Advertising Interviews

Tapas Gupta

MD | 21 May 2010

The uncertainty of the past two years is certainly behind us. The world is looking up, and India has led this revival in more ways than one. The industry is looking at the near future with great hopes and aspiration as the size of the pie is going to grow exponentially in the next two years. The kind of advertising big bucks that went into IPL telecast is a clear indication of the good things to come. The industry is gearing up to meet the challenges and we too want to grab a large share of the growing pie.

Tapas Gupta has been a marketing and advertising professional with 25 years’ experience in the Indian and international offices of McCann Erickson Worldwide. He started out with Clarion-McCann in 1977 as a management trainee and left as the General Manager, Kolkata in 1986.

Gupta has headed McCann Erickson’s Delhi, Kolkata and Kathmandu offices as Senior VP and Director from 1987 to 1995. He has overseen M-EW Bangalore from 1991-93. He has worked on key global McCann accounts like Nestle, Gillette, etc., at McCann’s international offices in Manila and Hong Kong.

Gupta was deputed by McCann Erickson to head M-EW’s new JV agency, PSL-Erickson, in 1996 as President & CEO. He was CEO from 1996 to 1998.

He started Confluence Communication in 1999 simultaneously in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata and has built it into a Rs 100-plus crore agency in nine years. He collaborated with BE International, a reputed mid-sized global agency in 2004, and became the Managing Director of BEI Confluence in 2004.

He is also the active Executive Committee member of AAAI, and has been the Convener of the Northern Region of Advertising Agencies’ Association of India for the last five years.

In this interview with exchange4media’s Shikha, Gupta speaks at length about the growth of BEI Confluence in India, overcoming the slowdown and the future growth plans of the agency.

Q. You had set a target of Rs 145 crore for 2009, how successful were you in achieving that? Did the slowdown play a damper in achieving your target?

We have achieved about Rs 134 crore in fiscal 2009-10 (20 per cent growth over the previous year) in three different ways. About 20 per cent from organic growth from some of our existing clients, by winning new brands from their portfolio. 35 per cent by winning new businesses across all our three offices: Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. Lastly, 45 per cent through a process of coming together and amalgamation with one of the existing BEI companies in India. This process substantially added to our growth in turnover.

Q. What are the major developments to be seen in BEI Confluence for the year 2010?

The year has been a significant one for BEI Confluence. One of the most eminent practicing media professionals, Bashab Sarkar, who’s been a leading media professional with over 25 years’ experience in media planning at McCann Erickson, Contract and O&M, heading their media functions and later became the first Managing Director of Maximise (now known as Maxus, a leading GroupM company), and his team of seven media planning and buying professionals have got associated with BEI Confluence to build a cutting-edge media planning, buying and operations team, which is probably one of the finest in Delhi.

Devraj Basu, who was till 2007-08 our Chief Operating officer in Delhi and was re-located to head the BEI Singapore operations (overseeing Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand), has come back to the India operations in 2010 to head the company’s operations as COO. This is a significant value-add to the senior management of the Group as Devraj brings with him a solid exposure and experience in handling trans-national brands in diverse cultural and socio-economic environments and markets.

The creative functions have been re-jigged to meet with the creative challenges of the present times and the future. Anwar Abbas, one of the founding members of BEI Confluence, has been promoted to take on greater creative responsibilities across the country as Senior Vice President (Creative) of the Group. Ammar Mohammed, one of the brightest young creative talents in

Delhi, having worked for 10 years combined at Dhar & Hoon, JWT (Pepsi, Hero Honda, etc.) and Percept, has joined BEI Confluence as Creative Director to strengthen the front line of BEI’s creative talent pool in the country.

Q. Please take us through the restructuring in BEI Confluence? What prompted this change?

I have always believed that ‘change is the only constant’, and in order gear up the agency to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow, we needed to induct senior and top-notch professionals to head the agency. The move has also been prompted by the fact that we need to build a management team to leap-frog the agency from its mid-sized genre to a larger base to capture our rightful place in the top 20 in next three years.

