seems to be quite a lot of restructuring happening. Recently, Loveleen Raina and Rahul Matthew were brought on board. Please brief us on their respective roles. Also, there is a new structure that the agency intends to bring in, as in McCann Erickson One and McCann Erickson Two. Could you give us some further clarity on this division of the agency?

Yes, we have decided to give a little sense of movement to our Mumbai branch. As you know, Mumbai is the hub of advertising. So, this restructuring was done, and we now have McCann Erickson One and McCann Erickson Two, having two different managers for them respectively. Loveleen will head McCann Erickson One, while Parvathy Nair will head the other one.

Parvathy is an in-house talent who has been promoted, while Loveleen has been an ex-McCann person who has spent a lot of time in McCann. She has developed into a great leader. I am very happy that she is on board as the General Manager.

We had this kind of two-unit structure earlier too in our Delhi agency. It’s not something that is a strategic change, but more of a cosmetic change. It is a change to give people growth, a change to give benefits to our clients with more talent.

As for Rahul Matthew, he comes in as Creative Head for McCann Erickson One, and will be working together with Akshay Kapnadak, partnering Parvathy.

Q. Would Ryan Menezes also have a specific role in a way?

Yes, in the same way, Ryan Menezes will partner Loveleen as her creative partner.

Q. But why such a division? We believe that Lowe Lintas, too, has such a way of operating. Has the division been made taking into consideration that McCann is a part of the IPG Group?

No, there is no such thing. It’s a very conscious decision by McCann Erickson and nothing to do with being a part of the IPG Group. As I mentioned, we needed more sense of movement and energy to let it flow smoothly. So, currently this division is only for Mumbai and let’s see how it works. It will be a learning for us.

Q. As for the GMs partnering the CDs, is this practice also followed in other branches?

Yes, very much. In Bangalore, we have Anil Thomas as the Creative Director, while Namrata Nandan takes charge as the Bangalore GM. Nandan has been recently promoted as GM and is again a home-grown talent. She is an exceptional client-servicing personnel and we felt the Bangalore office needed such expertise.

In Delhi, there are Debashish Paul and Ashish Chakravarty. While in the South, we have Dilip Ashoka, who looks after the entire South, heading Bangalore and Chennai. In Chennai, we have Sunil Popil as the GM of the branch.

So, we sincerely believe that the GMs and creative directors of each branch are partners and should work as a team to run the business.

Q. What is the structure of the Planning division at McCann?

Planning is, we believe, the third arm and the most important part of our business. The planners are a constant pillar and filter in whatever we do, when it comes to branding and communication. We have Sandeep Mahapatra in Delhi, Amit Kumar in Mumbai and Amit Kekre in Bangalore.

Just like the GMs partner the CDs, similarly, these planners partner the creative team, as we believe in solid solution work. Our works are not just surface work; we do a lot of thinking. For instance, we have done some great work on Marico, and the recent work on Coke is quite impressive too.

We have been very conscious in promoting our client servicing people. What has happened over the years is that somehow the thinking job that the client servicing people used to do got completely taken out and became the responsibility of the planner.

However, McCann does not believe in that. Hence, you will find a unique selection of managers and creative directors. We have managers that are very strategically sound. Starting from Govind Pandey, President, McCann Erickson Advertising, and Sanjay Nayak, President, McCann Worldgroup India, to Loveleen, Parvathy, Namrata and Debashish – all these people in classical terms are managers, who are very strategically sound. Why so? Because, strategy is not the responsibility of one person, but the responsibility of the entire team.

In the same way, our creative directors are very sound people, they are not just art or craft people, all are strategically driven. The same goes with Naren Multani, Film Chief for South Asia. His sound strategy, talent, commitment and passion have been more than evident in our final product.

So, we believe that strategy is the backbone and should be the responsibility or filter of an agency per se. And here the planner brings in the finer points to the thought, getting the discipline and nuances of planning whenever it is required.

Q. Speaking about the agency T.A.G., Himanshu Saxena heads it. Any other developments in terms of talent or businesses that you would like to share?

T.A.G is a very committed team and Himanshu Saxena is the one who heads the agency. Teaming with Himanshu, is Amit Nanwani, the Creative Director. And they are doing a great job. There are no such developments as of now. However, the client portfolio of T.A.G. currently includes DishTV, Videocon and the Ministry of Tourism.

Q. How was the year 2009 overall for the agency, especially taking the tough year into consideration?

The year 2009 was tough for us, especially for the Mumbai branch, as we handle many financial and retail clients out of here, which were the two sectors that were mostly affected. So, I am really grateful to all our Mumbai staff that worked hard to stay calm during the tough times. But at the same time, we fortunately had some good business wins, and as a result the McCann Worldgroup India did really well. Sanjay Nayak played a very important role in pulling up the Worldgroup’s revenue through various divisions. Like everybody else, we too went through a slowdown, but we fought it and overall McCann Worldgroup India’s performance has been good.

Q. Could you share the revenue generated by McCann Erickson in 2009? What is the growth target for the agency in 2010?

As I mentioned before, our unconventional advertising streams generated a lot. Our second agency was successful and is doing exceptional work. Likewise, MRM and the healthcare division did loads of business. So, it was more skewed towards our divisions and we together worked as one group. However, I would not like to talk about the numbers here.

As far the growth target is concerned, we are cautiously optimistic. So, we are trying to grow as much as possible. But we know that it cannot be the way it was two and a half years back, where things were looking beautiful and good. We have to be careful, solid and serve our clients well.

Q. In recent media reports, you have announced your decision not to participate in GoaFest 2010. Any specific reason for this non-participation or is it that you would not be sending entries but will have delegates from your agency? After all, it’s an industry event...

Yes, as much as possible, we will participate. As I always said, I was one of the founders of GoaFest, when the initial concept started in the first year. McCann and I will always support GoaFest.

But this year, our focus is very different. We’ve been partnering our clients and fighting the recession. Award shows require certain kind of preparation. It is sort of a match. We require certain kind of work that one has to prepare for it. However, we feel that the entire work and effort this year were much focussed and we were more in the mode of fighting recession, so we haven’t focussed on entering a competition. A lot of our clients didn’t do fresh work and were running with old ads. So, we realised probably that it’s not the right year for us to spend money in entering GoaFest 2010.

Q. We all know that ad man Prasoon Joshi is also an award-winning lyricist. Given your very busy schedule, how do you balance your personal and professional life?

I am thankful to my family as they cope with my busy schedule. I commit a lot and at times I commit more than I can do justice to it and later get out from a lot of things. But yes, they have been a support. And secondly, I judiciously allocate my time. However, I am a person of the moment. It’s more important to do justice in what you doing and enjoy it. I am not in search of any destination, but enjoy every bit of my journey. However, the most important thing is that quality compensates for everything, and especially quantity.

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