BEI Confluence has now built a core senior management team in its group head office in Delhi comprising three of the leading professionals in the city: Bashab Sarkar, as Executive Director and a member of the BEI Confluence Board (whose background I have already given above), Devraj Basu, Chief Operating Officer, and Anwar Abbas, Senior VP and Head of Creative. Devraj comes with over 20 years experience at HTA/JWT, Clarion and Lintas before he joined the BEI Group in 2003. Anwar, a founding member of the team of BEI Confluence, has had vast experience at McCann and RKS/BBDO and is recognised as one of the leading creative minds in the city. This senior management team oversees the day to day management functions of the agency and reports into me as the MD of the company.

The Board of the company has really invested into the long term future of the company by inducting top level professionals with terrific track-record to take the Group to its next level.

Q. Do you think the uncertainty because of the slowdown is over? How is the industry looking now and what is the approach that you have taken?

The uncertainty of the past two years is certainly behind us. The world is looking up, and India has led this revival in more ways than one. The industry is looking at the near future with great hopes and aspiration as the size of the pie is going to grow exponentially in the next two years. The kind of advertising big bucks that went into IPL telecast is a clear indication of the good things to come.

The industry is gearing up to meet the challenges and we too want to grab a large share of the growing pie. In fact, we are frenetically working hard to stay a step ahead as we are still a moderately sized player, and we have aspirations to jump to the big boys’ league in three years flat.

Our approach has been very simple and I dare say ‘old fashioned’. This has always been a business of getting the right talent to create success stories out of the brands we handle.

Unlike big boys, we are not diversifying, but consolidating. There is consolidation and strengthening that we have achieved in the last six months through the integration of Bashab Sarkar and his crack media team, and have now been subscribing to all syndicated media studies and researches. We are today fully equipped to service with a high degree of professionalism and cut-through technologies and processes clients of any size, be it in 360 degree palette or in specialised areas like strategic, creative or media.

The process of consolidation and merging has really paid off: today while at one end we work as AOR for a large client like Hitachi, Nippo or work for full 360 degree services for clients like Costa Coffee, Crax Corn Rings, T-Series etc., we also work as a creative agency for a MIRC Electronic brand (makers of ONIDA) of durables under brand name IGO, Cinemall and Bioscope brands of Essel (Zee Group).

We also have a portfolio of public sector clients like NTPC, KRIBHCO, South Eastern Railway, Balmer Lawrie (last two out of our Kolkata office). NTPC is a truly national client utilising our services from all our four offices as well as our sub-offices in Patna and Bhuvaneshwar as NTPC has strong presence in the Eastern region of India. We have a four-person ‘Public Sector’ Division headed by a senior professional, who co-ordinates public sector client activities across the country and oversees the operations with regional reps in our various offices.

We are, therefore, an agency with diverse ‘avatar’ under one brand name – BEI Confluence. We do not have sub-divisions discipline wise, but our Group and its Directors own two agencies run as independent entities as these are different companies with separate management, creative and servicing teams under a set of different professionals. I am only the ‘common factor’ between all three. These agencies – Archive Communication and Spasht Communication – were formed to fulfill two different niches: Archive to be a creative boutique and Spasht to be our agency to handle mid-market brand meant for Tier II and below cities. These agencies were opened a couple of years back to also resolve the issue of brand conflicts and continue to prosper and proliferate in a competitive situation. Frankly, we haven’t had the time to build these into strong brands, but hopefully now with BEI Confluence senior management team in place I will be able to delegate far more and concentrate on the niche agencies we have created.

Q. What are the big challenges for you this calendar year?

The challenge is to get back to the high growth trajectory our agency witnessed interrupted till 2008, of achieving at least 20 per cent growth from 1999 each year, till recession came and halted it. However, thanks to the process of consolidation and integration, in 2009-10 we were able to achieve 20-plus per cent growth in our top-line and we hope to achieve another 20-plus per cent growth in the current year. This year it’s going to be a more difficult task as we intend to grow through linear business (read: revenue) growth, unlike last year, which was through integration and amalgamation. We expect 50 per cent of our growth through organic growth and another 50 per cent through new business wins.

As a sub-set of our new business strategy, we intend to focus substantially on building a base of AOR clients to help the company to get good ROI on their investment in these consolidation processes.

Q. Tell us something about your plans for Hocus Focus, the film division arm?

We have focused on consolidation and have closed our group company Hocus Focus last year.

Q. How do you see BEI placed among the agencies in Delhi today?

BEI is a strong mid-sized agency in Delhi today and has high professional standing, strong teams and high profile brands. We are very strategically perched in this city. There are not too many mid-sized agencies here who have their core strengths and center of excellence in Delhi. In fact, here we are larger in revenue, infrastructure, talent and better set of brands than many large top 15 MNC agencies who have their offices in Delhi and India HQ in Mumbai.

In fact, our pitches and wins in this city are mostly against these MNC agency offices and many clients see us as a better agency on all aspects than some of the branch offices of MNC agencies of Delhi. Delhi has become a very large advertising market and competing with Mumbai for size and brand reputation. This city traditionally had either big agencies or briefcase agencies. Agencies like Anthem (now TBWA) and TSME (now McCann Erickson) started the mid-sized agency revolution here. Capital, Dhar & Hoon, Crayon and us are phenomena of the early 2000-05 to add on to the list.

So, agencies like us with Delhi as center of excellence have a lot to offer to national and international companies with solid brands. We understand the psyche of the northern India consumers, probably one of the most affluent in the country, better than many Mumbai-based agencies with branches in Delhi. This gives us a cutting edge in pitches with not so large MNC agencies with HO in Mumbai and branch in Delhi. We win many of them for this reason.

Therefore, we, as a Delhi HQ agency with international and national network, have the unique advantage of providing the clients the core strengths in the region. We have a six-member strong Hindi creative division led by a brilliant Hindi creative person and many of our campaigns are conceptualised and executed in Hindi. All these make us the agency of choice of many clients with national footprint in the city.

Q. How has the agency fared in other cities? The agency also has international presence, how is it doing there? Any plans to expand your footprint?

Our Kolkata office has done substantially well in the last one year and this is one office where we did not feel the heat of recession. In fact, besides Delhi, in Kolkata too we are recognised as a good mid-sized agency and that office boasts of businesses like Tata Motors (Commercial and Passenger – Eastern region only), Monginis, Kolkata’s iconic brand of pastries, patties, cakes, etc., ISBM (International School of Business and Media), Shine Realtors, NTPC, etc. Our Delhi office has been back to its growth path big time after the recession, and is set to take off again in a big way. The strengthening of the top management has had its maximum positive impact in this city.

Mumbai had also suffered substantially during the recession, and is coping with its after-effects and getting back to its feet.

Internationally, like any US origin agency group, BEI suffered as much as most multi-national agency groups. But with the coming back to a growth path, we have re-couped substantially and are back to our winning ways.

Q. Do you see BEI as a small agency with big plans or big agency though it shies away from public glare?

We are a strong mid-sized MNC agency group. We are neither big nor small, have the tools, talent and technology (I strongly believe in the 3Ts) to handle clients of any size and demands.

We are, therefore, strategically perched in the middle: big clients can look at us as an agency that will be more involved and walk the extra mile with high top management involvement, mid-sized clients come to us naturally, and small, but promising brands, look at us to get the next level of professionalism network, talent, infrastructure and clout.

No wonder we work for big names like the Zee Group, Onida Group (MIRC Electronic through their brand IGO that recently shifted from McCann Erickson), global brands like Costa Coffee, Hitachi (where we work as their AOR) or large Indian brand leaders like Intex or T-Series, or iconic FMCG brands like Crax Corn Rings and Namkeens have been working with us.

Being a midsized agency with aspiration to enter the big league of top 20 in the next three years, we have the commitment and passion to walk that extra mile to see our dream come true. ‘Nothing succeeds like success’ and, therefore, the biggest formulae for growth is to create successful brands and showcase these to chart out and succeed in achieving our dream.

We are a little publicity shy agency, as I and my agency come from a stable where we believe our successful brands should be our biggest ambassadors.

Just watch out for a brand we are creating for one of the Hero Group companies in a very unconventional space: due to be launched shortly. We are confident that with the client we hope to create a new innovation in a brand concept in an unusual domain, and if it succeeds, possibly it will be a case study material for the posterity. Sorry, I am not boasting, but this is one brand jointly incepted by the client and the agency in a totally unconventional space, feasibility and concept research went in after that, product and possible name and branding options were tested at different stages by AC Neilson, and we are getting ready for a test launch shortly.

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